His theatrical background plays a major role in his creative process.

By Eric Wilson
Updated May 07, 2019 @ 9:00 am
Credit: Martin Schoeller

For anyone who wishes to become the designer of famed accessories brand Roger Vivier, an obsessive appreciation for the 1967 fetish film Belle de Jour is practically a job requirement. In one scene of the Luis Buñuel-directed classic, Catherine Deneuve, playing a bored housewife who seeks employment in a brothel to fulfill her unorthodox fantasies, wears a black patent raincoat by Yves Saint Laurent and black shoes with a prominent buckle by Vivier, a design inspired by the extravagance of the Sun King, Louis XIV.

This important moment of Vivier’s storied history certainly appealed to Gherardo Felloni, who took on the mantle of creative director more than a year ago, filling the elegant shoes of longtime Vivier designer Bruno Frisoni. Though he had worked behind the scenes dreaming up footwear at Miu Miu since 2014 and at Dior under John Galliano and Raf Simons before that, Felloni was already well known in the industry for his creativity. Vivier was one of his idols, having invented many influential heel styles, including ones made of curved steel and a “ball of diamonds” shape favored by Marlene Dietrich. Felloni’s flamboyant slides decorated with fur and pearls for Miu Miu owed a debt to Vivier’s whimsical spirit.

Credit: Martin Schoeller

“It’s quite funny that in the end I have the chance to work for this brand,” says Felloni, who arrived shortly after the 50th anniversary of Belle de Jour was celebrated with a revival of the original buckle design. “I really took a lot of inspiration from [Vivier] and his sense of humor. His aesthetic has always been something close to my own.”

In many ways Felloni himself seems like a gem from another era that has been recut for today. His personal style — part classic, part modern with a dash of eccentricity — is one example. He frequently wears neatly tailored dress shirts buttoned up to the neck, along with an inexpensive cardigan, sneakers, and, even in casual situations, a fabulous piece of jewelry, most often a valuable one from his expansive collection of 19th-century necklaces and parures. Another example would be his eclectic taste in film, which includes those of Buñuel, naturally, but also contemporary American directors like Tim Burton. While in Los Angeles in April to present his latest designs to an adoring crowd of admirers, Felloni made sure to see Burton’s retelling of Dumbo.

Credit: Martin Schoeller

“There’s fantasy, there’s color, there’s music and happiness in his films,” he says. “When you are a creative person, you take inspiration from everywhere, from movies and from the street at the same time. I really love the idea of contamination between them. Even the most beautiful object you can find in history can be changed.”

This is something Felloni learned in his youth in Tuscany. Born into a family of shoemakers, he recalls the excitement he felt as a child visiting his uncle’s factory in Arezzo, which produced shoes for Gucci, Hermès, Prada, and other luxury brands in the 1970s and ’80s. Felloni initially studied acting in Rome (and much later singing, in Paris, occasionally performing opera as a tenor). Yet his father persuaded him to join the family business, encouraging him to come up with designs of his own, which he did with an overwhelming sense of theatricality. He soon caught the attention of designers from Fendi and Helmut Lang, and before long he was creating shoes for important houses in Milan and Paris. His eventual move to Paris nearly a decade ago to work for Dior, where Vivier started the first ready-to-wear designer-shoe label in the 1950s, brought Felloni into a world that perfectly matched his sensibilities, a contemporary take within a baroque setting.

Credit: Martin Schoeller

“I am a little bit contaminated myself, probably from France,” he says. “Even when I’m in Italy, I don’t feel as much Italian anymore.” His first designs for Vivier were slightly twisted versions of the house’s signature styles. One, called Très Vivier, was an update on the buckled classic, elongated and with a more substantial heel. A Maharaja slipper was trimmed with a single feather pointing upward from the toe, its heel covered in rhinestones.

Felloni’s immersive presentations have also bordered on the surreal. He has brought his designs to life with installations involving a performer dressed as an ostrich, a Japanese DJ in a room filled with plush pastel unicorns, and a character from a fairy tale accompanied by what appeared to be a live wolf. It was at his début show for Vivier that he was introduced to none other than Catherine Deneuve, who remains loyal to the house and is a longtime friend of its international ambassador, the model and designer Inès de la Fressange. Soon afterward, Felloni asked Deneuve to appear in a short video for the holidays, as a bourgeois matriarch who watches twin daughters fighting over a pair of Vivier shoes. The soundtrack is the witty “Duet for Two Cats,” derived from Rossini’s Otello, in which the lyrics effectively mimic the sounds of screeching meows. For Felloni, who makes a cameo as a pianist, it was a dream come true.

“She spoke with me in Italian all day long, and we smoked a cigarette together,” he says. “Sometimes I ask myself why I chose to be a designer and not an actor. It’s my only regret.”

For more stories like this, pick up the June issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download May 15.