5 Questions for Bruno Bordese

For Bruno Bordese, luxury and sportswear go hand in hand.

The Milan-based designer decided to shake things up in January and present his main luxe collection at Pitti Uomo in Florence, Italy, rather than his sportier BB Washed product. BB Washed, launched in 2005, had been a mainstay at the international trade show, while the other line showed for the first time.

“The idea was to make people understand that, besides working on the street collection, which has became extremely popular, I’ve always continued working on a more luxury offering, which I want to keep expanding. Nowadays, classic footwear lines are closer to sport, and people mix and match classic and casual pieces in their wardrobe,” said Bordese.

Fall ’14 also marked an exclusive collaboration with Vibram that highlighted a higher, chunky-yet-lightweight sole. The sole appeared on a range of styles, including derbies and loafers. The Bruno Bordese main collection is priced 30 percent higher than the BB Wash line, ranging from 350 euros to 500 euros, or $488 to $697 at current exchange.

Bordese started his company in 1994 after working with Cesare Paciotti and Alberto Guardini, and following collaborations with fashion labels including Yohji Yamamoto, Vivienne Westwood, Moschino and Nino Cerruti. In 2009, he signed a licensing agreement with Massimo Bonini for the distribution of his labels and stepped away from the day-to-day business operations.

“That year marked a turning point in my career,” he said. “In the previous years, I had a lot of success with my collections, but I felt I was losing my creativity being too involved in the business aspect of my firm. From the day I [licensed my brand], I took my life back again. Sometimes I still have to go on the front lines to oversee some aspects of the business, including educating the salespeople and giving directions on the communication strategies.”

Bordese’s shoes are sold in 200 doors around the world, including Antonioli in Milan, L’Eclaireur in Paris, Tsum in Russia, Fred Segal in Los Angeles and online at Thecorner.com. His own e-commerce site is a short-term goal.

“I developed this idea over the last few months because it has become more important to have direct contact with my customers,” the designer said. “Of course, we also think about the possibility of opening a flagship store in Milan.”

Here, Bordese discusses the demand for casual footwear, customers’ differing tastes and how he balances a work routine that includes outside design work.

How do you explain the casual shoe boom?
BB:
Sneakers are comfortable, and if they also look cool, you have the perfect match. I’ve always been very focused on sneakers because my background is rooted in the sportswear business. I used to have a store in Milan called A+B, where I sold limited-edition sneakers. I was doing a lot of research in Japan and many big brands used to test their new sneaker projects in my store. There, looking at how certain brands were starting to mix sport and fashion, I started thinking about how the shoes of the new generations could be.

Many other labels are pursuing that perfect sporty-chic shoe. What are you doing to stand out?
BB:
My goal is to offer extremely comfortable shoes, so I try to combine technology and design. Technology plays a huge role in the footwear business right now. For example, my shoes feature a latex insole treated with active carbons. In Italy, artisans are disappearing and nowadays there are machines that are more efficient than human hands. In addition, technology keeps evolving, offering more creative opportunities, but we also have to take care of nature. In the last few seasons, I’ve introduced shoes without glue, and I don’t work with certain kinds of exotic skins anymore.

Are consumers particularly attentive to these details?
BB:
In the Far East, consumers seek out made-in-Italy products. In Europe, people don’t pay so much attention to quality. One of the reasons is that new generations grow up in sporty shoes produced by huge corporations that invest a lot in technology but use cheap materials and finishing.

In addition to designing for your own brands, you are in charge of designing the men’s and active ladies’ footwear lines at Guess. How do you balance your projects?
BB:
I usually organize my week dedicating a specific day to a specific brand. It’s a work method I’ve developed to be completely focused on what I have on my desk every day. When I design for my own label, I let my creativity break free while trying to live up to my customers’ expectations. In the past, designers showed too many different things, but now it has become extremely important to create continuity within the collections, to keep building on a specific message. When I design for other brands, I study the labels in depth, highlighting their specific values.

How has the footwear business changed in the last few years?
BB:
When I started 15 years ago, I was ahead [of the trends] by five years. Now things are changing so fast that I’m just ahead by one-and-a-half years. The huge challenge now is balancing the speed of fashion with my own mindset. My research always starts from the analysis of changes in people’s dressing habits. The key is always to understand in what direction the world is going.