It can take years for some to become an overnight success, and Alessandra Lanvin, this year’s Vivian Infantino Emerging Talent honoree, is no exception.
Since launching her brand, Aperlai, in 2009, the Parisian designer, 33, has steadily wooed an influential clientele and garnered shelf space at top retailers, including Bergdorf Goodman, Le Bon Marché and Dover Street Market. And though she married into fashion royalty — her husband is the grandson of legendary couturier Jeanne Lanvin — she has emerged as a formidable fashion player in her own right.
Lanvin, who cut her teeth on the business side as a headhunter for luxury houses, said her spirited, hyper-feminine design aesthetic was shaped by her refined upbringing. “I was very lucky because when I was young, my mom would bring me to her couture fittings at Chanel,” Lanvin recalled. “[Chanel’s] shoes were made by Massaro. I was amazed at how difficult it was to [create] the perfect pair.”
A similar pursuit of the sublime informs her work today: Lanvin assumed full creative control over her collection in spring ’11 after enlisting Burak Uyan to design the line in 2009. Today, she is part of a new guard of female footwear designers, including Tabitha Simmons and Charlotte Olympia, whose enviable style and press-friendly personas make them natural brand frontwomen.
“[Lanvin] is one of the only designers who does flats and heels equally well,” said Roberta Benteler, founder and managing director of London-based designer e-tailer Avenue 32. “Her shoes are a work of art. [They’re] amazing for online because they stand out. She has a way with unique color combinations and shapes.”
Indeed, for Lanvin, it’s important that her offerings reflect her love of variety. “I have to wear my shoes every day, and I don’t want to wear the same style all the time,” she said of her eclectic collections.
She is a strong proponent of platforms (one of Aperlai’s best-selling items is the 6-inch Geisha pump, seen below, far right), and couldn’t be happier that the style made a strong comeback on the spring ’15 runways. “It allows for more creativity on the heel side,” Lanvin said of the silhouette. “It’s a question of proportion. I love single soles for day, but platforms are amazing in the evening when you want to be comfortable.”
Benteler, whose site does brisk sales for the Geisha, agreed: “It’s the best possible way to wear a platform — high and most elegantly disguised. [Alessandra] always plays with different textures and heel finishes, which keeps it fresh.”
Stylist and writer Natalie Joos added, “She wants to innovate and appeal to a young, fashion-forward customer. It’s her combination of charm and creativity that makes the brand stand out.”
While Aperlai still enjoys a bit of under-the-radar cachet, it has amassed plenty of high-profile fans. The designs have graced the feet of Keira Knightley, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Solange Knowles and Margot Robbie, to name a few. When such images hit the tabloids, the brand does see an immediate sales uptick. “Katy Perry on tour in our shoes? Amazing [results],” Lanvin said. But the label also relies on word-of-mouth marketing. “That’s always the best,” the designer noted.
In September, Lanvin made a big move, opening Aperlai’s first retail store. Nestled on Paris’ tony Rue du Mont-Thabor, the shop is an evocative gateway into the brand’s decadent world, with brushed-gold fixtures and hand-painted De Gournay wallpaper, as well as sea-blue walls that reference her mother’s Turkish background.
Benteler, who has tracked Aperlai’s trajectory since the start, said Lanvin has positioned the brand well for future success. “She should stick exactly with what she is doing,” the retailer said. “A lot of designers grow too soon. She’s become established now by not branching out too quickly.”