“Federico Fellini was a great friend of Sergio Rossi. For all the films – The sweet life, Rome – the actresses wore his shoes, ”announced Riccardo Sciutto, CEO of the Italian footwear company whose founder died last week at age 84.
What a distance there is between the founder of the brand, who, from age 13, had watched his own father making shoes by hand – footwear’s version of haute couture – and the high-tech factory creations of today.
Tributes continue to pour in for Sergio Rossi, the man who epitomized the inventive craftsmanship that built Italian style in the post-war period. But the trajectory of the shoe company is also an example of the inevitable move from man to machine.
The hand-crafted Sergio Rossi ‘Opanca’ sandal from 1968
I interviewed Riccardo Sciutto, who will speak at the forthcoming Condé Nast International Luxury Conference, about how he has modernized the brand. He took over Sergio Rossi in 2017, after the company had been bought by Investindustrial in 2015. The original company had first been sold just before the new millennium, by the Gucci group (now known as the Kering luxury group).
I asked Sciutto how he saw himself in his management role. “I’m like a millennial in my spirit, if not my body,” he said. “My way is to ask, What’s next?”
There is a sad irony in that statement, made in Milan in February, just before the arrival of the Coronavirus, which ultimately led to the death of Sergio Rossi himself. Who could ever have imagined such a tearing apart of the world?
The Sergio Rossi boutique on Via Monte Napoleone in Milan
But if the show must go on, Sciutto is the man to respond to the alarming situation. He has made a donation of 100 per cent of online sales for the fight against Coronavirus, and tries to remain positive in this bleak situation, in which Italy has suffered so much.
Sergio Rossi CEO Riccardo Sciutto is donating 100% of the company’s online sales to the fight against Covid-19
It all seems to cry from the launch of Sergio Rossi menswear at Pitti Imagine in Florence in January, where Rossi himself made me focus on the company’s swift leap into the digital age with initiatives to make sustainability a major part of the picture.
“One hundred per cent of my energy at my factory, my stores in Italy, comes from the water and sun,” he announced, adding other social initiatives such as training artisans and taking one third of his suppliers from his local Emilia Romagna region.
A poster at the Sergio Rossi factory in Italy declares the company’s mission statement and achievements in sustainable production
The result is that the company can supply stores with its dainty or streamlined shoes in 40 days, as opposed to the typical six months for those shoe brands without their own factories.
Among other think-local ideas, Sciutto had already instigated a scheme for his workforce to carpool to the factory in threes, saying “We started three years ago, and all the energy we need for this season is produced by our solar panels. You need to start from an internal perspective to be the testimonial for your people, as their CEO. You can then take somebody aside and ask whether we did enough and how we can improve. ”
A craftsman chooses a last at the Sergio Rossi factory in Emilia Romagna, Italy
Looking at the glamorous, shapely shoes, with a feminine feel to their pointed toes and narrow heels, it is hard to grasp that Sciutto’s goal is to put positive energy and thoughtful construction into innumerable examples of women’s footwear – and to ramp up supply, which stands at 300,000 pairs of shoes in one per year from the one single factory.
A fashionista wearing the Sergio Rossi ‘Icon’ slingback during Paris Fashion Week
Even that building has been given a modernist treatment, and Sciutto shows me pictures of the treasure trove of art works and the collection of 6,500 shoes from the company’s archive.
Vintage shoes from the Sergio Rossi living heritage archive in San Mauro Pascoli, Italy
“The message I want to give is that Italy, in terms of manufacturing, is a great opportunity for everybody,” Sciutto said. “Five years ago, when I arrived, people told me to close down the factory. Now it is seen as a big plus, because today it is about quality and flexibility. When I arrived, the total production was between 60-70,000 a year. Now we can do over 1,000 shoes a day. “
The men’s line relaunched in January under the guidance of Scuitto at the Pitti mens fair in Florence and is already available to buy.
The Sergio Rossi factory in San Mauro Pascoli, in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy
But the result that is bringing the most pleasure to the executive is the return of Bottega Veneta to the factory, marking, he hopes, the rebirth of Sergio Rossi as the provider of excellence.
“Sergio Rossi himself produced shoes for Versace and Dolce & Gabbana in the Eighties and Nineties, so why can’t we produce now for Bottega and other brands?” Sciutto said. “My goal is to become one of the biggest factories for excellence in Italy. If you want do great shoes, ask Sergio! “