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Fashion

In the footsteps of Roger Vivier: Italian Gherardo Felloni stamps his mark on French shoe brand

  • Effervescent Italian who took over after Bruno Frisoni’s 16 years as creative director aims to respect the Vivier heritage but add contemporary touches
  • Having honed his skills at Miu Miu and worked under John Galliano at Dior, Felloni has found his equilibrium working for Tod’s Group, owner of the brand
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 January, 2019, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 07 January, 2019, 7:45pm

Sitting in his Paris office right above the Roger Vivier store on Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré, you would think Gherardo Felloni has been here forever. Appointed creative director in March 2018 following Bruno Frisoni’s 16-year tenure, the shoe and bag designer has already made a home of his new workplace.

On either side of the room, two massive pink bookshelves display a mix of shoes from contemporary lines and the Roger Vivier archives. His desk, created by a designer friend, sits on a large carpet, pink as well. Felloni has a passion for collecting – shoes, of course, and furniture, but antique jewellery above all.

Felloni was born in Tuscany, Italy, to a family of shoemakers. His first passion was architecture. In 1958, his uncle founded a shoe factory along with his father, where they created samples for big companies such as Hermès, Gucci and Prada.

“As a child, I used to spend a lot of time in the factory with my father. I had the chance to play with leather, colours, and see how shoes were made, so I had that knowledge from a very young age,” he says.

His father’s insistence and a first successful professional experience set him on the path to a career in shoemaking, and eventually to one dream: Roger Vivier.

“Today we work in a certain way because Roger Vivier changed the industry between the ’40s and ’50s,” Felloni says. Now at the creative helm of a house that has significantly influenced French style, Felloni feels a responsibility to conserve the rich heritage of Roger Vivier while adding a contemporary touch.

“My job is to respect the archive, and to make something that looks ‘Vivier’ but that isn’t a copy,” he says.

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In this, Felloni has had the support of Inès de la Fressange, long a friend of the house and an ambassador for the brand. De la Fressange was instrumental in reviving the brand in 2001 at the instigation of Diego Della Valle, owner of Tod’s Group, the parent company of Roger Vivier.

“It was love at first sight,” the designer says of the former fashion model, pointing out she is the only one left in the company who knew Vivier personally. “She is the memories of the last 15 years.”

At the same time, the influence of Bruno Frisoni, creative director of the house from 2002 to 2018, hasn’t been forgotten. “There was Roger Vivier, and there was Bruno, so it is a big responsibility,” Felloni says.

He has a clear vision of what he wants to bring to the table – and it springs organically from his passion for jewels, opera, and cinema. “I’d really love to preserve and continue the maison’s cinematographic touch,” he says. His latest project is in fact a short film that captures the essence of Roger Vivier.

In the lead role is French cinematic icon Catherine Deneuve, known for her groundbreaking role in Luis Buñuel’s 1967 film Belle de Jour. The film, in which she wears Roger Vivier’s Belle Vivier shoes, contributed tremendously to the international success of the brand.

Fifty years later – and with a little push from De la Fressange, a close friend – the actress reunited with the brand in Duo des Chats, a Christmas-themed, Wes Anderson-esque short film based on the comic operatic duet for two cats often attributed to the composer Giaochino Rossini.

“It was a dream for me to draw a shoe that Catherine Deneuve would wear again,” says Felloni, who has chosen to put his spin on the Belle Vivier design. Called Très Vivier (“almost as a joke, because it looks more like the shoes Catherine Deneuve wore than the ones we have in store today”, he says), the shoe remains faithful to its classic 1965 silhouette but has a cube heel and a reshaped buckle.

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Felloni, who honed his skills at Miu Miu as lead accessories designer and worked under John Galliano at Dior, has found his equilibrium working within the Tod’s Group. While he and Della Valle are both Italian – “so there is this family touch” – the designer is conscious that Roger Vivier is a French brand (“the shoes are made in Italy, but everything happens in Paris”, he says).

With his effervescent, creative personality, the designer might as well be a character from one of his films. During Paris Fashion Week, he conjured up the Hotel Vivier, an immersive experience in which guests were invited to check into one of its several rooms. There, actors and performers brought the collection to life, and so did Felloni, who showed his talents as a tenor with an impromptu performance. It was such a success that the designer brought the Hotel Vivier back for presentations in New York and Tokyo.

This week the Hotel Vivier, and Felloni, will appear in Hong Kong, but rather than doing the same thing over and over again, he wishes to adapt the experience to the culture of the country he’s in. “You have to make people feel that you exist all around the world,” he says.

If he ever felt pressure succeeding a character like Frisoni, who showed rare longevity at the creative helm of the same maison, Felloni doesn’t show it.