Fashion shopping in Hong Kong

Shoe designer Gianvito Rossi on how he keeps Hong Kong women one step ahead

Marking 10 years as a leading label and with a new boutique in Central, the Italian designer renowned for minimalist shapes says he’s not an artist but a frame maker focused on elegant accessories

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 April, 2017, 12:30pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 April, 2017, 6:18pm

Italian shoe designer Gianvito Rossi might know how to draw a crowd, but he takes nothing for granted.

His newly expanded boutique in Hong Kong’s Central shopping district was packed last month for an event to celebrate its relocation and Rossi was happy his Plexi pumps and latest Cocktail collection were delighting the hordes. But he remembers advice his design legend father Sergio gave him.

“He taught me that you can always do better. The idea is not very relaxing but it’s the truth. My work is never finished – you constantly need to evolve and listen to improve your work,” Rossi says. “That is what drives me as a designer.”

Designed to commemorate the brand’s 10th anniversary, the limited edition Cocktail collection features a range of fun styles inspired by classic cocktails, including a bootie spelling out the word cocktail in neon crystals and decorated with an encrusted twist of lemon. Also Instagram-worthy is the Portofino, a sleek satin strap sandal featuring a crystal cherry on the front.

Admittedly, Rossi had a head start on many of his counterparts when he launched his footwear label in 2006. He grew up in San Mauro Pascoli, Italy’s famed shoe district. Most of his childhood was spent at the family’s shoe factory, which he refers to as his “playground”, learning the business. Pursuing a career in shoemaking was “second nature” to him, although his famous family name was would later turn out to be a double-edged sword.

Gianvito Rossi talks about his shoemaker heritage and what inspires him

“True, you have a bigger opportunity than any new designer, what with the attention and a chance to show your product to a lot of people. At the same time the expectation is not one you would expect for young designer – the bar is set much higher. It took a while for me to really make this business work, especially since we started when the economy wasn’t very good,” he says.

Mr. Gianvito with the beautiful @amandastrang_ during the party for the boutique opening in #HongKong

A post shared by Gianvito Rossi (@gianvitorossi) on Mar 30, 2017 at 3:27am PDT

One advantage Rossi had was in-depth knowledge of the industry. Having worked in the family business since the age of 16, he saw footwear evolve from the elegant and ultra-feminine designs of Maud Frizon in the 1980s to the trend-based “high fashion” styles of ready-to-wear brands in the 1990s (his family made shoes for the likes of Versace).

Rossi was clear about his direction.

“I wanted to go back to this idea of femininity and elegance, of creating shoes in relation to the woman, versus the trend or what the market requires. I wasn’t interested in platforms and statement styles. I wanted to fuse classic and timeless elements with modernity,” he says.

While his peers make headlines with over-decorated sky-high heels, Rossi embraces simplicity. His initial designs, many of which continue to be best-sellers, include the perfectly engineered pointy-toe pump which he has updated with materials such as PVC or carbon fibre.

“The silhouette for me is everything. For every shoe I design, the ultimate goal is to make the woman look nicer. The shoe itself is not enough. Designers today have a super ego and want to show off what they can do and often the shoe ends up over designed. I like to see a woman walking and people to be charmed by her not the object herself. A shoe is an accessory – it shouldn’t be more than that, I’m not an artist, I am a frame maker,” he says.

Angelo Ruggeri of Sergio Rossi talks shoes, frocks and Sicily

Also at the heart of Rossi’s brand is craftsmanship.

“A shoe can go through 60 to 200 processes – you can do stitching in three steps or 14. In the end you barely see the difference. I’m lucky because I still have my father who advises me, especially with construction and fitting. Quality is a matter of great experience. I’m proud to be Italian and do everything in Italy, but that isn’t a guarantee of quality. Your reputation depends on what you give to client, it’s not about where it is made,” he says.

Construction aside, his designs are also eye-catching. Although shapes are minimalist, he injects graphic elements that differentiate them season after season and is a favourite of style icons such as Emma Watson, Gwyneth Paltrow and muse Carine Roitfeld.

“Designing footwear today is different to the past where everything was based on what the market wanted. Now it’s about what you design and what you propose. For me it’s about evolving every season while adding some flavour. I also don’t care for fashion trends of the moment, although I’ve been playing with athleisure which is here to stay as part of our lifestyle,” he says.

For spring-summer 2017 he has also brought back satin in a range of bold colours on unexpected shapes such as booties and sandals that can switch from day to night. He also offers a made-to-order service in his boutique.

“Women today are no longer obliged to have a single look. Individuality is king and that’s the freedom any shoe designer loves to explore,” he says.