Reflections on 81 Years of Shoes: Roger Vivier and His Muses

The below text has been excerpted from #LoveVivier: La Vie En Vivier: Digital Stories on Paper, a Rizzoli New York book available May 22 online and in stores.

Roger Vivier
Photo: Roger Vivier

[There] are products that have become iconic and timeless—classics in the true sense of the word—in which form and content correspond and are exalted, evolving and changing over time, but always bringing with them something recognizable, balanced, and harmonious.

Vivier accessories perfectly encapsulate the changes in the world of women over the past few decades. But how can an object created half a century ago speak today's language? How can Belle Vivier, for instance, the shoe created in 1965, still represent desire for a woman today, someone who is so different, so fast, and is constantly evolving?

Roger Vivier
Roger Vivier

The reason must be sought not just in the object created by the designer, but in the person wearing that object as well. In each design Vivier tells a story, describes a part of himself and his world. The type of woman Vivier tells his story to is special—she is a strong creature who leaves her mark, who is never extinguished, who is forever being renewed. She is capable of being and living in her own time. She thirsts for happiness and hunts for dreams.

It is in this kind of woman that the maison is reflected and renewed—in that hushed, almost confidential dialogue the house has always had with its women. In one of those encounters that seem to have been written in the stars—the moment when Roger Vivier began his partnership with Christian Dior—something unique happened. Dior and Vivier complemented one another, introducing a type of femininity that would take center stage between the late forties and the fifties.

Roger Vivier
Roger Vivier

Women were no longer forced to do without or make sacrifices. They became dreamers whose feet didn't touch the ground, their light and graceful movements enchanting others—like the beauty of flowers in a garden overlooking the sea, somewhere in France.

In the sixties, when Vivier began collaborating with the enfant prodige of French fashion, the irreverent and visionary Yves Saint Laurent, women had decidedly changed. They no longer swayed on their feet; they marched. Their horizons were clear and the routes perfectly mapped out. For this new woman, Roger Vivier conceived a shoe that would become a legend. In 1965, Vivier created the renowned Belle Vivier for Yves Saint Laurent's Mondrian collection—a perfect pump featuring neat geometry and adorned with an iconic metal buckle. Catherine Deneuve wore the epochal shoe in Luis Buñuel's Belle de jour.

Roger Vivier
Roger Vivier

That shoe was a tale of eroticism, freedom, convention, and transgression, all in one shoe, all in one buckle. It was a shape that spoke volumes about the desire to divest oneself of the labels and chains that had always relegated women to subordinate positions.

Movie stars, queens, first ladies: these were independent women capable of making their own choices, even unpopular ones, as long as it meant living their lives fully and writing their own stories. These were the women who inspired Vivier, and they were also models for younger generations.

Roger Vivier
Roger Vivier

Alongside the great actresses were models as well, who—between the second half of the seventies and the eighties—became figures that both represented women and were looked up to by them. Those beautiful young women who had at one time modeled clothing for just a select few clients now began leaving their anonymity behind.

They would appear on the catwalk for just a few seconds, and then they would vanish. There were lots of them, and all of them were beautiful, of course, but some of them also had that je ne sais quoi that for Baudelaire characterized the beauty of the modern woman in Paris. For the poet, she was the passerby who walked carefree and light, becoming unforgettable in a split second.

One woman, in particular, seems to be the quintessence of Parisian charm. Her name is Ines and her first name is sufficient to identify her. Ines seems to be born naturally in Vivier's creations, and the maison was not satisfied to relegate such a special woman to the role of ambassadress—it wanted to hear what she had to say. So Ines became a symbol, a presence, a voice.

All these muses were distant and unreachable, inimitable. They were as intriguing as the stars above, bright and filled with mystery.

When street style arrived on the scene in the late seventies, fashion was forced to reckon with it. The youth movements and urban subcultures invented styles, destroyed conventions, and rewrote the history of beauty. The biggest names in fashion took note of this, and street style was soon seen on the catwalks, influencing design and taste.

The public became increasingly informed and demanding, more and more capable of judging and making choices. People were no longer happy to dream; they wanted to identify with their dreams.

Between the nineties and the early two-thousands, television produced a number of top-notch series with fabulous story lines, screenwriting, and direction. The great care devoted to characterization gave rise to some of the most beloved female characters ever—whose every move was closely followed by the public. Women recognized themselves in these new role models. This was especially true of Blair Waldorf, played by Leighton Meester, in the popular and successful series Gossip Girl, and a very young representative of the New York elite who simply can't leave the house if she isn't wearing Vivier accessories. Bon ton and smart, forever with a frown on her face, Blair is a dreamer, adorable but sometimes cruel. Her allure was so Parisian that viewers sometimes forgot that the show had been made in New York. It was a youthful, joyful, unabashed image of the new era of Maison Roger Vivier.

Those were the same years when the blog was invented as an independent form of information and storytelling. A new type of star was born: the Web star. A young, enterprising woman conveyed her day-to-day life to a vast public, which was given the chance to interact with her directly, sharing thoughts and comments. Her presence went from the blog to social media, and her influence on the public could not be stopped. She too wore Vivier, but no longer in her private space, on the stage, or on the catwalk. She wore Vivier on the street, at work, and in life. She wore it while gazing wistfully from a café in Milan, while sipping coffee and reading her work e-mail seated in the lobby of a hotel, while getting ready for a party in Paris, or strolling down the streets of New York or Shanghai, thinking about the millions of things she had to do that day. All of them are BB, Ines, Catherine, aristocratic and middle-class, sensual and fashionable, archers and motorcyclists. Armed with their iPhones and roller bags, they travel the globe: exotic, moody, urban, or romantic. Though they come from all over the world, they are Parisian in spirit.

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The ambassadresses of a joyous and discreet sensuality.

And even now their feet don't touch the ground.

Women have always trusted Vivier, and today, in this book, it is the maison that entrusts itself to women, to their voices and their styles. These women tell the story of beauty, class, fashion, and extraordinary everydayness, continuing the conversation that Monsieur Vivier started with them in the thirties.

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