“Paris is such a great place for inspiration. It’s so glamorous. The light is different here — I love it,” said Gianvito Rossi a little more than a month before the devastating terrorist attacks in the French Capital.
On this Sunday afternoon during Paris Fashion Week, the mood was energetic across the City of Light.
Influencers lined the sidewalk tables at Le Castiglione, a favorite haunt on Rue Saint Honoré. Next door, Rossi, who had quietly arrived in town the evening before, was relaxing in his new showroom with members of his team. While Rossi happily remained on the sidelines in Paris — he had presented his collection in Milan a week earlier — the Italian shoemaker was at the center of the fashion conversation. Weeks later, he still has everybody talking.
Top buyers are citing the nine-year-old label as the must-have collection for spring ’16, thanks to Rossi’s commercially viable, elegant styles that entice with just the right amount of edge. The momentum comes on the heels of an incredible year for the designer, who is now as sought-after as his more seasoned luxury rivals.
“Gianvito is at the forefront of the next generation of great brands,” said Josh Schulman, president of Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus Group International. “Among newer shoe brands, he’s the fastest-growing one we’ve had in years.”
That’s also true on the other side of the globe, at Hong Kong-based Pedder Group, where President Peter Harris said that across its divisions, Rossi is among the top five brands. (Pedder Group and Rossi also partner on the designer’s Hong Kong store on Lan Street.)
Rossi’s first stateside boutique, which opened in August on New York’s Madison Avenue, was an instant hit among longtime Rossi fans and well-heeled Upper East Side shoppers who are just discovering the brand.
“I’m very happy,” said Rossi, who also has locations in Milan, Paris and London. “It’s important for me to have my own stores because I like connecting with my consumers where they live.”
Case in point: Days after the NYC shop opened, one stylish shopper greeted the designer after spotting him at the front of the store. “Welcome to the neighborhood!” said the animated customer, who had met Rossi in Paris last year. “We’re so glad you’re here!”
“I care so much about having loyal customers,” he explained. “That’s why it’s important to be responsible and accurate with [what I’m producing]. I want you to be happy and come back.”
From his earliest days, Rossi’s label was coveted by the cool-girl crowd looking for an alternative to mainstay luxury brands. But his network of consumer and celebrity fans — which now includes Diane Kruger, Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid, among many others — has expanded in the past few years. There’s no question the designer is having a moment, one he’s been working toward his entire life. After all, Rossi — who expects annual revenues to reach some 60 million euros (about $63.9 million) in 2015 — has been entrenched in the shoe business since he was born.
He spent his childhood years watching his father, Sergio Rossi, toil away at the family’s Italian factories and later worked alongside him for two decades. During that unique apprenticeship, the younger Rossi got an in-depth education in the intricacies of design and the complexities of the production process. He also learned the importance of creating commercial product that is more timeless than trendy.
“I had the chance to have a long experience with my father, and I’ve used it in my new adventure. It helped me [avoid making] some mistakes,” he said, adding that the elder Rossi continues to be a close adviser and champion of his work. Father and son share a deep passion for Italian shoemaking, so it was no surprise that Gianvito struck out on his own after the family severed ties with the Sergio Rossi brand in 2005. (The label was sold to Kering, then called PPR, in 2000.)
“When we ended our collaboration, it was the first time I found myself without shoes. It was weird because I had always done it. Sometimes you don’t understand what you have until it’s gone.”
What profession might Rossi have explored if he hadn’t returned to footwear? “I don’t know what to tell you,” he said with a laugh. The thought clearly had never occurred to him. “This is my love, and within a few months, I was back at it,” he recalled. Today, as he finds himself in high demand, Rossi said he’s been careful while steadily building the brand. Sometimes that means slowing things down, which isn’t easy in the hyper-paced fashion world.
“If I’m going too fast, it’s dangerous. We’ve had constant growth, but my focus is always on quality first. For me, it’s the most important thing,” said Rossi, who was eager to elaborate on what quality means to him.
“You need to stay close to the product and verify every single step of the process. The way you design is also important. You have to think about what you’re doing in a physical way,” he explained. “You can design something that’s strong or eye-catching, but if a woman wears it once and doesn’t want to wear it a second or third time, that’s not high quality. I want to produce something that has originality, modernity and a timeless feeling.”
Rossi has followed that philosophy from the start, when he focused on crafting styles like a perfectly cut pump or his often-copied U bootie. Since then, he has expanded into tall boots, block heels and evening sandals, but the entire collection remains signature Rossi.
That’s an impressive feat, particularly as some of his designer peers, who spent their early years obsessed with trends and showstopper styles, are struggling to get their core business off the ground. It’s also another example of how Rossi’s rich experience is proving to be an advantage. “It’s not easy, but the most important thing you can do is be true to yourself as a designer and do what you really believe in. It gives more authenticity to your work. People can see that about you,” said Rossi.
What many fashion insiders see is his desire to improve season after season. He is consumed with every element of a shoe, from precise heel heights to exact proportions to the best materials. “His attention to detail is unprecedented,” said Alberto Oliveros, head of buying at Level Shoe District.
Rossi is proud to have forged such close retail relationships during a high point for the shoe business, he said. “The demand is much stronger than it was [when I was growing up]. Women today are so interested in and passionate about their shoes.”
Fueled by the fervor, Rossi is eager to tackle new territory. In fact, he’s already plotting another U.S. store opening for 2016. But he maintains that he’ll never be “massive” because he would have to sacrifice quality. “Gianvito is extremely protective of his brand and understands what can happen if you let it get out of your control,” Schulman said.
While he holds tightly onto the reins, Rossi is mentoring the next generation — his son, Nicola, 22, and daughter, Sofia, 18 — and he’s excited about the prospect of them becoming more involved. “Fashion is a fantastic world. You have a chance to meet so many people, and every three months, you have a new story. It’s such passionate and exciting work.”
Click through the gallery to Rossi’s spring 2016 collection.