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Obituary: Fiamma Ferragamo

FIAMMA FERRAGAMO was determined the ball should go on. The Ferragamo family were hosting the inauguration of Florence's second Biennale della Moda and Fiamma Ferragamo was resolute that her illness would not mar such an important family occasion.

Few outside the family were aware of how gravely ill she was, but Ferragamo's strength of character gave her the willpower to fight the cancer for a few extra days past 19 September when the inaugural ball, sponsored by the family, was to be held. She had helped create the famous Cinderella slipper used in the film Ever After, a Cinderella Story and the premiere of the film was the highlight of the ball and Biennale.

Born in Florence in 1941 during the height of the war, Fiamma was the oldest of Salvatore and Wanda Ferragamo's six children. Salvatore Ferragamo, known as "The Shoemaker to the Stars", founded one of Italy's best-known luxury shoe and fashion brands when he returned from Hollywood in 1927. From the 13th-century Palazzo Feroni-Spini in Florence he established a business which his children inherited on his death in 1960.

Despite an attempted occupation of their home in nearby Fiesole by the Germans and subsequent bombing by the Allies, the young Ferragamos survived the Second World War. Fiamma left school at the age of 16 to join her father's business. She was the only one of his children to work alongside him on the bench learning his craft and receiving his guidance. She was 19 when he died.

It was apparent from the first official footwear collection presented in London in 1961 that she had inherited his extraordinary talent. Naturally, Fiamma Ferragamo was to take control of the design of shoes, handbags, luggage and small leatherwear. Together with her mother Wanda and her five siblings, who run various other aspects of the business, she played a key role in the development of the Salvatore Ferragamo business.

When their father died he was hand-making 80 pairs of shoes a day for wealthy clients - today automation produces 11,000 pairs. Now their fashion and shoes sell all over the world in large numbers with sales for 1997 at 869 billion lire (pounds 320m). Fiamma, though, maintained all the fundamental principles instilled in her by her father. Quality and fit are still the basis of their work.

She was an astute businesswoman. As vice-president, Fiamma Ferragamo was very closely involved with the design and running of the business. They are a tightly knit family who believe in teamwork and are untouched by the feuds that have riven other family-owned luxury brand names. Wanda Ferragamo is chairman and the eldest son Farruccio Ferragamo is chief executive. Fiamma and her siblings were equal shareholders.

Her responsiblities ranged from designing the shoes for the films Evita and Ever After with their respective costume designers and overseeing the design and production of all Ferragamo's shoe and leather goods, to getting involved with the negotiations that led to Ferragamo's takeover of the Paris couture house Ungaro in 1996 and the family's various local hotel concerns.

In the world of fashion Fiamma Ferragamo was a very modest and discreet person. Famous for her enchanting smile, she was good- natured and kind and took her role as older sister seriously. Although conservative in her own taste - frequently seen wearing a simple suit, Ferragamo scarf and the company's celebrated Vara shoe, with its grossgrain ribbon - she enjoyed fashion and would always attend the Ungaro haute couture collections in Paris. Passionate about music, she and her husband Marchese Giuseppe di San Giuliano travelled around Europe to music festivals.

Fiamma Ferragamo received the Neiman Marcus Fashion Award for creativity in 1967, exactly 20 years after her father received the same award. Other international accolades included the Saks Fifth Avenue Award in 1969, the 1988 American Footwear News designer of the year and the Fashion Footwear Association of New York Medal of Honor in February 1993.

She was also president of the Tuscan delegation to the FAI (Italian Environment Fund), member of the Consiglio di Regganza of the Bank of Italy and of the council of the Centro di Firenze per la Mode Italiana.

Francesca Fearon

Fiamma Ferragamo, designer and businesswoman: born Florence 1941; married 1969 Marchese Giuseppe di San Giuliano (one son, two daughters); died Florence 28 September 1998.