A Salvatore Ferragamo Shoe’s History, as Told by Colby Mugrabi

Who knew that the iconic Viva had such a rich history? Colby Mugrabi free-associates.

by Wmag

In this new series from W Magazine, an expert dissects the history of a particular, iconic fashion item—then has room to let their mind wander down a path of free association. Here, Colby Mugrabi examines the Salvatore Ferragamo Viva shoe.

The Salvatore Ferragamo Viva shoe, with its chicly distinctive bow, has been turning the heads of ladies who lunch since its debut, in 1979, when it was called the Vara. Recently updated by the creative director Paul Andrew, this new version retains the pump’s original sculptural silhouette but feels cool enough for a whole new generation of women whose lunches happen at their desks more often than not.

Perhaps because the brand’s founder, Salvatore Ferragamo, first made his name designing for Hollywood stars in the 1920s, the Viva reminds us of Andy Warhol’s fantasy footwear sketches, which depicted shoes inspired by famous figures from Old Hollywood and popular culture. Our favorite is Warhol’s 1956 ode to Christine Jorgensen, one of the first widely known individuals to have gender reassignment surgery. By drawing the pair with noticeably different embellishments, Warhol commented on the duality of Jorgensen’s identity.

Jorgensen paved the way for freer and more inclusive expressions of gender—a theme that was at the heart of the 1975 cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The film’s opening sequence features a set of disembodied female lips, which have become iconic in their own right.

Salvador Dalí claimed that Mae West represented the feminine ideal of beauty—so much so that the surrealist artist depicted the sex symbol’s face as a living room set. West’s plump lips, re-created as a rosy love seat, inspired Dalí’s famous Lips Sofa, which he codesigned with the British patron Edward James.

Mae West had her fair share of paramours, but none as unlikely as the pianist, singer, and showman Liberace. Said to be the highest-paid performer in the world at the height of his fame, Liberace attempted, not quite successfully, to hide his homosexuality by escorting famous women to grand events. Another of his so-called beards was Judy Garland (above), who would—surprise, surprise—become a gay icon in her own right.

Judy Garland and Salvatore Ferragamo elevated each other to new heights—literally. In 1938, Ferragamo made the first platform shoe of the 20th century; his famous Rainbow Sandal, designed for Garland, became an instant classic. The colorful statement piece raised eyebrows at first, but over time it was embraced by everyone from fashion plates to ladies who lunch.