In Palazzo Strozzi, a Renaissance palace overlooking Florence’s Arno River, Ferruccio Ferragamo, scion of luxury shoe brand Salvatore Ferragamo, is explaining why his shoes are “Made in Italy”.
Mr Ferruccio’s father, Salvatore, put handmade shoes on the feet of Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren, Lauren Bacall and Judy Garland. But his son is supposed to be living in different times, where rising Chinese and Indian manufacturing power has put Italians out of business.
When Mr Ferruccio meets the Financial Times in December, he has another problem on his mind. He is having to ask Ferragamo’s workers, dotted in villages and factories around Florence, to keep working right up until Christmas day, almost a week longer than usual.
“We cannot make enough to keep up with the demand from the Chinese. They want their shoes not just made in Italy, but often made in Florence,” he says.
A decade ago, many economists and industrialists, in Italy and outside, were convinced that the myriad small and medium-sized businesses that make up the backbone of the country’s economy were in terminal decline. The Italians could not compete with rival manufacturing bases in Asia. Their productivity was too low and too costly. They did not have the infrastructure or heft to export their goods in the volumes necessary to ensure their survival.