On December 18, Italian fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo celebrated the 100th birth anniversary of the mother of the brand, Wanda Miletti through the publication of her biography and an exhibition. Stepping forward as CEO of the Italian fashion house after her husband’s death, Miletti knew nothing about running a business. Yet, she loomed a legacy out of her brand, successfully transforming it into an international trendsetter. Set to launch on May 22 of 2022, the Women in Balance exhibition also puts forward other working women who have successfully managed a profession during Italy’s economic boom and built themselves profiles away from the pre-constructed duties set by society.
The exhibition sheds light on those women’s roles in a historical context while also focusing on how they played CEO in their businesses and their homes, taking care of their families as mothers and wives. It also underlines modern-day concerns regarding relationships, work-life balance, and work-related decisions. “When my father died, she had never worked before. She knew a lot about the business and was so proud of what he’d done; they had a very intimate connection, and it must have been awful to find herself alone,” shared Leonardo Ferragamo, Chairman and son of Wanda Miletti.
Coming from a humble background in Southern Italy, Wanda Miletti met her husband during the summer of 1940 in one of his visits to her family. Despite the 24 year age gap between the two, their powerful chemistry started a family of eight, slowly growing in popularity in Florence, where the Ferragamo store was located. “My mother was wonderful. There was a large age difference between my father and my mother. He adored her, spoiled her. But because of that, he kept her like a jewel,” Ferragamo added.
Soon after her husband’s early death in 1960, Miletti’s fear of failing her husband’s dream was comforted by the support of the brand workers and her two eldest daughters, who were already working with their father. She took the Florence-based shop and transformed it into a world-renowned name that dressed men and women from head to toe. With the help of one of her grandchildren, the family business soon introduced new products and lines, diversifying the brand’s offering with a well-reputed profile as a company that thrived on solid social morals and product quality. “My youngest brother, Massimo, was only two years old when my father died. After thinking what to do, she decided she would try and go on. She did with such determination, intuition, and capacity that no one would believe she hadn’t been trained for it,” Ferragamo said.