Before putting pencil to paper — and nappa-leather uppers to outsoles — the designer Silvia Avanzi spent two years developing and fine-tuning the concept behind her shoe line. "I asked myself, 'What do women want today, and what do we need, really?' We feel everything has been done and redone," she recalls, "and I'm not the type of person who simply wants women to spend money. I want her to be happy with her purchases." Using "a marketing-trained brain," the fashion branding and advertising vet noticed a gap: avant-garde heels. From there, Gray Matters — her line of sleek glove shoes, mules and flatforms that launched in stores last month — began to take shape.
Fittingly, she has created each style heel first. She uses a company in the eastern Italian region of Le Marche that counts Fendi, Missoni and Dior as clients — and which has made concrete coating, matte lacquer, brushed metal plates and, most recently, a wooden egg for Gray Matters's spring/summer 2017 collection. "I wanted to speak about confidence — a woman who's so strong and powerful, and who can balance atop the most delicate thing you can think of," Avanzi says, mentioning her apprehensions about the heel seeming too gimmicky.
The rest of the shoe comes together in the Italian region of Veneto, known for its high-end shoemaking and leatherwork, not far from where Avanzi, now based in New York, grew up. (Still, "finding a team of expert artisans in Italy willing to develop a comprehensive collection for an up-and-coming brand has been very time-consuming," she says.) The footwear-world-famous Italoforme constructs custom shoe lasts for Gray Matters ("the more commercial brands take existing ones and adapt them as needed," Avanzi points out); she describes her pattern maker, a Louis Vuitton alum, as the "technical brain of her brand," who "has tremendous knowledge of how to translate any design into a wearable 'dress' for our feet." The Mafer factory, responsible for the final construction, is practiced in "sacchetto," a technique that uses a minimum number of seams, and frequented by Bottega Veneta and Chanel for their flats — a testament to the comfort of Gray Matters's heels. Even the bags and boxes (carefully thought out by Avanzi) are made by facilities employed by labels like Céline and Mansur Gavriel.
Of the brand's title, Avanzi embraces a scientific meaning. "I've heard many times that people associate 'gray matter' with something smart, which I don't mind," she says. "I think my shoes are very intelligent."
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