Written by Sarah Glenn, Textile Conservator
This Ferragamo ‘Vara’ pump shoe (T.91-1988) is going on display next year in The Glamour of Italian Fashion: 1945-2014.
Ferragamo patent leather shoe © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Made of patent leather in 1986, it has never been worn and has a perspex last (most likely the original and therefore part of the object) which was designed to keep the shoe in shape. The patent leather is in immaculate condition. It was donated by Wanda Ferragamo to the V&A in 1988.
Unfortunately since this time, the leather has dried and shrunk around the last, causing a very tight fit. It is impossible to remove the last without damaging the shoe.
The designers and curators of the exhibition want to display the shoes so you can see the inside and the beautiful construction and of course, the Ferragamo label. It is now textile conservation’s job to find a way to safely remove the last keeping the shoe and last intact and undamaged.
After various unsuccessful attempts to separate the last from the shoe using clamps, and careful manipulation using a cotton tape threaded underneath the last, it was decided that careful humidification was needed.
Take 1: The last still stuck in the shoe © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
This humidification chamber was constructed to gently introduce moisture back into the leather. The tent is sealed containing the shoe, a container of water and a RH meter. The humidity is raised over a number of hours in this way. It is important to do this slowly and in a controlled way as too much moisture in the environment can cause damage to the leather as well as the patent coating. We also have to be careful not to cause condensation on the Perspex as this could drip down into the shoe.
Take 2: Gently raising the humidity in the chamber © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
After a day in the chamber, the leather had softened but it was still impossible to remove the last.
A hairdryer with low heat was aimed at the heel to soften the leather locally. After a few seconds of direct heat it was finally possible to remove the last.
The shoe finally separated from the last © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
See the shoe along with other Italian accessories and garments in April 2014 in The Glamour of Italian Fashion: 1945-2014.