5 Questions for Diego Dolcini

Diego Dolcini is taking his brand to new territories.

The Italian designer’s most recent endeavors include increasing his namesake label’s retail presence internationally (he added Nordstrom in the U.S.), relocating to a larger, more contemporary studio in Bologna, Italy — a move Dolcini said helped clarify his design aesthetic — and joining the Massimo Bonini showroom in Milan.

“Bonini is very powerful when it comes to promotion,” Dolcini said. “We are having a very good, strong reaction from the clients.”

In addition, Dolcini is collaborating on a fall ’12 capsule collection with Italian tire manufacturer-turned-fashion retailer Pirelli. While the designer said he couldn’t reveal details yet, he shared that the collection will include five “very special” fall styles and debut at Milan Fashion Week in February.

“Pirelli is a big [opportunity] for me, and it’s very exclusive,” Dolcini said. “They are very powerful in fashion because they produce the Pirelli Calendar and have always worked with the best photographers and models.”

Adding to his busy schedule, Dolcini also continues to serve as a consultant to high-end labels Pucci and Casadei.

During a recent trip to New York, the multitasking designer talked with Footwear News about his next big markets, celebrity influence and his fascination with the late Steve Jobs.

How do you balance high art with functionality and accessibility?
Art, for me, is just a [starting point] to inspire [my designs]. Shoes are not art, but [I do try to create shoes] not just to wear and walk in but also to enjoy because they are beautiful. I think about prices because I think about real life. I have high price points, but I try to keep them accessible. No designer wants to talk about [being] commercial, but I do think about opening up possibilities for people [with more moderate budgets] who want to wear my creations.

With your biggest markets in the U.S., Europe and Russia, where else do you see opportunities for growth?
The next markets are China and India. I started [doing business in China] only a year-and-a-half ago, and I have four big clients there. Today, [Chinese consumers] are more mature, and they [understand] luxury. Maybe a few years ago, they knew about Prada and Gucci because they were big names, but now they have more choices because they understand what they want. They are very specific. It’s the same in India, but [there they have] more of a sensibility for luxury.

How is business going in your Milan flagship boutique?
It’s good, but it’s not really “wow.” It’s a little bit quiet because my collection is more international. It’s not really local; it’s not really Milanese. But when people want something different, they do come to me. When we [opened in 2008], the timing was challenging. It was a very difficult year [economically], so it’s hard to measure success.

Rihanna, Madonna and Jennifer Lopez are just a few of the celebrities who have been spotted in your shoes. How important is celebrity attention to your business?
Celebrities have always been important in the fashion world, but now it’s a phenomenon. Everyone is paying attention. Celebrities are more powerful [when it comes to influencing consumers]. Big brands used to have beautiful, iconic models [in their campaigns], and now they use celebrities. In the past, I had [more] opportunities to meet celebrities, and it was more casual. Now they have agents and stylists around them. [When I was starting out], the celebrity saw the shoes and contacted me. I remember when Julia Roberts invited me for a weekend in Venice because she saw my shoes in a magazine and wanted to get to know me. Now it’s more work. You need to push people and keep calling.

Speaking of celebrities, who are your major influences?
[My muse] is Keira Knightley. She’s really natural and chic. She’s dark and she’s like an angel at the same time. She’s always contemporary; she’s always “now.” I also like Nicole Kidman. They are not conventionally beautiful — they are beautiful because they have character. I think about this kind of woman when I am designing. I also always think about them in a contemporary context, in real life. [When it comes to role models], I’m fascinated by people like Steve Jobs, who started from nothing but have very good ideas and a passion for what they do. I think [Jobs] was a genius not just in business but also for his vision of life.

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