Today, Roger Vivier’s new creative director, Gherardo Felloni, will present his first collection in Paris. Last week, however, he gave FN an exclusive preview, his favorite styles laid out on a table in his office like delicious macarons in a patisserie, detailing his vision for the house.
“Working for Vivier has always been one of my dreams,” he said. “He was a genius, and I’m sure he invented everything in shoes.” But while Felloni has a profound respect for the house, he’s not so awed that he’s afraid to touch anything.
Felloni has certainly put his own stamp on the luxury French brand. He started with his office, spray-painting all the shelving a hot pink, adding carpet to match and installing a life-size reproduction statue of Adonis, the god of love. The original is displayed in Paris’ Musee de Louvre. A recent post on Felloni’s Instagram feed involves a video of a pug dog, its chops festooned in bright pink lipstick. The caption reads “Me at Vivier.”
But joie de vivre aside, the most compelling reason behind CEO Diego della Valle’s new hire is the latter’s ability to translate and contemporize, drawing on the archive without trying to replicate it. “When I arrived, I knew I needed to continue the heritage of the brand with the silhouettes, the use of the color and its exclusivity,” Felloni said, “but I also wanted to have fun and be more modern.”
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The first challenges he set for himself were to reinterpret the iconic Belle Vivier pump and to create a new running shoe. Renamed the Tres Vivier, the former is “chunkier, younger and a little bit retro,” he said. The Belle has definitely had a little work done: The heel is trapezoid, the rectangular buckle supersized, flattened and squared off. Look closely, in fact, and it’s not even a pump anymore. “It’s a little moccasin,” Felloni said, pointing out the tongue, semi-obscured beneath the buckle.
The Viv’ Run sneaker features the classic Vivier buckle, albeit reimagined in rubber, double flyknit overlay and a 7-centimeter choc-style wedge. “Roger Vivier was a genius with heels,” Felloni observed. “If was alive today, he would never have a made a flat sneaker.”
While the flavor and silhouettes of the collection are inspired by the history of the house, particularly the glory days of the ’50s and ’60s, there are no direct copies. When Felloni started, he immersed himself in the archive for one week but then put everything back and started to draw. “I look at everything,” he said of his process, “but then I go to the factory and develop my own lasts and my own heels.” However, Felloni is happy that people often confuse his own designs with the originals.
Elsewhere, highlights are many. A pale pink slingback pump is made of crushed velvet, an ostrich feather sprouting from a cantilevered ring-setting on the front like a maharaja’s helmet, while a pump in raspberry satin features an oversize bow to the side. “In the ’50s, Vivier would do little bows, but really sophisticated and bourgeois, so I also decided to take the bow and explode it,” Felloni said.
Both shoes come with strass-covered kitten heels, a chunky nod to the classic comma — with some serious Felloni frosting.
There are only two high heels in the collection, a pump and a platform sandal. The former, with its grosgrain uppers, monoblock resin heels and archive-inspired peaked detail on the front, are called I Love Vivier. And for good reason. “I did the insole half red and half pink so you get a trompe l’oeil effect,” Felloni explained. “When you look from above, you see a the shape of a heart.”
Leopard, another Vivier code, comes in a jacquard on pumps and bottines on the edgy side of pretty, while Marie Antoinette-style slipper pumps are done in stripes and finished with an oversize diamante buckle. “When I looked at the archive, I saw that Roger Vivier was obsessed with shoes from the 18th century, so I took his inspiration and looked at 18th century shoes myself,” Felloni said. The fabric is a handmade tie jacquard sourced from a men’s supplier.
Speaking of which, Felloni has also introduced an embryo men’s line — only one shoe to start with, a patent slipper with a grosgrain strap atop a metal buckle, but it’s a category he plans to expand. “It was a joke at the beginning,” he revealed. “I’d been playing with the buckle on an old tuxedo shoe at the factory when I was making the Belle Vivier.”
Felloni joined the Parisian house from Miu Miu, where he headed up footwear, leather goods and costume jewelry. He was previously shoe design director at Christian Dior, working with both John Galliano and Raf Simons. The designer, who started his career interning at Prada, has footwear in his blood, and his formative years were spent learning the ropes at his father’s shoe factory in Arezzo, Italy. One of his earliest memories growing up is the smell of the glue and the clattering of the machines.
Felloni’s own look is as eclectic as his design aesthetic. His signature is a traditional shirt with a jeweled neckpiece instead of a tie. He’s been collecting antique jewelry for some 15 years, and his favorite period is the 19th century — “the end of antiquity, just before you get to art deco, so you can still see the human hand,” he said. He’s also drawn to the modular nature of that era, and today he’s wearing three brooches strung together of Italian, French/Russian and Belgian origin. He bought the Belgian component when he was working at Dior, two weeks before Raf Simons signed his contract. “It’s strange,” Felloni joked, “sometimes jewels have something to communicate.”
He’s also a talented opera singer. He took lessons when he arrived in Paris in 2009, later joining the Conservatoire de Paris, where he spent four years learning how to read and write music. Time permitting, he also sings in a choir, but right now, he has to make do with serenading the workers at Vivier’s Italian factory.
If we’re lucky, he might burst into song at the end of today’s presentation. “When I saw the space, I thought the echo would be really good,” he laughed, “but I might just collapse instead.”
But back in his new office, beyond the pink spray paint situation, beyond the triple table created by his designer friend Duccio Maria Gambi and beyond the portrait of (another) dog, bought on a whim at auction because, he said, it reminds him of his boyfriend, is a Rupert Shrine sculpture in the shape of a heart installed beside the original collage by Vivier that inspired it. There is also a selection from the Vivier archive, all in individually numbered boxes bearing photographs of their precious contents.
“I really like the idea that they are here with me,” Felloni said. “It’s nice to be able to open them up from time to time. They also remind me I have a heritage to respect.”