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Italy In Hollywood Section No.1

Johnny WANG 2018-10-01 10:53

The development of movies has always had strong ties with the fashion industry. From Hubert de Givenchy’s skyrocket to fame following Audrey Hepburn’s warderobe in the 1961 classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Christian Dior with Hitchcock’s 1950 film Stage Fright, or the recent panorama of 1967 film Belle du Jour at Shanghai International Film Festival featuring Yves Saint Laurent. It’s no exaggeration to say fashion has remarkably infiltrated through the art of motion pictures. And indeed we see the film industry is crowded with fashion designers, especially from France, as well as brilliant Italian designers like Salvatore Ferragamo.


Ferragamo spent his years in America from 1915 to 1927. He was unquestionably influenced by the glamor of Hollywood, and would later prove his role as an integral part of the interaction between Italian culture and Hollywood. In 2019, an exhibition named Italy in Hollywood is taking place in Florence(until next March 10), which explores a thorough analysis of the exchange between the two cultures.

Story behind the Film

According to history records, Ferragamo left his hometown of Bonito before WWI and embarked on Stampalia from Naples to North America. After a short stay in Boston, Ferragamo settled in Santa Barbara, where his brothers (Alfonso and Secondino) resided. Later on, the brothers opened a shoe shop, where they both repaired and made customized shoes. This would be Ferragamo’s first involvement with the film industry, as his customers included film producers like D.W.Griffith, James Cruze, Raoul Walsh and Cecil B. DeMille. For DeMille, Salvatore Ferragamo made shoes for his several most important historical films, including The Ten Commandments (1923) and The King of Kings (1927).


Ferragamo rapidly assimilated himself into the mainstream Californian society, with American media hailing the young man’s talents. As the film industry moved to Hollywood, Ferragamo followed the crowd and opened a new store, “Hollywood Boot Shop” on Hollywood Avenue. The frequent customers consist of a long list of superstars, like Mary Pickford, Pola Negri, Charlie Chaplin, Joan Crawford, Lillian Gish and Rudolph Valentino.

Business relationships gradually forged into friendships, and decided to Ferragamo settled in Hollywood. During his stay, he continued to propagate  cultural interactions between Italy and Hollywood.

Hence, the exhibition put focus on Ferragamo’s interest in art, craftsmanship and entertainment during his most creative years. The clue expands itself like a playing film, and with the help of Maurizio Balò’s stage effect inspired by 1920s’ American studio, visitors are invited to a fully immersive movie scene. A large part of the exhibition aims at deciphering the Italian elements in American films. Italian feature films, which can be characterized by their grand scenes of landscapes and vivid footage of real life, the influence of which gradually seeped into their American counterparts, especially the Roman-based titles like Giovanni Pastrone’s 1914 film Cabiria. The Taviani Brothers’ 1987 film Good Morning Babilonia, on the other hand casts light on the “finish the job well” mentality among Italian immigrants. In the 1920s Hollywood, Italian silent films were fascinating “labs” and cultivated many Tinsel town superstars, including Lido Manetti, Tina Modotti, Frank Puglia, Lina Cavalieri, comedian Monty Banks (pseudonym of Mario Bianchi) and the “pioneer modern star” Rudolph Valentino. Italian-born film directors like Frank Capra and Robert Vignola, second-generation immigrants Gregory La Cava and Frank Borzage dedicated their life to the American film industry as well.


Multi-Interaction of Culture

The clue of the exhibition shows the core idea of the curator, that is, enabling the audience to understand the Italian immigration wave in California during the early 20th century. Though its history is rarely known to the public, this was a critical time in the cultural development of California, and providing a chance for audiences to appreciate the state’s burgeoning cultural diversity. Meanwhile, this promotes understanding of the Italian immigrants’ life in the West Coast and interdisciplinary communications of different arts. Especially the White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASP) were in conflict with American Italians and this intense relationship was also featured in some Italian literature at that time.

To vividly present the theme, the curator specially added Ferragamo’s personal sound recording in 1957, during which explains his understandings of life and passion for his career. Just as he says, he kept a low-profile throughout his life.


The exhibition not only features remarkable Italian figures, but also Italy’s contribution to the field of music. Some music performers combine nature with culture in exceptionally harmonious ways. For instance, Enrico Caruso staged his talent through unrelenting practice of voice and body language. The show also presents American films based on ancient Rome, including Fred Niblo’s Ben Hur (1925), Lillian Gish’s The White Sister and Romola (the last of which was made in Rifredi Studio in Florence, 1924, and consulted the professionals from Laurentian Library, Guido Biagi and Gabriellino d’Annunzio.) 

For different reasons, they participated in the film production and brought elements of the Renaissance and 19th century Romanticism to film. Moreover, the exhibition also reveals that many Italian elements were involved in Hollywoods silent movie era: the epic masterpiece Cabiria for example creatively combines film with history of art. At that time, Hollywood superstars mimicked the manners of Italian portraits and brought them onto the screen. The show also exhibits some pictures and documents brought back to Italy by Ferragamo himself, which record his days in California (1915 to 1927), his bold experiments and active social life. Through the wash of time, these memories emerge to be mysterious and charming than ever. 

【Layouts Hu Fangfang】

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