Do you know what it feels like when something sparks joy within you? If not, then a good place to hone that feeling would be at Hotel Vivier, the universe imagined by Roger Vivier’s newest creative director, Gherardo Felloni. Only the third designer to head the footwear maison that’s created shoes for the likes of Catherine Deneuve, Queen Elizabeth II and Christian Dior, the task would be a daunting one for anybody — but Felloni is approaching his enormous responsibilities with a cheerful, even easy, mien.
“It was always a dream of mine to work for Roger Vivier,” Felloni says as he sips an Americano on the patio at Sevva, having arrived in Hong Kong from Paris the previous afternoon. “He’s always been my reference. I never met him, but the lightness, the colours, the femininity, I think those elements have always been things that attracted me to the house. And I think he was a happy person. When you see the shoes he made, you feel that he had a sense of humour, which I feel is something we both share. We were both architects before we were designers, so that’s also a link. In life, when you really love your career, there’s always a touch of coincidence that will bring you there.”
What brings Felloni to Hong Kong is Hotel Vivier, a fanciful set created to anchor his vision for the house. First introduced in Paris during Fashion Week, his vision was expressed in a private maison just off Jardin du Luxembourg. Set over three opulently appointed storeys, it was a glimpse into a world of whimsy and quirkiness that might become hallmarks of his tenure at Vivier.
In Hong Kong, this is confirmed. The concept is brought to China Tang, whose restaurant is divided into four rooms,each with a Chinese twist on an escapist fantasy. Guests walk past the reception desk, where the shelves that usually hold keys display a Très Vivier shoe in each cubbyhole. A stroll down a corridor reveals rooms occupied by a master calligrapher, two singers of Cantonese opera, a lady in a qipao surrounded by peonies in full bloom, and a brooding Chinese damsel reclining on a bed that looks as though it has been pulled out of Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love. On set are buckles, feathers, strass — all key tenets of the house of Vivier, but used by Felloni in ways that are just a smidge more decadent than his predecessors.
“Hotel Vivier was a format that I invented for Vivier because it was necessary for me not to do something static, something boring,” Felloni explains. “I worked 10, almost 20 years in brands that made ready-to-wear, where they did shows, created campaigns – I was always involved in a process that cannot go on if you don’t have a silhouette. And the shoes would complete that silhouette.
“At Vivier, we don’t have ready-to-wear, so I thought it was necessary for me to explain my imagination of Roger Vivier using actresses and having an interactive place.”
Using actresses was a conscious decision because Felloni wanted a sense of legitimate interaction, something he achieved in both Paris and Hong Kong. “A model is not an actress, so you can’t ask her to act or sing because it’s going to be a mess,” he says. “I really liked the idea of having real women who can do something and interact with people because, for me, it was really important that everyone interact. I’m a happy person and I hate being bored or when things are boring. I can’t stand it. But this is basically a way for me to explain my vision interactively. It’s a fake place but everybody goes to a hotel and everybody leaves. So, it’s like, a place for everyone, like the store. It’s imaginary but in a way it’s also very real.”
The hotel is an appropriate modern update to Roger Vivier’s more bourgeois beginnings, particularly after Catherine Deneuve wore the buckled shoesin the classic 1967 Buñuel film Belle de Jour. Felloni seized on this and invited Deneuve toparticipate in a mini film he created called Duo des Chats.
“I thought it would be interesting for the younger generation to know that so much of Vivier comes from there [Belle de Jour],” Felloni says. “Catherine is more than a client, she’s a friend. She comes to the store, but I realised that she wasn’t present in the communications and she’s never been used as a face. But she gives something to the brand, she’s part of its identity, so when she agreed to do this movie I was so happy. And of course, she’s giving the shoes as a gift to her daughters so it makes it cross-generation.”
The star presides over a mini concert given by her two “daughters” while Felloni is the maestro who plays piano for the guests. The atmosphere is plutocratic and lush. Deneuve watches with a Vivier box on her lap and the daughters descend into a catfight on stage only for it to be revealed their bickering was over the fact that Deneuve had not yet pulled out a second box so that each girl could have her own pair of Très Vivier, an updated take on the house’s iconic buckle pumps.
“In Belle de Jour, Catherine wore the shoes. She was a young bourgeois girl so these shoes were not supposed to be something for an old lady but something young and revolutionary, because it was a time of social revolution,” Felloni explains. “The women of this period were freer and that’s why I decided to do the Très Vivier with a chunkier heel and change the last so that there’s more space for your foot. The attitude is more casual and a little bit more masculine.”
“When I went into the archive, I learnt many new things because it’s incredibly big. Finding a balance is not the easiest part of the work. I have to remember that it’s not only me but also Roger Vivier, so I try to catch the feeling of the brand,” Felloni says. “For me it’s clear, it’s myself at Roger Vivier, so I set about creating the running shoes — which was not the biggest challenge, as they’re completely new — and took on a big challenge, which was to update the buckle pump, a very iconic shoe.”
Both shoes did tremendously well and the squared-off buckle of the new Très Vivier is proving to be a hit, if the oohs and aahs of guests at Hotel Vivier Hong Kong and Paris were anything to go by. Viv’ Run, the footwear maison’s first running shoe, contains the brand’s signature Choc heel proportions and a rubber buckle because, as Felloni puts it, “there were no running shoe references in the archive so it’s something completely new, but I’m very happy because you really feel that it’s Vivier.”
But Felloni’s Vivier will be much more than buckles. A unique use of strass and feathers, heel height and proportion are all evident in his maiden collection for the house, in which he has resurrected some of the less vividly remembered aspects of its past. “When I was in the archive there were pieces from when Roger Vivier created the shoe collections for Christian Dior in the ’50s and ’60s. He made millions of shoes, with buckles, with feathers, with strass. So for me it was important to use all of that, of course, if I am to communicate joy, to communicate happiness. It’s something I want for women coming into the store – to be happy, to be free and have no fear. To have a sense of humour and feel powerful.”
Inspired by women such as Manuela Pavesi, who gave him the courage to experiment with his personal style, matching his collection of parures to collared shirts and Nike jackets, Felloni’s vision for the brand is, yes, eclectic and, yes, fantastic. But in it all is his commitment to bringing levity and joy – “I want my women to feel powerful. That’swhy I chose to do a running shoe and the kitten heel, so they can walk and decide how to live their life.”
“The world is really contaminated with everything, andyou know, for me, shoes are an escape,” he says. “It’s a feeling in the air. You know, when you’re happy, you feel free.”