Roger that

Creative director Bruno Frisoni seeks to bring freshness to the Roger Vivier shoe brand

For someone in fashion, Roger Vivier creative director Bruno Frisoni is refreshingly laid-back about his bread and butter.

The Italian-French designer, who was in town last week to launch the first Roger Vivier store in Singapore, says with an easy smile: "Fashion is important for us, yes, but it's also important not to take it all too seriously."

The 53-year-old believes one's life, feelings and relationships are at the crux of what truly matters.

Such a breath of fresh air is what the designer has aimed to bring to the storied shoe label since its relaunch 10years ago. The brand, whose namesake designer died in 1998, was acquired by Tod's chairman Diego Della Valle in 2000 and relaunched three years later with Mr Frisoni at the helm.

"We had the idea of creating not just a simple shoe collection but a maison of accessories," he says, on the brand's expansion to include bags, sunglasses and jewellery.

Mr Frisoni's first encounter with the historic brand, which was born in 1937, was at the 1987 Roger Vivier retrospective at the Musee de la Mode et du Textile in Paris.

"It was a beautiful show, with stunning sculptures of shoes and heels. I remember it really well," says the lithe Paris-based designer, who was then in charge of accessories for Lanvin's ready-to-wear and couture lines.


Credited with the creation of the first stiletto heel, 8cm (about three inches) high, in 1954, MrVivier made shoes for Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent, and designed the garnet-studded goldskin pumps worn by Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation in 1953.

He was famed for his opulent and fabulous designs, which he called sculptures. In addition to creating unusual heels such as the inward slanting "shock" heel and the twisted "comma" heel, Mr Vivier also designed the iconic pilgrim buckle shoe, featuring a large, somewhat austere chrome buckle on the toe box of the pump.

The signature piece first appeared in 1965 as an accessory in Yves Saint Laurent's graphic Mondrian collection, and went on to become a fashion icon of the silver screen, when it was worn by French actress Catherine Deneuve in the 1967 film, Belle Du Jour.

But when Mr Della Valle acquired the brand in 2000, the designer was dead and the Roger Vivier name was passing into fashion history.


Mr Frisoni came on board as creative director because he was drawn to the brand's history of creating unique footwear, he says, and set out to evolve the Roger Vivier shoe label into a multi-dimensional luxury accessories brand.

The designer realised the brand had a secret weapon other brands could only envy.

"The buckle is a recognition piece, like Coco Chanel's quilted bags," he says proudly.

But he adds, thoughtfully: "Sometimes, it is both good and bad. Some people see only the buckle."

Still, colourful incarnations of the pilgrim buckle shoes are everywhere in the Singapore store, in addition to bags and accessories. Items in the 970sqft space on Takashimaya's third floor range from $770 for a pair of flats to $10,000 for a bag. A limited-edition bag retails for $48,000.

Mr Frisoni has tried to leave his own mark on the brand, by interpreting the "sexy and playful" essence of the label. Last year, he launched a line of shoes and bags called Prismick, featuring an uneven, prism-inspired quilted look.

The Prismick bags (right) and shoes mimic classic Vivier creations in that their impressions are distinctly graphic and yet fun.

"What I do is evolving, but I try to keep this freshness and spontaneity," he says, letting on that he waits until the last possible minute to design in order not to overthink the process.

Mr Frisoni also chooses not to dwell on whether his designs will last as long as, say, the buckle.

"Longevity is something that can only be confirmed by customers," he says and adds the label's clutches have adorned the arms of fashion-forward actresses such as Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton on the red carpet.


Growth in Asia, however, seems sure for now. Starting in 2005, Roger Vivier opened 12 shops in China, Taiwan and Japan prior to arriving here.

The brand is also present in France, the United States, Britain, Dubai and Lebanon.

Revived, it has performed well among the Tod's stable, with sales of 74.5 million euros (S$126.9million) last year. This is more than double the 36.5million euros of the previous year.

While brand awareness and overseas prospects look good, Mr Frisoni says Roger Vivier should expand purposefully and think about offering unique limited-edition draws at specific stores for a better customer experience.

For example, it is offering the Roger Vivier Diligence bag, a square top-handle bag, in two exclusive colours - blue and pink - at the Singapore store.

A long-term view characterises the brand's approach to business and design, Mr Frisoni reveals.

"Even if we do it in a slow way, we try to create things that can stay, grow and evolve," he says.

"I think we've achieved our goal of building a maison."