Virtual Exhibition: Ferragamo’s ‘SILK’ Artfully Extols a Hallowed Fabric

The origins of silk can be traced all the way back to China during the Neolithic period, also known as the New Stone Age. So, yes, it was a long time ago – possibly 7000 to 10,000 years. Eventually, from the Roman Empire on through to Medieval times, the fabric came to represent the very epitome of elegance and luxury.

For the house of Ferragamo, silk has been a mission/passion since the 1950s, when founder Salvatore first sought to transform his exalted shoe brand into a comprehensive fashion label – and the first silk scarves were printed with the iconic art and architecture of Italy’s great cities. After his passing in August of 1960, his force-of-nature wife Wanda notably carried on his dream and built Ferragamo into an all-encompassing, worldwide concern. And by the 1970s. daughter Fulvia (it’s always been a family business, to be sure) saw to Ferragamo’s successful foray into the continuous production of silk.

Tragically, she died suddenly as a result of cancer in 2018, aged just 67. And a new exhibition titled SILK at the Museo Ferragamo in Florence – and also available to be viewed digitally – honors her legacy by artfully tracing the fashion house’s fruitful and beautiful relationship with silk, via its extensive and fascinating historical archives.

Curator Stefania Ricci recalls, “It began in 2019 with a first survey of all the material relating to the silk production of Ferragamo preserved in the archive: more than 3000 scarves, 7000 ties, another thousand silk accessories, drawings, sketches, color proof papers and 1065 albums of various sizes that collected thousands of collages. The great job has been to identify the references, coming from rare books on botany and zoology, from paintings and precious and common objects.”

History has it that Fulvia had discovered a passion for silk while still a student at the Poggio Imperiale school for girls, located in the summer villa of the Grand Duke Pietro di Lorena, overlooking fair Firenze. She was housed in its Chinese Apartment, decorated as it was with watercolors of rice cultivation, and tea and silk making – and the exhibition explicates how that came to deeply influence her designs, which are juxtaposed the with actual artworks from the Villa. Two Chinese artists, Su Yan and Peng Yu, were also brought in specifically to assist in properly illuminating the spiritual elements of Silk Road exchanges.

But discoveries from Fulvia’s travels were also a significant influence.

Ricci describes her as, “A curious and cultured woman, who loved to bring back from her travels and her visits to exhibitions and museums catalogs, old books and small antiques that then magically became the common thread of a design.”

The exhibition tells of how eventually, silk became a key pillar of the Ferragamo fashion empire, and themes tended towards greater gravitas, influenced by ancient texts and the decorative arts – though exotic flora and fauna remained the dominant motifs. By the 1980s, designs drawing on Oriental art, botany and the natural sciences were also introduced.

Ricci observes, “It was interesting to note how the reference to high culture – a 17th century painting – to popular culture, graphics for children and genre illustrations could be found inside a [single] scarf.”

Just as paper is to a writer, fabrics have the ability to tell the stories of the designers who work with them. And with SILK, Ferragamo wonderfully takes the viewer on a veritable global cultural journey, as orchestrated by Fulvia Ferragamo – which is certainly welcome at this time when physical international travel is severely so limited. Most importantly, the virtual presentation of the exhibition is engaging to a degree that it genuinely does make one feel as if they’ve been transported to Florence, if only for a couple of wonderful hours.

SILK will be on show at the Museo Ferragamo in Florence from March 25 until April 18, 2022, and is also available to view digitally.

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