TOKYO, JAPAN: Mr. Gherado Felloni, the acclaimed artistic director of French Maison Roger Vivier, delicately presents a single vintage Virgule heel before me: intricate embroidery; saffron-hued rhinestones; a heel shaped like the English translation of its name – a “comma.” It’s exquisite.
“I never met Mr. Vivier but from this creation, I have come to understand that he had a sense of humour,” Mr. Felloni tells me, his demeanour warm and kind, a contrast to the crisp Tokyo night.
“To create a heel like a comma? In that moment [the Virgule heel was created in 1963], I think Mr. Vivier was laughing,” he continues. “Even the way he played with vinyl and netting, they were such modern materials for his era. I really believe that he didn’t take himself too seriously, and he, of course, was a genius.”
On this particular evening, Mr. Felloni is walking me through the luxuriate’s Spring/Summer 2023 collection, one dedicated to the contemporary reimaginings of Monsieur Vivier’s signature hallmark designs. The city’s famous Kudan House – palatial and ornate – has been transformed into a garden punctured by flowers, fluffy accessories and flamboyant shoes. So immersive is the space – and with the knowledge that the designer is so influenced by the cinematic world – I remark to Mr. Felloni that film director Tim Burton could quite easily make a home in this garden.
“Let’s invite him,” Mr. Felloni quips, his smile wide.
The thought of such a fantastical filmmaker being in his presence is a big deal for this creative, as it was the House’s founder.
“I decided to have this kind of cinematographic approach at Vivier firstly because I’m a big fan. I love it,” explains Mr. Felloni, citing David Lynch and Federico Fellini as his other favourites next to Burton. “And secondly, because Roger Vivier himself was really linked to this world. He was making shoes for Marlene Dietrich, Grace Kelly, and Catherine Deneuve.”
One of the shoes was the iconic Belle Vivier. Created in 1965, its rectangular buckle was placed on the toe of the shoe, something deemed redundant for the time, but has remained a timeless bestseller for 58 years.
“I think sometimes the greatest ideas are the most simple ones,” says Mr. Felloni. “Basically Mr. Vivier took a buckle and put it on a pump. It had never been done before – and the buckle [on other shoes] usually served a function. But there was a modernity to this design: a square toe; a chunky kitten heel; add the buckle and it’s quite powerful.”
“My approach is to take the DNA of the brand – the feeling of the brand – and try to make it contemporary for today,” he adds. “Roger Vivier has such a wonderful history and identity, and I like the idea that my goal is to make this brand come alive today.”
Not only is the designer now spearheading the House which created the stiletto – yes, it was Monsieur Vivier who completely revolutionised the way women wear footwear – but Mr. Felloni acknowledges that the type of woman he is designing for (and her lifestyle) is very different to the type of woman of decades past.
“Today, women wear different shoes between the day and the night,” he says. “In her wardrobe, she might have ballerinas, sneakers, and heels. I like a kitten heel because it’s a good compromise between an elegant shoe and one that you can still walk and work in and you’re not going to die!”
On his favourite actress, Mr. Felloni points to Oscar-winning actress Laura Dern.
“I love many actresses but I had a chance to meet Laura,” he says. “She was so intelligent and kind and told me that she really loved Roger Vivier’s shoes, and the first shoe she bought in Paris was a pair of Belle Viviers.”
Growing up in Italy, the now-designer loved architecture and grew up in a family of shoemakers.
“You never know what will happen in your life, but I probably would never have worked with shoes if I didn’t have the background I do,” Mr. Felloni says, adjusting his huge antique necklace. (He later tells me it’s a 19th century piece from Egypt!)
“When I was little, my father would take me to the [family-owned shoe] factory with him and I’d play with the colours and leathers,” he continues. “One year, when I was about 14 years old, and the summer holidays rolled around, the factory needed someone to do some work. My father said, ‘Come on. You’re going to get some money so you can travel.’ I would always be painting and drawing flowers. At the time, the factory was looking for someone to draw and they asked me if I’d like to draw for money. I saw I’d try – and I realised that I loved the job.”
“If I wasn’t doing this, I’m a big fan of cinema, I studied music, so I could be a piano barman in some restaurant!”
Roger Vivier Virgule Flower Bow Slingback Pumps In Fabric, $3,270 SHOP NOW Photo: Courtesy of Roger Vivier
What GRAZIA readers may not know about Mr. Felloni is that he actually lives in a lighthouse on an island off Tuscany with his partner and nine cats. Situated on a somewhat secret Italian island called Isola del Giglio, the designer bought the 1830 lighthouse (which is now inoperable) in 2014, and while he spends lots of time between Roger Vivier’s factory in Italy and offices in France, he enjoys retreating to his lighthouse where he spends time cooking, watching movies, and growing artichokes, lemons and Mediterranean aromatic plants in his garden.
Mr. Felloni is also a tenor.
“I studied opera. But when I work, I don’t listen to music,” he says. “It distract me a lot. I really care about music. It’s not something that I can have as a background when I’m working. I love to work with my team and speak a lot. I have this approach that is really sharing.”
In the car on the way to dinner together – a conversation rich in the exchange of travel stories – I ask the designer if he would sing for the group of press this evening.
“Let’s see,” he responds in the same way I imagine Roger Vivier to do. “It’s a joke. [Singing is] not something serious.”
Mr. Felloni didn’t sing for me that night. But the following evening, at a press dinner inside the 100-year-old Tsunamachi Mitsui Club in Minato-ku, Mr. Gherardo Felloni – the Italian genius at the helm of French House Roger Vivier – belted out “La Vie en Rose” in Japanese.
It’s not a joke. Mr. Felloni can really sing. But perhaps the underselling of such a talent is all part of not taking oneself too seriously, the Vivier way.
This article originally appeared on Grazia International.
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