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The Italian job: Salvatore Ferragamo's influence on American film in early 20th century Hollywood gets an exhibition

Crossing borders

The Italian job: Salvatore Ferragamo's influence on American film in early 20th century Hollywood gets an exhibition
Museo Salvatore Ferragamo's 'Italy in Hollywood' immortalises the liaison of Italy and California — from Mr Ferragamo's work in American film to Italian culture taking root through multimedia influences

The American state of California is no stranger to many a musician's lyrical fodder. Its bubble of excess detailed in Californication brought much commercial success to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and its promise of hopes and dreams afforded Weezer a tune or three. Even Bob Dylan couldn't resist California, but lesser known is the state's city of Los Angeles' relationship with your Bobs and Rivers of fashion. 

Contemporarily, most will chart interrelations with Hedi Slimane's uprooting of Saint Laurent's headquarters from Paris to LA in 2012 that sent tremors through the industry. After, briefer dalliances from the house of Louis Vuitton and Tom Ford staging one-off shows on Hollywood soil served as notice for more to take good look across the pond. Now, the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo's upcoming exhibition, 'Italy in Hollywood', is in a way saying 'hold up'.

You see, Mr Ferragamo first left Italy for the United States in 1914, landing in the port city of Boston and staying a year. Come 1915, he made his way to Santa Barbara — embarking on what would become a 12 year residence in California, painting early 20th century Tinseltown with Italian sprezzatura by way of the Hollywood Boot Shop. 

Starting out as a place for customs and repairs, Ferragamo's induction to the circle of film, starlets and fame came when the American Film Company enlisted the designer to shod their movie casts with cowboy boots. Such exposure gave him the chance to acquire regular customers the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Joan Crawford, Rudolph Valentino and Mary Pickford — a topic exhibition goers will come in contact with through film photography, as well as a recreation of the Hollywood Boot Shop itself. Though, 'Italy in Hollywood', like its name suggests, doesn't just track the footprints of Ferragamo and fashion. 

A visit will unlock the bigger picture of the Italian grip over various industries and art forms in California; silent movies, actors and even opera singers, were responsible for driving the culture in America. But as with the reality of cultural cross-pollination, it was neither a one way street nor was it free of friction: American films produced in Italy and the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) community's resistance to the Italian way of life attempt to provide visitors a holistic view of the subject. And given that America and the world at large orbits not in the 1920s but 2018 at the moment, Italy in Hollywood today is too, cast through the photo and video lenses of current Italian photographers and directors Manfredi Gioacchini and Yuri Ancarani.  

Visit 'Italy in Hollywood' at the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo in Florence from 25 May 2018 till 10 March 2019. 

Text: Andrea Sim

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