Roger Vivier celebrates the 55th anniversary of its house signature, the buckle, this year. We trace the evolution of one of the world’s most instantly recognisable footwear designs.
The Parisian shoemaker may be synonymous with opulent embellishments steeped in old-world charm, but the brand stays in tune with the times, as the enduring Roger Vivier buckle best exemplifies.
People nicknamed the shoemaker “the Fabergé of Footwear” for his bespoke, extravagant, and ornate footwear, such as the bejewelled Boule heel that adorned the shoes of Marlène Dietrich, the first of many international celebrities he dressed. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II donned his gold pumps with jewel-encrusted heels to her coronation in 1953, making him the only French designer worn at the prestigious event.
In a bid for business expansion, he shifted his focus to women who needed practical designs and sensible heel heights for work and travel. He made his foray into ready-to-wear in Monsieur Yves Saint Laurent’s influential 1965 Mondrian collection, where models wore his black pumps with an oversized square buckle.
Unlike the decorative shoes he was known for, these pumps were stripped of excesses, except for a minimalist buckle plated in chrome. It drew the distinguished air of a noble marquis, from a time when buckles were the equivalent of jewellery for the feet. Vivier modernised the rectangular shape with clean, straight lines balanced by its curved form.
Women were smitten. The shoes flew off the shelves with 50 pairs sold a day at his boutique on Rue Françoise. It was the hit of the season, but French actress Catherine Deneuve kept its popularity soaring two years after its debut when she wore a pair in the 1967 film Belle de Jour. The shoes became known as Belle Vivier, named after the acclaimed film.
Call it fortuitous, or having foresight, Vivier fended off commercial copycats with a patent he led in New York for the shoes back in January 1942. Sporting many chameleonic changes over the years, the buckle came into its own as the brand’s signature touch of refinement.
During Bruno Frisoni’s 16-year tenure as the house’s creative director, he refreshed the statement hardware in different ways, including a rounded version. In his last collection for the brand in Autumn/Winter 2018, he mounted a sumptuous crystal rendition of the Roger Vivier buckle on combat boots. Adorning bags for at least the past 10 years, the buckle also showed up on the Club Chain evening bag. Here, its familiar rectangular shape was formed with chains held in place with rings, while the ends swing like tassels.
Now, the baton has been passed to his successor, Gherardo Felloni, to keep the legacy going. His liberal approach brings the iconic buckle into today’s trendy footwear styles, including clogs and the house’s first running shoes, the Viv’ Run, swapping in traditional laces for the buckle. In Spring/Summer 2020, the Viv’ Run spawned two additions for active women: Viv’ Run Buckle Sandal with two adjustable leather straps, and the easy-to-slip-on Viv’ Run Strass Mule.
His audacious ventures set an unexpected milestone in the buckle’s history when he reimagined the buckle on tiaras, hair clips and earrings, launching the house’s first ever jewellery line. Two new buckles were also introduced: the archival shoe-inspired Brochamour strass buckle dotted with a red crystal heart, and the Bouquet Strass floral crystal buckle that reflects Felloni’s love of antique jewellery.
Despite these new iterations, Belle Vivier remains an evergreen muse from the time Felloni made his debut in Spring/Summer 2019. He paid tribute to the legendary pumps with the Très Vivier line where he updated the buckle with slightly rounded curves and gave the shoes a graphic edge with a chunky heel offered in two heights, which recalls the freedom Vivier gave women in his time. On bags, the buckle is oversized with a slimmer profile that looks stylish and sleek.
This season, Felloni marks Belle Vivier’s 55th anniversary by going wild on materials, colours and buckle styles. Look forward to Autumn/ Winter 2020 when the Belle Vivier gets dressed in snazzy duotones. Felloni even sneaks in a nod to the bag Deneuve carried in the movie. The So Vivier structured leather bag has two interior compartments, graced with the buckle in a miniature size with “RV” engraved.
This connection to the past is an affirmation that the allure of the Roger Vivier buckle has not faded with time, maintaining the brand’s relevance. Even in casual reincarnations such as rubber, it is no less luxurious, but in fact enriched as a precious symbol of versatility and longevity.
This article first appeared on Prestige Online Singapore