Hubert Burda Media

Roger Vivier: Still a Trailblazer

The French fashion brand steps up its game by injecting opulence into old-school kicks.

Not all sneakers are created equal. Roger Vivier’s exceptional take, the Sneaky Viv’, elevated the quintessential skateboard slip-on with the brand’s signature Pilgrim Buckle recast in baguette-shaped crystals.

“It was funny to see the reactions from the press and buyers,” recalls Bruno Frisoni, the Maison’s creative director, who spearheaded the extension into athleisure for Spring/Summer 2016 when the rising prominence of sporty shoes in a stylish wardrobe caught his attention. “They were surprised to see Roger Vivier’s foray into the casual category at first, but grew excited at the possibility of it being the next icon. And it proved to be a hit. We can hardly meet consumer demand.”

Spotted on celebrities Jaime King, Cate Blanchett and Jennifer Lopez, the Sneaky Viv’ was quickly acclaimed as the Belle Vivier (the brand’s iconic ballerina pumps with the silver buckle) for the new generation.

Roger Vivier Sneaky Viv'

The audacious juxtaposition of luxurious silk satin and leather with a bejewelled buckle against the casual spirit of the sneaker expressed an unexpected avant-garde attitude, reminiscent of the creative strides the brand founder used to make — Vivier, after all, was the first shoe designer to use clear plastic in his footwear back in 1945.

Frisoni’s big bet on sneakers didn’t stop at one. Another incarnation of the Sneaky Viv’ replaced the buckle with a side zip, resembling an edgy spin on the gentleman’s monkstrap shoes.

This season, next-level iterations allude to Vivier’s rich legacy of extravagance. Inspired by the unexpected couplings in Jean Renoir’s 1939 film The Rules of The Game, Frisoni gets fancy, piling the shoes with more crystals, softening the silhouette with leather frills, feminising the boyish vibe with a rosette centrepiece or punctuating it with digital-esque prints. He also reveals a new height: A high-top version that hides 2.5-cm tall heels in its soles.

Just as significant is the launch of the brand’s first box bag: A wristlet pouchette for day and a structured minaudière adorned with a miniaturised buckle for evening.

Roger Vivier wristlet pouchette

Tasked to grow the heritage shoe label into a full-fledged luxury accessories Maison when he took the helm in 2004, Frisoni counts bags, small leather goods (belts, wallets and cardholders) and accessories (sunglasses, cuffs, bag charms and key chains) as part of the brand offerings today.

“Passion is very important. So is the deep respect for Roger Vivier’s legacy and the confidence to reinterpret it,” says the 56-year-old on modernising the brand’s distinctive regal sophistication. “When I first came here, I tried not to let the archives overwhelm me. I took a deep breath and ‘forgot’ that it’s Roger Vivier. He was such an incredible innovator.”

Unfazed by the achievements of a legendary shoe designer, Frisoni prefers to let his oeuvre speak for itself. “I get pleasure out of work. And I believe that you can feel the fun I had and you’ll enjoy wearing my shoes,” says the dapper gent, who started his career working for fashion houses the likes of Jean-Louis Scherrer and Christian Lacroix.

To ensure relevancy and accessibility to a younger set, he taps on the aspirational powers of “cool girls”. Socialite-model-actress Jeanne Damas graced the Autumn/Winter 2015 ad campaign and more recently, celebrity stylist Camille Seydoux reimagined the faceted Prismick line into a four-piece collection of shoes and bags made entirely of denim patchwork.

Has Frisoni, whose original field of study was in ready-to-wear, thought of introducing clothes? “There is no intention to launch that as we are focused on establishing Roger Vivier in luxury accessories. However, before I begin to design the shoes and accessories for a new collection, I would sketch the clothes I imagine the woman would wear first,” he says.

Although he has now clocked 12 years with the house, Frisoni claims to be as enthused as he was on the day of his arrival. “What keeps me here is that I believe there is still so much to do. Developing a collection makes each day exciting. For most designers, the new collection is the one that is important. The moment you turn the lights on after the show, it’s finished; it’s about the next one.”

Alluding to the recent wave of designer departures, he adds: “Fashion is not Instagram, nor Snapchat — you need time for a brand to find success. I don’t like the idea of Kleenex designers.”