Ferragamo museum highlights cobbler's career

Europe editor Kenneth Kiesnoski tiptoed around a Florence shoe museum. His report follows:

fter a couple of days in fashion-conscious Florence, it became apparent to me that locals consider refining one's personal appearance -- from head to toe -- a high art.

And as I pounded city pavements, taking in all the top sights, it also was becoming clear that the tourist trail here takes its toll on one's soles.

How ironic, then, that I stumbled across the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum, a little-known collection dedicated to the "cobbler to the stars," an Italian immigrant to the U.S. who began building a footwear empire in Hollywood in 1914 before returning to set up shop here in Italy's shoe capital some 13 years later.

Located on an upper floor of the 13th century Palazzo Spini Feroni, on the Arno at the Ponte Santa Trinita, the museum opened in 1995 with photographs, patents, sketches, books and wooden lasts, or molds, of famous clients' feet.

The permanent "Shoes and Famous Feet" exhibition, which debuted in 2000, features shoes cobbled together by Ferragamo for royalty, dancers, actresses and other notables of the 20th century.

Examples of movie stars' shoes include those made for Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren and even Madonna, for her title role in "Evita."

Entrance to the museum is free, and guided tours for up to 30 people at a time are conducted in English or Italian; prior booking is required.

Tours of the rest of the historical palazzo -- headquarters of the Salvatore Ferragamo company -- are not available, but clients inspired by the collection can shop in the ground-floor shoe boutique.

For more on the museum, call (011) 39-055 336-0456, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.museoferragamo.it on line.

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