The years that Salvatore Ferragamo spent in the United States, and specifically in Santa Barbara, California from 1915 to 1927, have been the source of inspiration for the upcoming exhibition at Museo Salvatore Ferragamo: from his work with the most famous directors of the time, such as D. W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille, to the opening of the Hollywood Boot Shop, Ferragamo’s store on Hollywood Boulevard, where stars the calibre of Mary Pickford, Pola Negri, Charlie Chaplin, Joan Crawford, Lillian Gish and Rudolph Valentino were regulars. “I seem to see a parallel between the film industry and my own. Just as the motion picture industry has grown and developed from those fledgling days, so too, I hope, has mine.”
Based on Salvatore Ferragamo’s autobiography, the exhibition explores Italian migration to California and the influence that the bel paese’s myths and culture had on the state. An extensive section is devoted to Californian film productions in which this Italian influence is evident. The exhibition centres around the world of art, artisans and entertainment, the fields in which Ferragamo focused his creativity, and presents them as if they were the plot of a film. Maurizio Balò has taken inspiration from the American film studios of the Twenties to design an exhibition that will make visitors feel as if they are on set.
During that decade, Italian silent films gave Hollywood potential divas like Lido Manetti, Tina Modotti, Frank Puglia and Lina Cavalieri, who is featured in the exhibition with 40 of the 300 famous portraits that Pietro Fornasetti made of her on ceramic plates. Other young Italians, like Rudolph Valentino, used their charisma to propel them to fame, creating the modern diva.
The exhibition highlights the names and personalities of illustrious and lesser known figures, without overlooking Italians’ contribution to music, and sheds light on the WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) culture’s contradictory opinion of Italo-Americans, as Californians were torn between their positive regard for Italian history and tradition and their negative view of certain Italian stereotypes, such as their tendency to be overly instinctive, passionate and sentimental. Certain performers managed to perfectly balance this dichotomy of nature and culture, such as Enrico Caruso, who made the most of the natural talents of his voice and body, and refined them in the studio, through technique and art.