On an unusually sunny October morning during Paris Fashion Week, shoe designer Fabrizio Viti opened his apartment doors on rue de Babylone to debut his namesake collection. “I didn’t want to be in a showroom. I created the shoes in my apartment so I wanted people to see them in the same context that I did,” explained the 49-year-old designer, who spent the last two years developing a whimsical and colorful collection of flats, sandals, and pumps. While it’s his first crack at designing his own line, Viti is a veteran.
After graduating with a degree in sculpture from an art school in his hometown of Carrara, Italy, Viti found himself designing shoes for Canadian designer Patrick Cox in 1995 (“shoes are a form of sculpture”), before moving to Gucci, and then to Prada in 1999, where he served as head designer. During this time, Viti met Marc Jacobs at the infamous Plastic Club in Paris. “’Love to Love You Baby’ by Donna Summer started playing on the dance floor and I thought it was a sign,” the designer recalled of his first encounter with Jacobs, who was Louis Vuitton’s creative director at the time.
In 2004, Vuitton came calling, and offered Viti the position of shoe director, a post he continues to hold as he moonlights for his new company. “I never thought I could leave Prada, but a new adventure, a new city, and Marc Jaobs – it was too appealing to say no,” he explained from the house’s headquarters in Paris, where he works closely with creative director Nicolas Ghesquiere on the brand’s runway and commercial collections.
“When I work for myself it’s more free, I don’t overanalyze and it comes from my own references and from my heart, rather than my head like it does designing for Vuitton,” he said.
References abound in Viti’s debut collection, which he named, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, after the 1960 film of the same name starring Doris Day. “I’m Italian, I live in Paris, and I have a lot of American references – it’s an interesting mix,” he said of his mood board, which was swathed with images of Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve, as well as stills from television shows like Mary Tyler Moore and Bewitched. “American programming arrived ten years late in Italy, so I experienced the ’60s while growing up in the ’70s,” he said, laughing.
While playful white and yellow daisies adorn his shoes, the collection is not without edge. Viti has cultivated his own aesthetic vision, rejecting buyers’ feedback when they prompted him to replace his oversized, bulky, black rubber heel for a skinnier stiletto-like one, the stock and trade of successful luxury shoe brands.
“Big, black, chunky heels with daisies are disturbing to look at, but it’s what makes them contemporary,” he said of his designs. “I feel very alternative for the first time in my life. After twenty five years of people asking me to stop with the bows, I’m finally seen as an alternative designer,” he said.
But Viti is in the vigilant hands of two right-hand women who support his every move, System Magazine editor Alexia Niedzielski, and her sister-in-law, Gisela, the company’s chief executive. Alexia first met Viti when she was working on projects for Vuitton. “I was wearing his shoes all the time, and he expressed that he was ready to start his own line,” the French Brazilian 31-year-old said. “I jumped on the opportunity, I said, ‘If you’re ready, and it’s okay with Vuitton, then I’ll set up your brand.’”
Vuitton gave the green light, and Alexia introduced Viti to her business-minded sister-in-law, and the three formed the label, which will hit stores like Barneys and Colette this Spring. “I’m the puppeteer behind it, Gisela runs the show, and Fabrizio does what he does best.”
The trio meets monthly to strategize and weigh in on the designs. “As women we know what we want to wear, but the final word is his,” Gisela said.
“Sometimes when they criticize it’s hard, but I listen to them because they have to wear the shoes, so they know better than me,” Viti offered. “I always have women around me though. I can’t live or work without women around.”