Ferragamo’s Marilyn: A Venus in Four-Inch Heels

Marilyn in costume for ‘Two Little Girls From Little Rock,’ from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

As many fans already know, Marilyn wore shoes by Salvatore Ferragamo on and off the screen – and the appreciation remains mutual (remember the lavish 2012 exhibition at the Ferragamo Museum in Florence, Italy?) Writing for Vogue today, Emily Chan explores Marilyn’s love affair with Ferragamo’s designs.

Unfortunately, though, the article is riddled with commonplace errors. Firstly, Marilyn’s red bejewelled stilettos were seen in the opening number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), not Let’s Make Love (1960.) Secondly, Marilyn’s height was 5 ft. 5.5 inches, not 5 ft. 3 – and when she put on her 4-inch Ferragamo heels, the difference was noticeable. Thirdly, it was not Marilyn, but Bette Midler, who said, “Give a girl the right pair of shoes and she’ll conquer the world.” And finally, Eric Skipsey’s portrait of Marilyn and her pet dog Maf was shot in 1961, not 1955. (Maf wasn’t even born then!)

It’s a shame that such a reputable publication as Vogue gets these basic facts wrong, but the article does offer some insight on Ferragamo’s creative process and how he thought of Marilyn, one of several great female stars he designed for (Greta Garbo and Audrey Hepburn were others …)

From left to right, Marilyn and her Ferragamos with Maf in 1961; on the set of Some Like It Hot in 1958; and en route to Mexico in 1962

“When Maximilian Davis took the helm at Ferragamo this season, he looked to the Italian brand’s famous Marilyn shoes – the red Swarovski-encrusted pumps …Indeed, the fashion house’s new signature red draws from the heels, as well as the flag of Trinidad and Tobago, reflecting Davis’s heritage.

The heels epitomise Monroe’s long-standing relationship with Salvatore Ferragamo – ‘the shoemaker of dreams’ – whom the actor helped make famous. [Marilyn] began buying her heels from the brand’s store on New York’s Park Avenue after moving to the city in 1954, as well as ordering directly from the brand.

The actor would wear Ferragamo’s four-inch stiletto heels both on and off-screen, with the sleek Filetia and Viatica pumps (the latter of which were worn by the star in 1959 film Some Like It Hot) being her favourites. To ensure the shoes were comfortable, Ferragamo patented a new heel especially for Monroe that was half wood and half steel. Whether paired with a bombshell dress or a shirt and Capri pants while off-duty, the ivory and beige versions were a key staple in her wardrobe.

Many of Monroe’s shoes are now safely in the hands of the Ferragamo archive: the actor’s red crystal pumps were purchased for a staggering $48,300 (£43,000) at a Christie’s auction in 1999. In 2012, the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo held a major retrospective dedicated to Monroe, 50 years after her death, featuring 30 pairs of shoes alongside some of the star’s most famous outfits.

Despite the fact that Ferragamo and Monroe never met in person, their special relationship is undeniable. The shoemaker thought of the actor as a ‘Venus’ – because of her size 6 feet. ‘Venus is usually of great beauty, glamour, and sophistication, yet under her glittering exterior she is often essentially a home body loving the simple things of life,’ he wrote in his autobiography, originally published in 1957. ‘Because these two characteristics are mutually contradictory, the Venus is often misunderstood. People accuse her of too much luxury loving and frivolity’ … One thing’s for sure: Monroe’s love of luxury turned Ferragamo into a household name.”