May the 18th is International Museum Day. We celebrate it by explaining what they conserve and how they were born

Like every year since 1977, on the 18th of May the ICOM (International Council of Museums) celebrates International Museum Day all over the world. Italy, which in the footwear sector, compared to other manufacturing countries, stands out for its districts, each with its own specificity, tradition, and know-how, also boasts some museums that tell the story of the world history of footwear through historical models from various parts of the world, but also document local know-how. Mostly an expression of the foresight and passion of entrepreneurs who have collected evidence of the past and the local area, these museums are never static, but always dynamic and host themed exhibitions, workshops, and events. Here are the 5 best-known footwear museums in Italy.

The exhibition “Donne in Equilibrio” (Women in (the) Balance) continues at the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum in Florence

Born in 1995 in the Palazzo Spini Feroni on the initiative of the Ferragamo family with the intention of spreading the history of the company and the artistic qualities and creations of the founder, the Museum is rendered dynamic with a succession of exhibitions and themes related to art, design, and society. Each time, as such, it presents itself differently, changing its contents and layout. The exhibition Donne in Equilibrio” (Women in (the) Balance) is currently underway, extended until the 10th of September 2023. Designed to honour the memory of Wanda Miletti Ferragamo, who led the company from 1960, the year of her husband’s death, until 2018, the exhibition outlines through objects, clothes, films, and photographs the activity and choices not only of the exhibition’s protagonist, but also of those courageous women who led Italian entrepreneurship between the 1950s and 1960s, contributing to the “economic miracle” in working environments which until then were reserved almost exclusively for men. The exhibition is completed with another exhibition project, digital only, created in collaboration with the ‘Arts Curating’ course at the Istituto Marangoni Florence in which the works and testimonies of eleven international artists were collected and commented upon, in a choral reflection on the theme of identities, a subject of central importance to our contemporary condition.

Museo Ferragamo – “Donne in Equilibrio” exhibition – ©2022 Guglielmo de Micheli

Models from all over the world at the Vigevano Shoe Museum

It is an example of how a museum can arise from the passion of a single entrepreneur. Pietro Bertolini, founder of Ursus Gomma in Vigevano, already in the 1930s began to collect historical footwear, documents, objects which were then donated to the Municipality to create a public footwear museum in 1958. Since 2003 it has been located in the Castello Sforzesco and now occupies the premises above the second stable. The history of footwear is intertwined with the history of local entrepreneurship and the protagonists of the golden age of Vigevano in the 1950s and 1960s, but the shoes on display come from all over the world. Certainly worthy of attention is the ethnic section with Japanese footwear (the traditional geta and zori models), Chinese footwear (shoes for shrunken feet), Eskimo boots, African sandals, and Indian slippers. The Wunderkammer, or chamber of wonders, offers imaginative and curious footwear. The historical section, on the other hand, focuses on a real gem to which a room is dedicated: the late 15th-century slipper of Beatrice d’Este, who had stayed in Vigevano with her court. Then there are shoes ranging from the 18th to the beginning of the 20th century and models belonging to famous people up to the autarkic shoes of the 1930s, the classic and elegant models of the 50s and 60s, up to the creations of the most well-known and famous contemporary and emerging designers. An area of the museum is dedicated to the stiletto heel, which seems to have been born in Vigevano in the early 1950s, a symbol of seduction and femininity, still today the undisputed prerogative of ‘Made in Italy’ footwear.

Current issues are also addressed at the Museo dello Sportsystem in Montebelluna

The sports shoe district’s story is told in the Museo dello Sportsystem, founded in 1984 by a group of entrepreneurs who wanted to promote the local area and its related skills. It develops over the course of eight rooms, of which the first follows a chronological orientation as regards the development of mountain footwear and ski boots in the Sportsystem District, to then become more thematic by focusing on some types of footwear related to a specific sporting discipline and worn by an important reference athlete. At the centre of the itinerary is the gallery of champions where shoes from various sports disciplines are exhibited (from cross-country skiing to motocross, from basketball to fencing, etc.) produced by companies in the district and signed by the great champions who they used them. The rooms on the first floor are named after the benefactors and historical founders of some of the most important companies in the sector. In the museum you can trace the history and evolution of the various products, from the origins of the Montebelluna footwear tradition with work shoes and some sports equipment (snowshoes, ice skates and toboggans) from the late 19th century, to the ski boots from the 1930s , ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s up to the plastic models that earned Montebelluna the fame of the ‘ski boot capital’ at the end of the ‘70s. To get to soccer shoes, cycling shoes, ice and roller skates and other disciplines related to the mountains, snowboarding, telemark, and extreme mountaineering.

Among the scheduled events, there are two appointments in the month of June: on the 16th the theme of Certifications for the sports footwear sector will be addressed with particular attention to sustainability. The second event of the Sportsystem Economic Observatory will be held on the 30th of June and will see the participation of CCIAA/TV-BL, Intesa S.Paolo, Confartigianato, which through the related research offices will present updated economic data on the district.

Educational workshops and events at the Villa Foscarini Rossi Shoe Museum

A piece of footwear history of the Brenta Riviera passes through Rossimoda, a company linked to the entrepreneur Luigino Rossi who, on the company’s 50th anniversary in 1995, created the Footwear Museum in the architectural complex of Villa Foscarini Rossi in Stra. The collection on display consists of 1,500 models of women’s footwear born from collaborations with noble luxury brands and produced by the company from 1947 to today. Models by Kenzo, Pucci, Lacroix, Fendi, Ungaro, Dior, Saint Laurent, and Celine, just to name a few brands, whose manufacturing ability also bears witness to the know-how of the Brenta Riviera and documents the evolution of costume and fashion in the second half of the twentieth century. The Museum also hosts educational workshops and events.

Straddling history and the present day the Museum of Sant’Elpidio

The footwear museum “Cav. Vincenzo Andolfi”, created in 1998, is located in the historic centre of Sant’Elpidio a Mare, on the first floor of the former convent of the Oratorian Fathers of the Congregation of San Filippo Neri. A story told through artefacts, but also the evolution of production processes and the typical know-how of the Marche industry. The collection, made up of thousands of pieces of footwear, models, and processing tools, is divided into three sections. The first is dedicated to “Footwear from every time and place” with specimens ranging from Roman footwear up to the twentieth century. The second section “Famous people’s shoes”, exhibits the footwear of important personalities from the religious world (such as Paul VI, John XXIII, and John Paul II), politicians, sportsmen, Nobel prize winners (Sir Derek Walcott, Dario Fo), and show business personalities, like Milva, Bobby Solo, and Beniamino Gigli. The third section entitled “Footwear industry in the Marche region” focuses on local companies and preserves a faithful reproduction of a shoemaker’s workshop, displaying various ancient tools used for the hand-making of footwear.