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.
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”