Listen to the audio version of the article
Lots of photographic, illustrated and children’s books. Films, TV series (one of which is now broadcast on Sky Arte) and exhibitions: the one inaugurated at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in 2023 will probably be extended. At the center of this mine of stories in words or images is Gabrielle Chanel and the maison that she founded in 1910, not yet thirty years old. It is almost certain that not everything has yet been said about her figure and her personal professional history; something (or a lot) will always escape from such a complex and out of the ordinary life and personality. Among the fixed points there is certainly that since the dawn of the maison (the sign of the first shop, opened in Paris on 1 January 1910 was Chanel Modes), Gabrielle Chanel stood out for her ability to imagine a complete look. The way of dressing and choosing accessories that the designer offered to women corresponded to a new vision of their role in society.
Chanel, the SS 2024 collection
Photogallery 22 photos
A real line of shoes was introduced in the 1950s, but footwear was always at the center of Gabrielle Chanel’s stylistic choices: as Emma Baxter-Wright says in the short Chanel essay (published in Italy by Il Castello), «there are photographs of Coco in early 1929 wearing black toe shoes and a cross strap on her foot. It is unlikely that she designed these particular shoes, however she later produced two-tone models (…). From a practical point of view, Coco was aware that on an entirely light shoe every mark would be visible and the invention of the dark toe would help cover the scratches.”
Gabrielle Chanel, we believe, would be proud, perhaps even happy, to join Roveda, the company in Parabiago, just outside Milan, 100% controlled by the French maison, which produces a good part of Chanel footwear. «The two-tone models are still at the center of the universe of the house’s footwear: over time, season after season, the shapes, the straps, the proportions, the color combinations, the height of the heels have changed slightly, but the two-tone remains part of the Chanel style”, says Nadia Minini, managing director of Roveda. Karl Lagerfeld, creative director of Chanel from 1983 to 2019, the year of his death, gave great impetus to the footwear lines, ranging from flip-flops to snow boots. Virginie Viard, whom Lagerfeld defined as “my right and left arm” and who took over the creative direction from him, continued on the path traced by the master, but, we could say, surpassed him. Perhaps helped by the fact that she is a woman and understands the importance of shoes even better than Lagerfeld could.
«Technology helps us in many ways, starting with communication: with Virginie and her team there is constant creative ping pong, made possible by the tools that we have all learned to use best in recent years – continues Nadia Minini –. Computers and digital innovations also help us monitor and optimize the use of every resource, from energy to raw materials: we are all committed to reducing waste and respecting the value of each person and our territory.” What is extraordinary happens in Roveda, where people of 22 nationalities work, is that manual work and the creativity that comes from the mind and the heart remain as important as technology. «Actually, perhaps they are even more so: computers can be replicated and must be turned on or off – adds the managing director of the factory -. No, people are not replicable or replaceable: they are all unique and bring to Roveda their technical knowledge but above all their inner universe and my priority is to enhance them.”
In Roveda some things even seem too good to be true. But they are and to demonstrate it are the smiles and the “calm chaos” that reigns there: the genesis of each model starts from a sketch on paper, is transferred to a computer, then the shapes are born and the shoes are “dressed” and no steps it would be possible by removing one of the two components, the machine and the human hands. Brushing, artisanal application of sequins, beads, feathers, inserts of different leathers. «I have always believed in listening and in what marketing jargon defines as a “bottom up” approach – concludes Nadia Minini –. We managers have final responsibilities and decisions, but the ideas to improve processes and facilitate working life and therefore creativity and serenity within the factory come from all the people who work there. For this reason we organize meetings outside and inside the company, personal training courses that in some cases go beyond footwear techniques and we stimulate a transfer of knowledge between generations. Here we all have to be teachers and students at the same time and continually learn from each other.”