Shoe designer Edgardo Osorio gets personal with winter collection for Aquazzura

Edgardo Osorio's shoe designs are inspired by a desire to connect with the women who wear them, writes Divia Harilela

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 July, 2014, 9:44am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 July, 2014, 9:44am

When it comes to connecting with customers, shoe designer Edgardo Osorio takes his cues from old-school couturiers such as Dior and Saint Laurent - albeit with his own technological twist.

"Up until the 1960s, women would meet designers in their private ateliers and together they would build a relationship and a wardrobe. Then, all of a sudden, designers disappeared into their own private bubble and there was no communication," Osorio says.

The first thing I do when I design is make it beautiful
edgardo osorio, designer 

"For me, it's important that I can talk to my customers all over the world. They can comment on what they like, tell me what fits - we have a daily dialogue. I can also see what she looks like and how she wears my shoes, which is a huge advantage. Thank God for Instagram, it helps me keep connected," says the 29-year-old designer, who has 42,000 followers on the image-sharing website.

While many fashion brands shun social media sites, it's Osorio's personal touch that has propelled his meteoric rise to shoe fame since establishing Aquazzura, a play on the Italian words for blue water, in 2011. Lauded as one of the next generation of luxury shoemakers, Osorio's elegant yet cool styles have become must-haves thanks to devoted high-profile fans that include Giovanna Battaglia, Karolina Kurkova, Lauren Santo Domingo, Kim Kardashian and Carine Roitfeld.

"Funnily, we became a success because [our styles] started to appear at fashion week," he explains. "It became the fashion week shoe because all the editors and buyers wore them in the front row. It was an insider's brand and that really gave us an edge."

Three years later, Aquazzura is available in 42 countries and at top stores including Barneys New York, Browns in London and Lane Crawford, where Osorio unveiled his new collection on Friday. It is also his first collaboration with style icon Olivia Palermo.

"It was an obvious choice to work with Olivia as we are good friends and she's always wearing the shoes. We went to her closet, did a mood board of the looks she wears and discovered her collection of go-to shoes. This led us to create six styles which I consider essentials," he says.

"There is an evening sandal featuring crystal-studded chains draped around the ankle, which is inspired by one of her vintage necklaces, pumps with mesh inlays and even thigh-high boots. It's the perfect shoe wardrobe, seen with Olivia's eyes, but using our aesthetic."

Osorio grew up in Colombia surrounded by a family of women who were crazy about footwear. Aged 14, he secured an internship. "There's something special about shoes, they give you a high like nothing else," he says.

He moved to London and attended Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design and London College of Fashion before being offered a job at Ferragamo's Creations at the age of 19. Stints at other footwear stalwarts followed, such as Rene Caovilla, Sigerson Morrison and Roberto Cavalli. But it was Osorio's time at Ferragamo that would shape Aquazzura.

"Even though my shoes are different from Ferragamo's aesthetic, which is more classic, I learned the importance of fit and quality. We were making shoes like they used to, by hand, and I carried that with me. At the other brands I learned about workmanship and discovered amazing furriers and leather people. All of these influences become a part of you in some way."

When the time came for Osorio to launch his first season, in spring-summer 2012, he had already identified a gap in the market. While contemporaries such as Nicholas Kirkwood were all about sculptural, sky-high heels, his aesthetic was more of a quiet shout with chic styles that were wearable and beautifully crafted.

"When I started it was all about crazy shoes. I would go to a department store, look at what was available and think, 'How can women walk in these?' I went to 12 weddings in one year and I would always see women take off their shoes before dancing. I thought, this is not possible, they just need to find the right pair," he says.

"Aquazzura is about incredibly sexy, comfortable shoes that become a part of you. Out of the hundreds of shoes in your closet, I want Aquazzuras to be your go-to shoe."

From his base in Florence, Osorio had access to skilled craftsmen and together they perfected each pair's silhouette and construction. Top of the list was adjusting the balance of the shoes so that weight was distributed evenly and not concentrated on the front of the foot. Then came details such as the inclination (arch) and soles, which are slightly padded. He selected soft, lightweight fabrics including suede that were leather-lined for extra comfort.

As soon as he released his first style, the Sexy Thing - a cut-out suede bootie that envelops the foot like a second skin - they were worn editors everywhere. To this day, it is his best-seller. Other iconic styles followed, including the Belgravia, a modern pointy-toe flat with sexy lace-ups that goes seamlessly from day to night. Each season Osorio would develop and perfect the same styles to ensure a better fit and look.

"The first thing I do when I design is make it beautiful. Next is making it as comfortable as it can possibly be. All these things you don't see, but feel. That, to me, is luxury. Besides, my shoes always look better on. Many [shoes] look beautiful on the shelf but when you try them on they don't work. Mine are the opposite. They are designed to come alive on the foot," he says.

Now an established brand, Osorio's Aquazzura steps out in a new direction for autumn-winter 2014 by showcasing the techniques of the artisans he works with. Inspired by notorious media heiress Patty Hearst, highlights include suede booties with feather-shaped and studded fringes, while colourful snakeskin is worked into a classic pointy-toe pump with lace-ups. Innovative fabrics include a leather studded mesh transformed into a super sexy bootie.

"All the decoration is about showcasing the workmanship while becoming part of the shoe. It's an evolution: the beginning was about a tight and focused collection, but now it's about showing our customer something new and the things we can do because we have access to these great artisans," he says.

Expect more styles, including trainers and espadrilles, and the opening of his first freestanding boutique in his adopted home, Florence. In the long term, he hopes to build a lifestyle brand.

"I would love to do handbags and other products. I want them to be a dedication to Italy and Italian dolce vita," he says. "I would even do men's shoes as I have a very hard time finding shoes I like. It would be interesting to be able to do something both men and women can have.

"At the end of the day, I want to create objects of beauty that make women happy. There's something so special about shoes and the way they transform you. Besides, they are carb-free so you don't need to feel guilty."

Amen to that.