Milestone: Venturi’s Vision

When Paola Venturi was handed the keys to Via Spiga, she knew there was one thing she wanted to emphasize: the brand’s dedication to giving women what they want.

“We start with the needs of the customer,” Venturi said. “I want to make women feel comfortable and to walk that line between sexy and classic elegance.”

Venturi took over the creative director position at Via Spiga in January of last year, but she’s no newcomer to shoes. A native of San Mauro Pascoli, Italy, she began her career at Sergio Rossi, and has designed footwear for Calvin Klein, Kate Spade and Te Casan.

And while Venturi’s high-design background has been an influence as she interprets the “sophisticated” heritage of Via Spiga, she’s adamant that all the styles are comfortable to wear. “As women, we know how much you can suffer to have on the wrong shoe,” said Venturi, who works out of Brown Shoe Co.’s design studio in Florence, Italy. “I’m really feeling that every time I start to design.”

Here, Venturi shares some of her Via Spiga memories and talks about the importance of being based in Italy and what shoes every woman should have in her closet.

1. You’re a relative newcomer to Via Spiga. How much did you know about the brand before you took over as creative director?
PV: When I started designing shoes in the early 1990s, Via Spiga was one of my inspirations.

2. So you were familiar with the brand’s history?

PV: It was really famous in Europe. All the young designers were inspired by Via Spiga because it had a really great tailored silhouette. It’s full of great details and beautiful leathers, and all the elements combine with a beautiful harmony. For me, Via Spiga was like a sophisticated brand at an attainable price — footwear that you could wear every day. It was an amazing brand to follow.

3. Your previous design roles were at ultra-high-end brands. Was it difficult to switch gears and design with price as a consideration?

PV: What is really important for Via Spiga is that I make creations that give expression and design to all women. And [given my background], it’s a challenge, but I found it quite comfortable [to switch gears]. All the elements I told you about — the sophistication, the high quality of the materials — are possible at an affordable price. Women are looking for attainable shoes, so this is the bigger opportunity, where the price point is right on target.

4. Did that affect how you design?

PV: What really changed my way of designing shoes was [the idea] that the most beautiful style is the one that makes you feel beautiful. This is really what I’m bringing to the company: something simple — not so much fashion-forward, but something a woman can wear that is beautiful and comfortable. And that is a challenge.

5. Brown Shoe is based in St. Louis, but you design from Florence. How does living in Italy influence you?

PV: Being based in Italy, I can see every kind of thing, from the expensive to the very cheap. And I have the chance to experiment inside the tannery.

6. Do you spend a lot of time working with the leathers?

PV: I go almost every week to work at the tannery, with the chemical people, working new materials. If I go to a vintage store and find a beautiful dress with a special finish, I can go to the tannery and say, “I want to do this in leather. Can we do this?” It makes me really happy because to make these beautiful shoes, in the end, it’s not just about design.

7. Since joining, you’ve served as the face of the brand, doing in-store appearances. Why do you do them?
PV: I meet the women who are going to wear the shoes that I am going to design — and that is fantastic, because we have changed a lot of things [based on] what they say is important. “I need something like a mid-heel, they have to be sexy, I have to be comfortable.” That is the most amazing part of my job. I love design, but I love being in front of the people who are the judge.

8. What sort of woman do you have in mind when you design?
PV: Our consumers cover a big range. We [attract] different types of people, so I’m not focusing on one type of woman. I want to expand the brand to a lot of people, but the underlying dress code is sophisticated and feminine.

9. What’s a shoe wardrobe must?

PV: Every woman must have the right black pump in her wardrobe. It can be really elegant or just a work shoe. But every woman must have one. It’s really [important] for the shoe to be in proportion with your body silhouette. If you are skinny, for example, maybe you have to wear a pointy toe to keep the knee in. I try to cover everyone. We are really working on Via Spiga so that in every collection, you’ll find your beautiful pump with the right proportion.

10. What trends will we see in the next few seasons?
PV: Wedges and platforms [will continue to be important]. You can be in a high heel, but the pitch of the last [allows legs] to look elongated without the pain. Also, really natural materials in espadrilles and sandals — everything really earthy. And I’m obsessed with opanka constructions. I don’t [personally] wear a lot of high heels, but our Jasmine style [which features an opanka construction], I’ve stayed in almost every day. People are always asking me, “Can’t you change your shoes? You’re a shoe designer!”

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