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Sergio Rossi Is on the Move to Step Beyond Italy

November 17, 2000|VALLI HERMAN-COHEN | TIMES SENIOR FASHION WRITER

You can count on one set of toes the number of shoe artisans around the world--Manolo Blahnik, Salvatore Ferragamo, and now a name that is setting out to become more familiar in the United States--Sergio Rossi.

The 40-year-old Sergio Rossi firm, known for its sexy stilettos, has been one of those successful but small European companies that lacked only a major cash infusion to become a worldwide brand. "To survive in this century, you need to have an organization and long-term plans," said marketing director Gianvito Rossi, son of founder Sergio Rossi.

The company is poised to grow after it sold a 70% stake to the Gucci Group last year. Recently, the company staged its first L.A. trunk show at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills.

"With this agreement, we can expand in the United States and Asia," said the younger Rossi, a third-generation shoe artist. Sergio Rossi, himself the son of a made-to-measure shoemaker, remains the chairman and creative director.

Gucci will lend marketing and financial expertise, and Rossi's factories will manufacture shoes for that other Gucci-owned brand, Yves Saint Laurent. The company, based on Italy's Adriatic coast, has added a new men's shoe collection and a full line of handbags that will debut this spring at Neiman's, Saks Fifth Avenue and a handful of specialty stores such as Madison et Cie on Robertson Boulevard.

It was only 2 1/2 years ago that the company opened its first U.S. store in New York. "It's our priority to be in L.A. now," said Gianvito Rossi, who says the company is most interested in a Beverly Hills site. As the company grows, his main concern is that the product's quality and craftsmanship be preserved.

The Sergio Rossi company consists of about 300 artisans, who are crucial to making a high-quality product, he said. "It's really a handmade shoe. With every one of these, the difference between a beautiful shoe and an ordinary shoe is the 300 people involved in making them." The new partnership should help future generations of artists flourish.

"The tradition that we have is easy to get lost," he said, because quality comes only with experience. "Every year you get better and better," he said. "They're high-touch, not high-tech."

Innovation remains a hallmark of the company that recently pioneered a carbon-fiber sole that allows a sole so thin, it's virtually weightless and invisible. The new spring collection includes more such clever designs, including sandals with an attached "toe ring" set with semiprecious stones, smoked acrylic straps and an aggressive stiletto heel sculpted to look like a weapon.

The larger handbag collection includes day bags, such as a cinched tote in metallicized suede. Of course, all the luxury skins and finishes and the extensive handwork bring luxury prices, from $800 to $1,000.

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