Bruno Frisoni on Roger Vivier, Alligator Tails, and Bad Taste

bruno frisoni.jpgHow do you recreate a legendary brand–staying true to its signature motifs while updating them to attract a new generation of fans? This was the challenge that greeted fashion designer Bruno Frisoni when in 2004 he was appointed creative director of Roger Vivier, the accessories house now owned by the Italian fashion group Tod’s (which WWF thinks none too highly of). Last Friday, Frisoni discussed how he tackled this challenge and provided insight into some of his key influences in a talk with Pamela Gobin, curator of 20th century and contemporary fashion at the Musee de la Mode et du Textile in Paris, sponsored by New York City’s French Institute Alliance Francaise (FIAF).

pamela and bruno.jpgVivier, who died in 1998, is best known for creating the stiletto heel and designing Catherine Deneuve‘s iconic Belle de Jour Pilgrim shoes. Frisoni began the task of revivifying Vivier by looking at past designs, but once he saw them, he didn’t want to have the actual objects around when he was designing, preferring to be inspired by photographs. “I like better the distance you get from a photo. You don’t know exactly what it is. You can interpret it,” he told the well-shod crowd. “A photo gives you a start for the imagination. With the real thing, it’s all there. It’s nice not to have the real thing.”

Roger Vivier now makes both ready-to-wear and haute couture shoes. Why haute couture in our time of cheap chic and fast fashion? “Tradition. Roger Vivier was originally a haute couture shoe maker,” said Frisoni. “Ready-to-wear is to consume, and haute couture is the fantasy.” As with clothing, the haute couture looks are more exaggerated and the materials more decadent and delicate. Case in point: alligator tails. Impossible to integrate into an industrially produced shoe, they can be used in handmade couture designs. Frisoni explained, “You can’t do it with ready-to-wear, because every tail is different.”

Frisoni, who originally aspired to design clothing, caught the accessories bug while working for Christian Lacroix. “It was a kind of circus of fashion–in a good way,” says Frisoni of Lacroix’s atelier. “Working there taught me to have fun and not to be afraid of bad taste. Sometimes, in fashion, bad taste is a good thing.”

Hungry for more? Join FIAF in NYC this Friday at 7pm as Gobin talks with Olivier Theyskens, artistic director of Nina Ricci.