Bold steps

As the first per­son ever to take over the Stu­art Weitz­man brand since its name­sake’s de­par­ture, new cre­ative di­rec­tor Gio­vanni Morelli is not about tread­ing lightly. By Alice Bir­rell.

VOGUE Australia - - Viewpoint - STYLING KAILA MATTHEWS PHO­TO­GRAPH ED­WARD URRUTIA

The rit­ual of tak­ing up the man­tle from a la­bel’s founder in fash­ion is of­ten ap­proached with monas­tic rev­er­ence. White gloves are slipped on to sort through ar­chives of time-faded tis­sue pa­per in tem­per­a­ture-con­trolled en­vi­rons while coos of de­light float above each iconic piece, shaken from its acid-free hous­ing. For the wheels­man charged with tak­ing over at Stu­art Weitz­man from Stu­art Weitz­man him­self, no such thing oc­curred.

“With all due re­spect, I mean, what­ever has been done is good but this is a new jour­ney,” says new cre­ative di­rec­tor Gio­vanni Morelli, who joined the la­bel in May last year. “I pre­fer very much the fu­ture. The past brings you back to the past.” And in­deed it is not the shoe la­bel’s speed to be talk­ing his­tory. Al­though more than 32 years old, its out­go­ing founder, who stays on as the com­pany’s chair­man, cre­ated a brand that we as­so­ci­ate with those strappy san­dals – the Nudist – that all red-car­pet stylists with any clout stock­pile in masses, and boots, stretch, sock and thigh-highs that get around town on the well-toned limbs of Jen­ners, Ha­dids and Hai­ley Bald­win.

“I don’t think it’s very good to be linked to the past,” Morelli is go­ing on to say on the day fol­low­ing the brand’s pre­sen­ta­tion dur­ing New York fash­ion week for au­tumn/win­ter ’18/’19. He is in the la­bel’s Hud­son Yards show­room in New York, part of Ta­pes­try’s (for­merly Coach Inc.) head­quar­ters, the con­glom­er­ate that pur­chased the la­bel in 2015 for US$574 mil­lion. The show­room is crowded with shoes, or­derly but nu­mer­ous. There is oo­dles of choice, in ev­ery colour, for ev­ery woman, in­clud­ing Schiap-pink san­dals with a sculp­tural sil­ver knot on the toe, suede boots in vivid grape, slip-on loafers in white, mules, pumps, wedges, cuis­sardes, slip­pers, shoes for night, shoes for day, shoes for not think­ing about and just go­ing.

In the mid­dle of it all, Ital­ian-born Morelli sits in a plain white T-shirt with abun­dant salt and pep­per curls flop­ping over his face, a heavy chain around his neck, at odds with the spindly stilet­tos trip­ping up the shelves on the walls. Shoe­boxes are stacked any­where with in­dus­tri­ous­ness, as if to say should a box be strewn to the side then so be it, the beauty of the shoe will emerge from its nest of pa­per. There are so many shoes, be­cause, sim­ply, he wants the brand to cater to many more women.

“I think this is very im­por­tant but also I think it is what makes the dif­fer­ence be­tween Stu­art Weitz­man and other shoe brands that are more monothe­matic. Let’s put it that way,” he says in his de­fault forth­right tone. He doesn’t feel pres­sure chart­ing this new era (“frankly, no”) as cre­ative head and work­ing with a new CEO – Eraldo Po­letto joined in April from Fer­rag­amo – to steer the brand into a new suc­cess­ful chap­ter.

“Re­laxed?” he posits him­self. “No.” Which might ex­plain the speed at which he got to work switch­ing the sig­na­ture colour to a cobalt that colours the shoes’ heels, and pack­ag­ing, that he likes to call “ul­tra blue”, and in­tro­duced a bag line for a la­bel that has made its name with footwear. Train­ing in fash­ion in Mi­lan, Morelli ended up in ac­ces­sories with a ca­reer that has in­cluded 15 years at Chloé work­ing with Phoebe Philo, as well as Prada, Marc Ja­cobs and be­fore Stu­art Weitz­man, Loewe with Jonathan An­der­son, where he was global leather goods de­sign di­rec­tor. He is the per­son be­hind wait-listed bags like Chloé’s Faye, and the Marc Ja­cobs Stam bag, which makes him primed for a next hit.

At Prada he says he learnt ev­ery­thing un­der ‘Mrs Prada’, while at Chloé he built a cre­ative process, just ex­press­ing. “I was very free,” he says. “Some­times, in those houses, it’s very: ‘Oh, this is a risk, you can­not do that.’ Chloé was not at all like this. It was all about build­ing a way. What­ever peo­ple couldn’t do, we did.”

He knows the world doesn’t need another bag, in­stead mak­ing them this time as “some­thing dif­fer­ent, fun, to start a con­ver­sa­tion” and some­thing that brings here a di­rec­tional fash­ion el­e­ment: the bags are an ironic take on a shoe­box and come in novel minia­ture to full-scale size. He also sees it as an in­road to be­com­ing a mega-brand. “I wanted to be a more global, suc­cess­ful brand. Of course, then you can’t only rely on one cat­e­gory.”

That doesn’t mean dis­miss­ing what the brand is known for, like the afore­men­tioned Nudist, de­signed pur­pose­fully min­i­mally so as not to com­pete with an out­fit and as a re­sult has dom­i­nated red car­pets ev­ery­where, and which he has re­worked with a slightly flared, square heel and thicker straps – made to be seen more. Or the Tieland, the stretch­suede (a feat of en­gi­neer­ing that means seam­lessly back­ing sup­ple suede with elas­ti­cised lin­ing) thigh-high boots that he’s echo­ing for au­tumn/win­ter ’18/’19 in shear­ling-lined rid­ing and lace-up block ver­sions with un­ex­pected fin­ishes and de­tails like square metal studs and fring­ing. “A sense of eclec­ti­cism and rich­ness is im­por­tant,” he says, which has meant chal­lenges, like cre­at­ing stretch ver­sions of fab­ric that weren’t ever meant to stretch, like, say, python.

He’s not hold­ing back, be­cause he doesn’t have the time to. “It’s like you drive a car at high speed and also now, I drive the car for ev­ery sin­gle as­pect.” Sec­ond-guess­ing is not his style and he doesn’t pay too much mind to whether the for­mer cre­ative di­rec­tor might ap­prove. “I will do things in my way that prob­a­bly Stu­art wanted to do in another way,” he re­flects. “But we are two dif­fer­ent peo­ple so it’s very sim­ple.” A fear­less state­ment from some­one who sees the clear way for­ward.

“What­ever has been done is good but this is a new jour­ney. I pre­fer very much the fu­ture. The past brings you back to the past”

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