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Celebrating a fashion legacy: Roger Vivier

Celebrating a fashion legacy: Roger Vivier

Standing the test of time


To call a creative talent a truly great designer and 'reformer' in their field is a weighty title, and must not be given too hastily. Yet for Roger Vivier, founder of his own eponymous fashion label and creator of the stiletto heel, we feel it's just deserts

Ava GardnerGloria Guinness and The Beatles were all Roger Vivier customers, and he designed the shoes for Queen Elizabeth II for her coronation in 1953, at the time when he created footwear for Christian Dior, from 1953 to 1963. In addition to the stiletto heel, he also conjoured up other shapes including the 'comma', using silk, pearls, beads, lace, appliqué and jewels to create unique decorations for his shoes, and in the 1960s he also made headlines with silk-satin knee boots outlined in precious gems, and thigh-high evening boots in a black elastic knit with beads.

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The brand's famous comma heel design

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The Pilgrim

His most iconic design, the 'Pilgrim Pumps' with silver buckles received international publicity and many, many imitations.

There is an incredibly lengthy list of names of other great 'reformers' in the world of Haute Couture and prêt-à-porter with whom Roger Vivier collaborated across the 90 years of his long and successful life. Elsa Schiaparelli, who was the first to notice his talent, to Madame Grès, Pierre Balmain and Yves Saint-Laurent.

Although perhaps a little more subtle, the successful styles of this great French master cannot be underestimated, and should really fare to be as famous as Louboutin's red sole.

no one style of Vivier's has stood the test of time (if you'll pardon the pun) like the Pilgrim

Uncommon geometrics were also incorporated into Vivier's designs, alongside a wealth of detail and original materials. Clear plastic – another of Vivier's inventions that has spanned decades of inspirations later – alongside organza and pleated leather and vinyl, lace and feathers. The treatment granted him a nickname of the "foot jeweller".

However no one style of Vivier's has stood the test of time (if you'll pardon the pun) like the Pilgrim. It first appeared in public in 1965, to accompany the famous Yves Saint-Laurent collection inspired by contemporary artist Piet Mondrian, full of colour blocked shift dresses. But the peak of this style's success came two years later, with the release of the film Belle de Jour starring Catherine Deneuve, who wore the Pilgrims – and voilà, they became iconic. 

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"Vivier is my inspiration; I often observe his creations to interpret them, analyse them through the prism of his vision of the world, preserving the spirit and the philosophy of this brand" – Bruno Frisoni

Sadly, Roger Vivier passed away in 1998, and all activity under his brand stopped for four long years, until 2002, when Diego Della Valle, founder of the Tod's Group, bought the name Roger Vivier and appointed Bruno Frisoni as creative director and Ines de la Fressange as brand ambassador.

Bruno Frisoni, brought special value to the legacy of the label's former master, crystallising all the main traits in the DNA of the French label. Rather eccentric traits perhaps, but impeccably elegant, from the point of a feather in the refined finish to the heel tip on the next kitten heel model. Above all, each pair of shoes still has that dose of fun, the importance of which Bruno Frisoni explains to us at length.

The famous cheer, the joy that every new pair of shoes must give its purchaser, is analysed in detail by Frisoni (above), in the unusual choice of materials, in light colours and weaving combinations, namely in those same elements of surprise that was generated in all those women during the last century.

"Roger Vivier is my inspiration; I often observe his creations to interpret them, analyse them through the prism of his vision of the world, preserving the spirit and the philosophy of this brand", says the creative director. In each new collection, Bruno Frisoni draws inspiration from the symbolic models created by the imagination of the founder; for the last two seasons he relaunched the famous comma heel, while for his most recent collection he has dusted off the 'Boule' model, originally created for Marlene Dietrich in 1954.

This style first made an appearance when ankle boots were all the rage, as were little sequinned shoes with a ball in place of the heel. This original shape also inspired the shoes in the mini-series 'Night Clutch', part of a selection of basic accessories for the Autumn/Winter season. The Autumn collection proved to be, in the words of Frisoni, "very rock'n'roll," verging on rock. "It is not a question of materials and raw shapes; it doesn't have to be all biker boots with studs or big heavy shoes. Rock'n'roll is a mood, the spirit of the collection that combines 60s style with its openness to risk." He said.

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Carla Bruni-Sarkozy carries the 'Miss Viv' bag

We must not however think that Roger Vivier's heir only manages to take inspiration from the past, relentlessly searching the brand's archives. With his contribution, the great Roger Vivier family is always continuing to come up with new models. In 2009, for example, they produced the 'Miss Viv' bag in honour of Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the ex-First Lady of France, to support one of her charity initiatives. And although the bag is only five years old now, it is referred to as an icon and every season new versions are released.

Bruno Frisoni is at times inspired by the image of the everyday woman, for this his work is often enriched with new muses. Buro 24/7's founder and international style icon Miroslava Duma has also worked with Roger Vivier in the past.

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Catherine Deneuve sports the Pilgrims in 1967

Some women have taken on a much more important role than that of simple muses for the brand. For example, since that memorable point in 1967, Catherine Deneuve (above) continues to wear Pilgrims, underlining her loyalty to the master even after his death.

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Ines de la Fressange

But of course the main ambassador for Roger Vivier is Ines de la Fressange, the true personification of French style. "Ines is a totally different story; she is not just the latest Roger Vivier muse: she is one of our partners and a bona fide collaborator," is how Bruno Frisoni describes working with her. "I adore her for her enthusiasm and her great irresistible appeal. She is the quintessence of French style: she knows how to be feminine yet is also something of a tomboy, her behaviour at times comparable to that of a mischievous, modern rascal."

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