Style

Built to Last

Words by Nick Scott

Yves Saint-Laurent once defined elegance as “forgetting what one is wearing”, and the man who made middle heels and flats sexy, Edgardo Osorio, concurs with gusto. “When I started Aquazzura, comfort was a dirty word,” he tells Essence Lifestyle. “But I didn't want to put women on a pedestal – I wanted them to move, even to dance, in my shoes. You cannot truly be elegant if you’re not comfortable.”

Osorio’s approach to comfort and elegance is holistic and painstaking.“I hire technicians who have been making lasts and shoe constructions for over 40 years,” he says, “and together we’ve developed a shape that fits better on the foot and distributes the weight of the body, not only on the ball of your foot, but also on the arch and the back. We also put extra padding with memory foam in the soles so that it’s softer when you walk. Fabrics are also very important, so I’m very demanding. We use cashmere suede and butter nappa leather, as they’re soft and caress the feet and skin without constraining it.”

I’ve had a chance to work with the best craftsmen and artisans in the world, I really learned how to appreciate good quality design and how real luxury is made..."

Amongst all the denizens of the contemporary luxury fashion realm, there is no greater authority on elegance than the man who founded the shoe brand of choice for the world’s most discerning women. A man intent on concocting “a modern dolce vita” amongst his customers – hence his company’s name being a portmanteau of the Italian words for “blue” and “water” – he lives in the only private apartment in a 15th-century Florentine palace which was home to the Medici family until 1649, when it was purchased by Maria Maddalena Machiavelli.

Filled with Renaissance frescoes, sweeping staircases and Baroque features such as its shell-and-coral encrusted fountain room and, Osorio’s favourite piece, an 18th-Century Portuguese alter (“It’s quite imposing – I’ve put it next to a modern Kagan sofa and mid-century tables and lamps: I love the mix,” he says), his home, the setting for the portraits surrounding these words, epitomises his broader philosophy on aesthetics. “I think too much is never enough,” he says. “I’m of the ‘more is more’ philosophy in life.”

His love of opulence is not something Osorio only brings to the drawing board sparingly, though: “In design, I tend to be the opposite – I think the most beautiful things are often the most pure and simple,” he says. “I think its all about the mix and proportions.” This belief in the sublimity of purity has been percolating for many, many years. “As a child, I was very creative – always doodling, drawing and dreaming,” he explains of his formative years in Colombia. “I always wanted to make beautiful things. I used to escape classes to read fashion magazines with my friends.”

Observing the young Edgardo’s yen for all things sartorial, his family weren’t surprised when he began working as a fashion intern at just 14 years old, or when he moved to London to study at the London College of Fashion at the age of just 16, or even when he a dropped out of college to take a position as a shoes and accessories design consultant at Salvatore Ferragamo in Florence aged just 19. “In applied arts, the best school is working,” he says, “and living in sunny Florence and working for one of the oldest shoe houses in the world was a dream come true.”

You may wear a dress, but with shoes, it’s the shoe that wears you, It needs to become a part of your body, an extension of your leg. A woman with the right pair of shoes feels more secure, more beautiful and, in the end, more powerful.

From this point, Osorio’s meticulous approach to craftsmanship was further ground and whetted by stints working for Sigerson Morrison, René Caovilla and Roberto Cavalli. “I’ve had a chance to work with the best craftsmen and artisans in the world,” he says. “I really learned how to appreciate good quality design and how real luxury is made. I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t worked for so many different people.”

And yet all of this diverse, rich experience was all really just preparation for his fulfilment of a much bigger dream: to found his own shoe brand, which Osorio eventually did alongside his partner Ricardo D’Almeida Figueiredo (“We are very different people,” he says of the pair’s unique dynamic, “but we will walk into a room and see the same flaws, or the same objects we both love.”)

Another major tributary to Osorio’s artisanal sensibility is travel. “Being born in Colombia, raised between Miami and London and then moving to Italy made me who I am today,” he says. “My brand is a mix of Latin sensuality, Italian sophistication, and American ease.” This international perspective is reflected neatly in the interior design of Aquazzura stores throughout the world, which share certain design tenets but also pack an ‘in situ’ sense of localised flavour. “The store in Madison Avenue feels like a ‘Duomo’, and is inspired by Santa Maria Novella Cathedral in Florence; London’s feels more like the inside of a townhouse in that city, with the twist of having a striped altar; the Florence outlet is a Baroque palace from the 17th century, and mixes modern and mid-century pieces with antiques. We want to adapt and embrace the territory we’re in.”

London and New York remain major sources of design inspiration – “They’re both melting pots of culture and ideas, full of energy and opportunities,” he says – but Osorio is also not afraid to tread far, far away from the beaten track in search of inspiration. “Because I love everything that is hand-made and hand crafted,”“I travel the world looking for new artisanal techniques and ideas to apply to my shoes. A recent example was using the hand-woven fabrics used in mochilas made by indigenous Wayuu tribes in Colombia to make shoes in Italy.”

The resulting neon-bright Espadriles, a highlight of the brand’s spring/summer 2015, are the epitome of outlandish beauty. And yet for Osorio, aesthetics alone are not enough: for him, functionality is also at the core of craftsmanship. “You may wear a dress, but with shoes, it’s the shoe that wears you,” he explains. “It needs to become a part of your body, an extension of your leg. A woman with the right pair of shoes feels more secure, more beautiful and, in the end, more powerful. That’s why I love that Marilyn Monroe quote: ‘Give a girl the right pair of shoes, and she can conquer the world.’”

For Osorio, these words from the most celebrated Hollywood starlet of all time are more than just a pithy quip – they represent his mission: one which goes hand in hand with his determination to redefine the word ‘innovation’ with every stroke of his pencil, and with every one of the highly coveted shoes which leave his production line.

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