By Claire Stern
Sep 05, 2014 @ 8:21 am
Courtesy Photo (2)

These days, the name Vince Camuto is fully recognizable in the designer realm—but, as with most rags to riches stories, it wasn't always that way. In fact, the Italian-American shoe designer spent the better portion of his career under the fashion radar: From humble beginnings in Manhattan's East Village, he quietly made a name for himself by co-founding Nine West and, soon after, slowly acquired footwear licenses for BCBG, Max Azria, and BCBGirls, all before launching his own namesake brand in 2005. The following year, he partnered with Tory Burch to create the Reva ballet flat, the shoe that effectively launched her career.

Camuto details all of this and more in his brand-new 300-page tome, Life of Style (Assouline, $250), which features stunning photographs of his three estates: Cheateau Ridge, a French-style home in Greenwich, Connecticut; Villa Maria, a historic jazz-age manor in Water Mill, New York; and Wooldon Manor, an elaborate Tudor-style beach house in Southampton, New York (all of which serve as inspiration for his work), as well as vintage photographs of the designer during his days as a customer service rep at I. Miller, the now-defunct Fifth Avenue luxury shoe store, and exclusive sketches of his shoe collection. "The foundation of each of my designs is intent to create sophisticated style that is truly functional and accessible," Camuto told InStyle. "Personal style is the ability to discover your own signature–it’s about knowing what looks flatter you best."

Discover more nougats of wisdom from the man himself in this exclusive excerpt:

In 1977, Vince Camuto and Jerome Fisher [a designer whom Vince had encountered previously through his work in the footwear industry, and a consultant for Sumitomo] formed a partnership, creating the Fisher Camuto Corporation, an operation that provided stores with their own branded shoes that combined the perfect blend of Italian design and Brazilian manufacturing. Fashionable shoes at that time were expensive. There was a pervasive belief in the retail sector that if you bought shoes at more affordable prices, you were not looking for fashion, but for utility. Vince not only disputed this hypothesis, but had the means to prove it wrong. Having developed the back office infrastructure in Brazil, the company was able to create beautiful shoes at a better value than was currently being offered in the marketplace.

VC Signature Vince Camuto footwear sketch by Amelie Hegardt

To that end, Vince saw an opportunity for the American consumer, and in 1978 the duo recognized that they had discovered a need in the market they could fill. The corporate headquarters of Fisher Camuto was in the Solow Building at 9 West Fifty-Seventh Street, just off Fifth Avenue in New York’s Midtown. Vince and Jerome could not agree on a brand name so Vince looked out the window and pointed to the building sign and said, “Why not 9 West?” which was the location of their office building with a big red “9” in front. 9 West had a nice ring to it and was a name both partners felt would resonate with consumers.

Plus, click through our gallery to see stars in Vince Camuto.