When you think of Ferragamo one of the first things that comes to mind is the Vara. Even if you don't know its name you know what it looks like--it's that mid-heeled sensible looking shoe with a stiff grosgrain bow at the top. Everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Margaret Thatcher has worn them. Your grandmother might have worn them, too, and if you were lucky, you stole them from her.
They're the ultimate in granny chic (hell, I think they're just plain chic--even though I hate that word) and they turn 35 this year. To celebrate, Ferragamo has launched an innovative new online project called L'Icona.
The project is "curated and art directed" by Voguette Claiborne Swanson Frank, and features beautiful photographs and video of the usual array of It-girls (Miroslava Duma, Lauren Santo Domingo, Chiara Clemente, Olivia Palermo, Alexandra Richards, Elettra Weidemann, Susie Lau, Lauren Remington Platt, Amanda Hearst, Lily Aldridge, Laure Hériard Dubreuil...just to name a few) wearing the Vara (or its flat incarnation, the Varina). But the most compelling part of this project is that for the first time ever, Ferragamo is letting shoppers customize their own Varas.
You can choose the color of the bow, the color of the body of the shoe, whether you'd like your hardware to be gold or silver, and you can even get your initials carved on a little metal plaque glued to the sole of your shoe. How's that for personalization. I got the chance to test drive the site when it was still in beta and was gifted my very own custom pair (I went with navy on navy and silver hardware--a little boring but hey, that's my style). I can vouch that this is a seriously user-friendly and addictive little application.
"I think that exclusivity is very important in fashion," James Ferragamo, Director of Womens Leather Products told me at last night's launch event. "Today fashion is much more about doing something that is only for you rather than something that is for the masses."
"This is a shoe that has been with Ferragamo for 35 years, so it's really an icon of the brand created by my Aunt Fiamma [Di San Giuliani Ferragamo], and something that really represents that timeless piece of the brand," Ferragamo continued. "So really, this is an example of how you can create something timeless but personalize it. It's for the customer who wants to buy it and be able to make a shoe that's only done for them, with their initials."
In addition to overseeing women's leather products for the brand, Ferragamo is obviously part of the family--founder Salvatore is his grandfather. His connection to the Vara is deeply personal one. "It's the first shoe I ever made," he said. "When I was nine years old working on the production line I actually made one pair of this shoe for my English grandmother (I'm actually half English). She never wore it, she always kept it on the mantle as an example of her grandson who made a shoe for her."
While Ferragamo's grandmother might be keeping her handmade Varas out of rotation, we can see this new customizable program spurring lots of women--grandmothers and granddaughters alike--to test them out. It's a pretty rare thing for a storied brand to let a customer mess with a classic. But we think Ferragamo's playing this one right.
Test it out for yourself here.