Take the challenge of Roger Vivier’s towering stilettos
If Cinderella had really existed, the Fairy Godmother would undoubtedly have conjured up a Roger Vivier slipper for her to lose. For no other label’s shoes have ever been so rich in luxury, history and fantasy. “Lines have always enthralled me,” said the famous shoemaker. And, in 1954, he created the first stiletto. For better and for worse, he realigned our hips, elongated our calves, accentuated our curves, raised us up – and cast us down, causing untold twisted ankles, blisters, and taxi fares.
Women were wooed by the wit and beauty of Vivier’s lines. The Virgule, a sleek, quick comma of a heel, is magical in the impossible engineering of its curve. The thigh-high scarlet fun-fur boot is a creation that only a marmalade cat could really carry off. The Pied de Chèvre, or goat-hoofed heel, may sound eccentric, but once it has been embroidered with silver thread and decked with topazes, it is suddenly fit for Princess Soraya of Iran – who had Vivier heels made to match her every gown.
In 1936, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the Queen Consort, wore gold-embroidered, white satin Viviers for the coronation of her husband, George VI. Not surprisingly, 17 years later, her daughter Queen Elizabeth II also chose Vivier to design the gold kid-skin and seed-pearl sandals she wore for her own Coronation. Christian Dior allowed Vivier’s name to appear on shoes designed for his label – a unique privilege at the time. And Elsa Schiaparelli, Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Pierre Balmain, and Madame Grès all clamoured to pair his shoes with their catwalk creations.
In Belle de Jour, Luis Buñuel’s 1967 exploration of the dark sexuality of the bourgeoisie, Catherine Deneuve wore Vivier pilgrim-buckled black patent shoes. The effect was equivocal, prim yet provocative. “A simple, wellmade shoe with the perfect arch is such a pleasure,” Deneuve said of those solid-heeled classics, adding: “My only sin has always been shoes.” Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Marlene Dietrich, Jackie O, and Audrey Hepburn all posed in Viviers. Brigitte Bardot raised temperatures when she modelled thigh-high Vivier boots astride a Harley-Davidson.
This glorious past is being celebrated at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris with an exhibition devoted to 140 of the label’s most spectacular shoes. Vivier himself, a Parisian who spent some time in New York during the war, died in 1998. But in 2000 his brand was spectacularly revived by Diego Della Valle, the CEO of Tod’s Group. In 2003, Della Valle coaxed the Parisborn designer Bruno Frisoni to
become creative director of the
label. Since then, Frisoni has taken Vivier’s potent alchemy of stardom, fantasy, and wit to new heights. “Mr. Vivier had a playful side, of course. And I have always been very playful with what I’ve done. That was one of the elements that decided me as the right person for the brand,” says Frisoni over coffee at Claridge’s. “My work is about a chic attitude, a sexiness, a playfulness.”
And so Frisoni dreams up new forms and shapes in keeping with the heritage of the maison yet unique to him. “Archives are good if you make them relevant to today, tomorrow,” he says. “You don’t go for precise revivals – you take elements, or silhouettes, and recreate them so they are perfect for now. I try to understand the philosophy behind Vivier’s passion, and write a new page in the label’s history.” That page includes not just exquisite shoes, but jewellery and bags. And the stars who wear and carry them, from Rachel Weisz to Cate Blanchett, Marion Cotillard to Anne Hathaway, Nicole Kidman to Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, are every bit as high-wattage as any of the famous women Vivier himself attracted in his heyday. The model and former Chanel muse Inès de la Fressange, with her aristrocratic, witty, and elegant Frenchness, is a spokesperson for the famous brand.
The label is just as inventive today. Frisoni’s Licorne Sans Lecture court shoe from 2010 twists goose feathers into a proud unicorn’s horn. Tricky to wear, perhaps, but also impossible to forget. His Belle en Vivier boot from 2004 is a classic shape rendered in shocking-pink foal-skin leopard-print. A favourite of mine is the Rose n’ Roll, with its needle-thin high heel designed to look like a rose twig, complete with sculptured thorn. This was inspired, Frisoni tells me, by a Vivier rocket heel and the work of the jeweller and furniture-maker Hervé Van der Straeten. “I was looking for a new stiletto,” he says. “And I was looking for a very organic shape. You look for lines and I knew what I wanted in my head, but spent two days sketching and throwing paper away and not succeeding. Then I woke up, and went to my desk and ... ” he mimes a lightning-quick sketch, “it’s done.” This season, instead of finding inspiration in nature, the Prismick range is all about architecture and angles, jigsaw puzzles and geometry. From a distance a Prismick heel can look like the sweetest curve, while close up it resolves itself into a succession of the most precise angles.
And though Vivier may have invented the stiletto, it’s Frisoni who has really taken it to vertiginous new heights, up to 110mm from Vivier’s now modest-seeming 75mm. But, as Frisoni himself says: “It’s not about the height; it’s never just about the height. Never.” Roger Vivier, #0212F, Takashimaya Shopping Centre, Singapore. Tel: +65 6737 8444. www.rogervivier.com
The scene at the launch party for the Roger Vivier book (published by Rizzoli UK) at Saatchi Gallery in 2013
Prismick shopping tote, Roger Vivier U- Look shoulder bag, Roger Vivier
Roger Vivier creative director, Bruno Frisoni
Pumps, Roger Vivier Virgule heels, Roger Vivier
The new store in Takashimaya Shopping Centre, Singapore
Brand ambassador, Inès de la Fressange
Evening boot designed by Roger Vivier for Dior circa 1961
Ballet flats, Roger Vivier
Roger Vivier circa 1961