Walk of Fame: The genius of sole man Roger Vivier

A master of shoe design, Roger Vivier invented the stiletto. As a new book reveals his startling imagination, Olivier Saillard explains how the Frenchman turned footwear into artwork.

Roger Vivier's talent was a product of the 1920s. Featuring radically shortening skirts and dresses up to the knee, the decade consequently placed the emphasis on accessories. Young women went out dressed in straight, monochrome dresses, and handkerchiefs whose apparent simplicity clashed with their shoes, handbags and feathered fans – ostentatious, flaunted accessories.

Throughout his entire life, the French bootmaker, who studied sculpture at Paris's École des Beaux-Arts in 1924, would never lose sight of the punctuation embodied by the shoe. On a slender mule or pump, Roger Vivier would place a butterfly with fabric wings, a hummingbird escaped from its golden cage, or a bouquet that would never wither. He transformed the foot, which had to assume the new role of a refined bouquet holder; he domesticated the Chantilly lace that he attached, flanked by a satin ribbon, on to the upper.

The shoe designer also made forays into jewellery when he created elegant ladies' shoes dripping with gemstones, drop beads and embroidery. A craftsman of delicacies, he expanded his repertoire of fragile confections in 1964 to include jewellery that can be attached to any shoe. A master at the art of embellishment and an amateur milliner, he used colorful plumage favored by hat makers for ornamenting fascinators and straw hats. He decorated pumps with the feathers from pheasants or kingfishers, until all that was missing were the wings.

An iconoclast and a puppeteer, he took ankles by storm in 1967, when he created exotic shoes with African masks, feathers and raffia in a clever nod to African art for Yves Saint Laurent.

Though they cannot speak, Roger Vivier's shoes have no trouble expressing themselves. They are naturally, plastically photogenic. In 1942, he was the assistant, for a time, to the photographer George Hoyningen-Huene in New York, and was comfortable with both ornament and simplicity. He knew how to find the equilibrium between forms, motifs and materials to create his designs, which are veritable pictograms of their time period. Embroidered or in patent leather, his shoes seem designed in one stroke, whether they are roughly sketched or clearly defined.

On women's feet or in the pages of magazines, his creations needn't be pointed out to be recognised. Over the course of his stimulating collaborations with Christian Dior (from 1953 to 1962) and Yves Saint Laurent (from 1963), and under his own name from 1963, Roger Vivier responded to the demands of fashion collections like an artist responding to his patron.

And yet he never lost sight of his own authorship. The pair of flat, square-heeled pumps covered with a large buckle that he created to accompany Yves Saint Laurent's Mondrian dresses in 1965 – among the most widely copied shoes in the world – expertly served the couturier's iconography, and, more essentially, founded his own.

In 2002, almost four years after the passing of its founding creator, Bruno Frisoni was named artistic director of Roger Vivier. His work resembles that of an author who tackles the exercise of translating a text. He must be faithful to the underlying structure of a work without compromising the expression and the originality of his own creation.

Manipulating, like Vivier, his taste for design and collage, and skillfully practising the discipline of haute couture, Bruno Frisoni's intention is to capture a sense of fragility and delicacy.

A new book celebrates both the vintage and current designs. And yet, well before editors' infatuation with fashion books, Roger Vivier was the subject of several publications in which he was recognised for the major contributions his work represents.

He was also the subject of many exhibitions, including one at the Musée des Arts de la Mode in Paris in December 1987. Since the 1960s, his creations have been in the most beautiful museums in the world.

Whether vehement and expressive or silent and reserved, Roger Vivier's marvellous chiffon shoes trace the trajectory of a new profession that constantly reinvents itself.

Arts and Entertainment
'A voice untroubled by time': Kate Bush
musicReview: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Life and Style
Cooked up: reducing dietary animal fat might not be as healthy as government advice has led millions of people to believe
healthA look at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
News
peopleJustin Bieber accuses papparrazzi of acting 'recklessly' after car crash
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
people
Voices
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Oppressive atmosphere: the cast of 'Tyrant'
tvIntroducing Tyrant, one of the most hotly anticipated dramas of the year
News
i100
News
Ukrainian Leonid Stadnik, 37, 2.59 meter (8,5 feet) tall, the world's tallest living man, waves as he poses for the media by the Chevrolet Tacuma car presented to him by President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko in Kiev on March 24, 2008.
newsPeasant farmer towered at almost 8'5'' - but shunned the limelight
News
Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in ‘The Front Page’, using an old tech typewriter
media
Life and Style
Could a robot sheepdog find itself working at Skipton Auction Mart?
techModel would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian
film
Sport
Angel Di Maria poses with Louis van Gaal after signing for Manchester United
sportWinger arrives from Real Madrid and could make debut on Saturday
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Hooked on classical: cellist Rachael Lander began drinking to combat panic attacks
musicThe cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow...
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Nursery Assistant/Nurse all cheshire areas

    £7 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: We are a large and successful recrui...

    Year 2 Teachers needed for day to day supply

    £110 - £130 per day + Competitve rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Yea...

    Digital Marketing Manager, Womens Fashion, London

    £50-£60K Plus Benefits: Charter Selection: Highly successful leading women’s l...

    Year 6 Teachers needed for day to day supply roles

    £110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Ye...

    Day In a Page

    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
    Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

    From strung out to playing strings

    Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
    The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
    Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

    Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

    The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
    On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

    On the road to nowhere

    A Routemaster trip to remember
    Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

    Hotel India

    Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
    10 best pencil cases

    Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

    Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
    Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

    Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

    Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
    Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

    Pete Jenson: A Different League

    Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
    This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

    The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

    Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis