Hubert Burda Media

Gianvito Rossi on the Finer Things in Footwear

For Italian cordwainer Gianvito Rossi, creating shoes is a calling and an obsession.

Gianvito Rossi has moved house – but barely. From one side of On Lan Street in Central to the other, the eponymous Italian shoe brand has simply crossed the road, inviting loyal clients into a slightly larger two-storey space that is both intimate and inviting. Narrow shimmering-gold shelving frames the interior, decked with lavish shoe styles that sum up the Gianvito Rossi aesthetic: classic elegance touched with modern luxury.

As I tread up stairs laid with an ultra-feminine blush carpet into a low-ceilinged second-floor room, the man behind the brand steps over the threshold. It’s his first visit to the new store, although not to Hong Kong. He takes a few minutes to inspect the immaculate fittings and fixtures, casting an approving eye over the perfectly considered space that was designed in collaboration with Spanish architect Patricia Urquiola. The store is a symbol for the Rossi label, all quiet style and endless sophistication. Rossi himself shares the same traits, arriving impeccably and effortlessly dressed in a single-breasted navy suit with a white shirt and a pocket square folded just so. Sprezzatura personified.

Gianvito Rossi the brand was born of its founder’s love affair with the world of shoes. Rossi hails from San Mauro Pascoli in the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna, where, thanks to his father, the renowned shoe designer Sergio Rossi, he grew up surrounded by footwear. It was, in fact, the end of Gianvito’s chapter in his father’s company that led him to begin his own collection.

“I had always been living in the shoe world, since I was born.” Rossi explains. “When it’s something you’ve had forever, it’s not so easy to understand how much it’s worth, how important it is for you. I could never understand what it meant to be there. But when you miss it, when for the first time in my life I found myself without shoes around me, I had the time to realise.” And so it was that a decade ago the label was born.

Rossi is in Hong Kong to lead celebrations for the brand’s 10th anniversary, where loyal fans and new clients will be welcomed into the boutique to explore the spring/summer 2017 line as well as a handful of pre-autumn styles. Each piece on show shares the same refined yet incredibly detailed aesthetic; as Rossi says, “details are very, very important”.

Across the collection, there’s a pervasive sense of classicism and yet all styles are resolutely modern. To Rossi, this means the brand continues to deliver on a promise of contemporary excellence, which is only made possible thanks to his dedication to sourcing and selecting the best materials, and having the most able hands shaping them to bring his ideas to life. 

“Everything is from Italian tanneries or fabric suppliers. We collect all the material, we select it – that’s a very important process. Every leather is different, one from the other. One leather is good for boots, one for pumps, one for sandals, another for summer or for winter. We control everything piece by piece. And that’s the most important, that’s the starting point. The whole process is very detailed, with so many steps that vary from style to style. Quality is fundamental.”

It’s no surprise to hear a designer speak of quality, but there’s a sincerity to Rossi’s attention to craftsmanship that pervades his explanations and exclamations. Of his relatively new focus on using satin, for example, Rossi is thoughtful, before he slowly says, “It’s a fantastic material, the way colours show in satin is unique. Obviously you need to have the proper quality of satin, but it is in the nature of satin. The quality sometimes is hidden, but at the end it is really very visible.”

And then we’re back to the details, the imperceptible parts of the shoe that hold such significance to the man whose name is on the sole. So what does Rossi make of the importance of comfort in shoe design, an unseen detail that often seems to be of passing consideration to designers?

“I think it’s very important,” he says. “It’s part of the quality and it’s part of being a luxury product. You need to feel the pleasure of wearing something, otherwise it’s not a luxury. Feeling pain is not a luxury. People can say what they want, but honestly speaking it’s not a luxury. It can be fashion, it can be cool, but it’s not a luxury.” 

There are many women, it would seem, who agree. Rossi has not been short of clients since he launched his namesake line, with a global network of women eagerly anticipating new-season visits to their favourite boutiques. These are women that Rossi would like to think use his designs to promote their own personalities.

“She’s a strong-minded woman, not a fashion victim. A woman that wants to wear something that lets her show her femininity in a confident way, not in a fragile or standardised way.” There’s no cookie-cutter woman here.

Indeed, Rossi’s recently launched Cocktail line offers a carefully curated selection of styles that nod to that most Milanese of traditions, the aperitivo, and is sure to catch the eye of women who favour the bold and unique. From a twist of sparkling lime zest sitting at the toe strap of a sandal to a sparkling neon cage bootie with the word “cocktail” emblazoned across the side, this fantastical addition to the main line brings a high-tempo appeal to the label more widely associated with timeless elegance. No surprises that the focus remains on the details – the placement of crystals, the curve of the instep, the precise silhouette and line of the heel.

Alongside this flirty appendage to his seasonal collection, Rossi goes one step further and allows women the opportunity to create their ideal style with a special made-to-order programme. Whether it’s the sexy Plexi pump, the label’s signature Portofino sandal, or the super-chic Gianvito pump, personal modifications to heel height, colours and more make this made-to-order opportunity a particularly exciting prospect. In Hong Kong, a city of endless social events and invitations, there’s no doubt it will be a warmly welcomed option for ladies looking to craft a truly unique shoe.

That Rossi can turn his hand to conjuring such a variety of styles makes his recent move into menswear a natural step. “I wanted to make an elegant line with modern proportions. Most of the time, shoes for men have these very narrow toes, which are very classic, but  super narrow. My designs are very simple, very clean, but with a larger toe, which I think is a more modern proportion.”

Did he start on men’s shoes to fulfil a personal need? “Yes”, he says, laughing, “I couldn’t find the shoe for me.” While Rossi has taken a piece from the men’s shoe market, it’s women’s footwear that still has his heart. “With women, you can explore many inspirations, many details, many concepts … there’s more freedom. Men are a little bit more conservative.”

To hear Rossi speak about designing shoes is to see a lifetime of commitment to an art. For the most part, his world has always been enveloped in leather and sole and traditional Italian craftsmanship. It’s almost magical, this life of shoes. Which is not far from how Rossi speaks of his calling and his belief of what beautiful footwear can do: “I think it’s a little bit of a magic pedestal for a woman, no?”

When it has the gold Gianvito Rossi cursive on the softly padded insole, it certainly feels like it.