How cult label Golden Goose took flight with sneakers scuffed, scraped and scored
Celebrating the 10th anniversary of its smash-hit sneaker line, the founders of Golden Goose Deluxe Brand give their inside take on a label that has won fans worldwide including Gwyneth Paltrow, Kanye West and Taylor Swift
“Everything started by chance, as a game, a series and succession of fortunate events,” says Alessandro Gallo, creative director of Golden Goose Deluxe Brand, as the company celebrates the 10th anniversary of its smash-hit sneaker line that was launched in 2007.
These coveted and often sold-out kicks have come to symbolise the brand’s non-traditional approach – and its vision of everyday, artisanally enabled luxury as imagined by Gallo and his wife, co-founder Francesca Rinaldo, when they set it up in 2000.
The growth of Golden Goose reads like a fairytale-worthy succession of fateful moments that has resulted in rapid international expansion from its base in Venice. This transformation of what was supposed to be a personal adventure into something greater – “probably dictated by our great passion, and surely also by a good dose of recklessness,” Gallo says – was born under most auspicious omens, starting with the brand’s name itself.
Taken from Aesop’s tale “The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs”, the name was chosen for its lucky connotations and potential international appeal. Soon after, “Deluxe” was added to position the brand as a luxury one – not in terms of ostentation and appearance, “but as something rare that requires experience and broad knowledge to be understandable,” Gallo says.
The couple remained discreet, preferring to let their designs speak for themselves. Craftsmanship was their focus, something Gallo describes as “an indispensable element to safeguard the luxury world from the excessive rapidity which risks swallowing the system”.
The golden egg truly hatched with the launch of the brand’s first sneakers in 2007. “It was an item we were passionate about and collected in the first place,” Gallo says. And as proud sneakerheads, the two did what they knew best: approach the footwear as an object of lasting devotion, worn and loved over time, separated from its conventional position as a utilitarian sports shoe.
Combining West Coast skater cool with Italian cobbling excellence, the lace-ups – originally introduced to complete their women’s styles – were soon spotted on the feet of stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Kanye West, Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez and Off-White’s Virgil Abloh. Their distinctive appearance remains to this day a worn-in, well-loved look that they have even when fresh out of the box.
Part of the attraction rests in the irreverence of the items and the recognition of their true added value: what time and the hand have done to them. The shoes embody the Japanese concept of kintsukuroi, the understanding of an object being all the more beautiful for having suffered damage, and for the history told in every scuff and scrape. For Golden Goose, it meant turning the expertise of traditional craftsmanship into new techniques designed to scuff, scrape and score without compromising the longevity of the footwear.
The brand has its naysayers, such as those who accused its creative directors of “poverty appropriation” in 2016 for its Distressed Superstars sneakers. But chief executive officer Giorgio Presca opposes the accusations, explaining that distressing is “a skill that has been redefined in fashion in the past 20 years, from denim to fabrics, and for [Golden Goose] into sneakers.”
Besides, Pesca adds, ask anyone about their favourite worn-to-bits item: “Distressed means worn, worn means liked.”
Rinaldo and Gallo had no formal training when they set up the brand back in 2000, having ditched fashion school. But they had plenty of access to the golden hands of traditional crafts in Italy’s Venetian region.
“The only thing that pushed us was the desire to have something ideated by us, that was not present in the market and that could be an expression of our taste,” Gallo says.
With its rock star looks, the brand’s first collection of 2000 won a cadre of early supporters. Classic shirts revisited, leather pieces and accessories for men and women formed the bedrock of the brand, with other categories soon following.
“Unquestionably, the lifestyle idea guided our creative proposition,” Gallo says. “Since the start, our collections were the transposition, in the fashion world, of journey and experience.”
This is reflected in the sneakers of 2007, of course, but also in their children’s fashion in 2009 and more recently, the Haus by GGDB collection in 2012. The latter closed the circle by embodying the brand’s holistic vision of lifestyle through more casual sportswear-inflected pieces and lifestyle items such as paper goods and writing implements, manufactured in collaboration with the likes of Rotring and Faber-Castell.
But the success of Golden Goose was not just because of its designs, but its timing. As fashion customers grew more discerning, the space in which GGDB existed became a niche in which the Venetian brand was a natural leader.
“Customers are much more informed and they want to be much more involved,” says Presca, who joined the company in March following the brand’s acquisition by American private equity corporation The Carlyle Group. “Fashion is a part of their world, not the opposite as it used to be.”
These days, Golden Goose rules the artisanal-cool flock from its hometown of Venice, the geographic intersection of “travel, curiosity and contamination of many cultures through aesthetics,” as Presca put its – values Rinaldo and Gallo have always advocated.
Collaborations with other brands on their sneaker line have become a way to further extend Rinaldo and Gallo’s notion of “the willingness to ‘put hands’ to the sneakers”. With London-based Matches Fashion this resulted in a line of crystal-covered low-tops; with Off-White, the Milan brand’s stark graphic stripes were blended with Golden Goose’s superb leathers, with some pairs even inscribed with handwritten notes courtesy of founder Abloh.
Collaborations are also a vehicle to highlight ideas important to Rinaldo and Gallo. A hook-up with Bonpoint saw a percentage of sales from their kid-sized Superstars and Fracy bestsellers donated to children’s charities. At last year’s Venice Biennale, Golden Goose came up with matching footwear for former boxer Omar Hassan’s kinetic splatter art.
On the retail front, the brand works with a healthy cadre of digital and brick and mortar retailers, and has flagship stores in places including Seoul, Tokyo, Paris, New York and, since May, Hong Kong. Each store is a collaboration of sorts with the architecture of the land, rather than a cookie-cutter rendition of the brand’s identity.
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Did its founders ever imagine how high this Golden Goose would soar? Gallo remains as realistic as ever: “At 20, I don’t believe you can talk of experience. Perhaps of ambition, curiosity, passion and aspiration.”