As the gatekeeper of the iconic heritage brand Roger Vivier, and a long-time admirer of its founder’s work, Gherardo Felloni knew he had big shoes to fill when he accepted the role of Creative Director – the French maison has crafted footwear for Catherine Deneuve, Christian Dior in the ’50s and ’60s, and was tasked with making Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation shoes.
Previously heading up footwear, leather goods and costume jewellery at Miu Miu, and formerly Shoe Design Director at Christian Dior under John Galliano and Raf Simons, Gherardo admits he was initially daunted by the task at hand. However, a year into the job, he’s found his feet, has used the brand’s archive as a kind of inspirational blueprint for future designs rather than a restrictive barrier to his creative freedom, and is making his mark in an undoubtedly millennial way.
“I think my role at Roger Vivier is to make this brand alive today, and to look at the customer, to look at women and understand the needs of these women,” he explains. “I have a good relationship with the archives, it’s something that I like, it’s something that I took inspiration from all my career, as every shoe designer in the world; so basically I know the archive, I know the attitude of Roger Vivier, but today you have to be contemporary, and it is my vision, of course.”
Part of this vision has been the introduction of the Viv’ Run sneaker, a first for the brand – dubbed “the Fabergé of footwear” – in its 65 years. As someone who wears Nike running shoes whether he’s designing in the studio or hosting a dinner for over 100 people, Felloni understands first-hand the importance of form and function. “Everybody was shocked, ‘Oh what are you doing? A running shoe for Vivier?’ and I said ‘I grew up with running and it’s a big trend now and I went to college with running shoes and I still wear running shoes’. For me, it’s something normal. It’s not a word I like to say, ‘normal’, but I have been working on shoes for 20 years and there was a moment 10 years ago where everybody was shocked about running shoes in fashion and luxury,” he reveals, while in Dubai with Mytheresa.
And his decision has not only been motivated by a desire to bring the brand alive in a more modern context and attract a new customer base, but to allow existing, more conservative customers to embrace comfort without compromising on style. “For me it’s something that women need, so I’m pretty confident in this because I think that women have to be comfortable to be confident,” he continues. “Women work and walk, so it’s about freedom. A woman can choose a running shoe or a sandal or whatever she wants.”
The Viv’ Run sneaker
The brand has, up until this point, been famous for just its footwear, but Felloni is hoping to change all that with the introduction of a ‘bijou’ jewellery line. Inspired by Roger Vivier’s signature square buckle, the jewellery collection, which features crystal-embellished earrings, chokers, bracelets, hair clips and a tiara, is a nod to the Italian’s passion for antique jewellery. “There’s the buckle motif that’s linked to the brand but of course the tiara is from an obsession,” he explains. The campaign shots feature Sophia Hadjipanteli – the model credited with challenging conventional beauty standards who shot to viral fame on Instagram thanks to her trademark monobrow – and highlights Felloni’s astuteness towards the importance of having a strong visual presence online in order to succeed in today’s market.
His love of traditional cinema is also helping to bridge the gap between the classic Roger Vivier fan and a new generation of social-media-savvy customers, by giving them a literal insight into his vision. Since taking the job, Felloni has produced several short films where the lead actress (Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon, so far) wears Roger Vivier. The scripts and plot are not fashion-focused – a deliberate and bold move on Felloni’s part to capture a wider audience, who he hopes may stumble across the content online and discover the brand in a different context.
“Today, social media is really important, the time is really important and to express something complicated in one minute is harder than two hours. So it’s really challenging, but it’s something that really works. I see that the final customer, the friends, and the journalists everybody is really amused and interested, so it means that it works.”
And while he has no immediate plans to take the Tom Ford route and direct a feature-length film anytime soon, he’s not ruling it out. “I need a producer, so help me to find a producer, and we will do a long movie,” he tells Grazia.
For now, though, he’s firmly focused on capturing the hearts and minds of his customers by producing beautiful pieces that champion craftsmanship over quick wins. “I think when there’s too much information, the winner is quality, because everybody does shoes, ready-to-wear and bags, but I think that if you’re really focused on quality, and not just quality of the product but quality of the idea, that’s a good point to start.”