5 Questions for Max Verre

He’s worked with top labels René Caovilla, Santoni, Sergio Rossi, Saint Laurent and Tom Ford. Now Max Verre is grounding his own brand in a similarly elevated lifestyle.

The Italian footwear designer said he sees himself as a shoe craftsman like Roger Vivier and Salvatore Ferragamo, with “the sensuality of Halston and the upper class of Oscar de la Renta.”

The approach appears to be working. Three years into his namesake men’s line, Verre’s shoes have been picked up by dozens of high-end stores. Bergdorf Goodman has a U.S. exclusive, while internationally, the brand is found at Isetan and United Arrows in Japan, Lane Crawford in Hong Kong and Beymen in Istanbul. In total, about 73 luxury retailers carry Max Verre, according to the designer. And the label has graced the feet of celebrities like Matthew McConaughey, Chris Pine and Channing Tatum.

Verre offers styles with a refined construction and original patterns and detailing. His signature “cirage” finish gives polished leather shoes changing, muted hues that range from saturated to dark through a leather-working process that takes five days to complete. Other seductive qualities include quilted linings, velvet devoré and sculpted soles.

While Verre’s design headquarters are located in Lugano, Switzerland, production is handled by skilled artisans near Naples, Italy.

Retail prices start at 500 euros (or $676 at current exchange) and reach up to 1,800 euros (or $2,400) for croc-leather models.

Verre said business has been growing at a clip of 30 percent per year, despite a difficult economic climate in Italy for securing capital.

He launched a women’s collection, retailing for 380 to 490 euros ($514 to $662) for fall ’14. The styles were conceived as a “natural, sensual extension of the body” that reflects his obsession with the elegance of “the legs and their gait,” he said.

Verre noted the aim of his first phase of growth is to penetrate 125 to 130 key retailers, adding about 10 accounts per year. He is still pursuing only wholesale channels, but aims to develop possible shop-in-shops in the near future. “Every time we sell more, on the one hand it is a pleasure, but on the other it is an undertaking,” Verre said.

Here, the designer explains his brand outlook and why, sometimes, it’s better to go it alone.

How do you define your creative vision?
MV:
We have a vision of a way of life more than a real brand strategy. We appeal to people who are charmed by a certain kind of luxury, a certain kind of upper-class world. We make our offering within a particular aesthetic community, so we are looking to express a lifestyle. It can be an object or an accessory, or it could be something else, but it has that recognizability. [There is a] payoff when you buy an object you like that mirrors your happiness, your point of view, that makes you feel at home, that gives you that feeling of tranquility.

Why did you choose to produce your shoes in Naples?
MV:
Naples always has been an extremely highly qualified area since the 1950s to 1960s for making very fine and refined, light shoes [thanks to the town of] San Giorgio a Cremano, which produced bridal shoes at an international level. During my design work, I have had the opportunity to meet people from this area who maintained this competence, who knew how to create a network of extremely solid artisans, a little like what has happened in the Marche or in Veneto. But in Naples right now, there is truly research [and innovation]. There is technical skill. It is a place where you can pursue inviting projects. I won’t name names, but I believe that almost all the seven or eight biggest global brands are making shoes there.

How have you dealt with launching during an uncertain economic climate?
MV:
They have been three difficult years, but they have given us a chance to show the commercial value of the product. In this sense, the crisis helped us. People have been attentive to looking at the product, to looking at the style, to a whole series of things [that are sometimes overlooked]. We were able to demonstrate that our product had value. It put us under a magnifying lens because people are much more careful than they were eight years ago. On the one hand, [the economic climate] got in our way in terms of financing, but it also brought us attention, pruned the field, gave us a chance to stand out and prove the worth of the product.

How are you funding operations?
MV:
We are totally independent. We have been approached [by investors] to consider taking a path together — there was a group, then an investment fund and then a financier. We developed negotiations with one, and then we said no for a number of rather practical reasons. I have often seen equity stakes taken in us Italians. Often the acquisition creates great chaos. It is very hard to find a soul mate. It’s very complicated. You need to truly get along well. Instead, many times the backers change, the people change, and those who remain behind aren’t [on the same page]. You need to find [investors] with a vision 360 degrees in harmony.

What’s next for you?
MV:
We continue to penetrate the markets. We have a goal of high-level positioning and of covering the market homogeneously worldwide. In any area — in Asia, in Japan, in Europe, in Russia, in America — we are in the very top stores. This concerns the men’s line. For the women’s line, we started well with that, too, with 10 accounts. We are continuing on this path. We don’t want to make stratospheric leaps.