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Iconic Designer Has Little Known Link To South Coast, Where Fashion Career Took Off

It’s a legendary name in fashion.

The name Ferragamo is synonymous with high fashion footwear. But, what most people don’t know is that the very first Ferragamo shoe store in America was in Santa Barbara, and that was where the shoemaker first made his mark.

Historian Michael Redmon is the Director of Research at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum. Redmon has studied the Ferragamo story, and its little known but key connection to the South Coast.

Ferragamo was born in a small town in Italy in 1898. His family hoped he would stay with family tradition, and become a farmer, but he was more interested in being a cobbler. Redmon says Ferragamo was able to pursue his shoemaking interests thanks to an unexpected opportunity. His family couldn’t afford shoes for his sister’s communion, so he made them. His parent then agreed to let the teenager leave home to go become a shoemaker’s apprentice.

Ferragamo was so good at it, he returned home to open his own shop, and the teen soon had six employees. But, it wasn’t enough for him. He decided to follow the path of some of his brothers, and move to America.

Ferragamo joined a brother in Boston, where he worked in a shoe factory. But, making shoes that others designed left him dissatisified. Here’s where Santa Barbara comes into the picture. Ferragamo had another brother who lived in the U.S., a tailor who lived in Santa Barbara.

So, the young man (he was only 18 at the time) moved to the city in 1916, which at the time was one of the centers of the new movie business. Santa Barbara was home to the Flying A Movie Studio, and he and his brother saw an opportunity and took it to make custom shoes for the booming studio The business was a huge success, but it wasn’t enough for the enterprising young man. He wanted to improve himself, so he took classes at USC, as well as correspondence courses to improve his business and language skills. He opened a shop was in downtown Santa Barbara, on the 1000 block of State Street, several blocks southeast of the “Flying A Studios.” For the last few decades, it was home to Aldo’s, a popular Italian restaurant which has since closed.

Fate would intervene again, pushing him to Hollywood, and stardom. In 1920, the Santa Barbara studio faded from the movie scene, and Ferragamo decided to move his business to Hollywood. He returned to Europe in 1927, where his business really took off.

Ferragamo died in 1960, but the business of course lives on, and expanded to include everything from purses to eyewear. But, to this day it’s fashion for those with money, A pair of men’s cap toed Oxfords will set you back about $1300. Women’s pumps seem like a bargain by comparison, ranging from $500 to $600.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.