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Sergio Rossi’s Legacy Looms Large in the Storied Italian Footwear Industry

On Dec. 8, Sergio Rossi will be posthumously honored with the Hall of Fame award at the first virtual FN Achievement Awards. Below is an article from the magazine’s Dec. 7 print issue about Rossi’s incredible legacy.

Sergio Rossi’s love affair with footwear began in an Italy consumed by the Second World War. Seven decades later, his beloved country faced another battle — a devastating pandemic that took the design legend’s own life in April, at the age of 84.

From his formative years to his final days, Rossi embodied the spirit of the Italian shoemaking industry. A true pioneer, he crafted some of the most iconic styles of the 20th century and helped turn his hometown of San Mauro Pascoli into a capital of luxury women’s footwear.

“He contributed so much, he was a major talent and very important. He had an incredible flair for what is current, he produced wonderful things,” Manolo Blahnik told FN.

Rossi learned the business from his father in the 1940s and ’50s. By the age of 14, he was a skilled shoemaker, and together with his brother, Franco, produced shoes he would sell along the Italian Riviera.

In 1956, the young man took over his father’s business — and with his earliest styles, he prioritized shape above all. In 1966, for instance, he debuted the Opanca, a Slavic-inspired sandal with an insole that curved upward around the foot. With a kitten heel and thin strips of red leather hugging the top of the foot, it was an early model for the sexy, strappy sandal that is so ubiquitous today.

Sergio Rossi FNA Hall of Fame
Some of the late designer’s most enduring styles.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Sergio Rossi

While Rossi grew his own label, he inspired many other designers with his namesake collection, including rising ready-to-wear star Gianni Versace. Rossi became known for unforgettable collaborations with Versace, Dolce & Gabbana and Azzedine Alaïa.

As he carved out his own distinct path, Rossi got his son, Gianvito, hooked on the business, too.

“[Growing up], it was very difficult to distinguish the difference between home and factory — it was all the same,” Gianvito Rossi said at the FN Summit last year. “It was a big playground. I had a lot of friends who were working for my father. So it was great.”

Gianvito, who launched his own brand in 2007, told FN that he started to accumulate experience “just by watching my father and observing the artisans as they crafted the most amazing shoes.

“Without knowing it, I was building a historical memory,” said the designer, who worked alongside his father until the Sergio Rossi company was sold to Gucci Group (now Kering) in 1999. (The brand changed hands again in 2015.)

The elder Rossi also helped pave the way for other notable shoe talents. Rupert Sanderson, who now sits at the helm of his own namesake brand, recalled how a generous Rossi gave him a big break as a young upstart.

 

sergio rossi shoes, sergio rossi archives, sergio rossi designer, made in italy, italian designers
A pair of vintage red shoes from the Sergio Rossi archives at the brand’s headquarters in San Mauro Pascoli.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Sergio Rossi

“The way the offer was made remains a true moment in my shoe life. I had been bunking off to try and find engine parts for my old Vespa back in London, so when he called me into the office, I thought I was for the chop,” Sanderson recalled. “He and Gianvito were sitting on one side of a simple desk and I was on the other. Sergio reached into a drawer and produced a cigar and a job offer. I still keep the Cohiba he gave me that day on my desk.”

His kindness and generosity was a defining characteristic, and Rossi continues to loom large in Italy.

“Sergio Rossi was a master and it was a great honor to meet him. He was our spiritual guide — and he is today more than ever,” said Riccardo Sciutto, the current CEO of the Sergio Rossi brand, which has tapped into Rossi’s rich archives and paid tribute to him with a special collection this fall. “He loved women and was able to capture a woman’s femininity in a unique way. He was never over the top, always in good taste. The shoes were always wearable, and he was never satisfied until they were perfect.”

For 34 years, the annual FN Achievement Awards ­— often called the “Shoe Oscars” — have celebrated the style stars, best brand stories, ardent philanthropists, emerging talents and industry veterans. The first virtual FNAAs will air online on Dec. 8 at 6 p.m. ET and are presented in partnership with The Style Room Powered by Zappos, and sponsors FDRA, Deckers Brands, Soles4Souls and Foot Locker. RSVP here for the biggest night in shoes!

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