Mario Valentino, the art of daring

The brand specialized in footwear, leather goods and leather garments, founded in Naples in 1952, made an era and conquered the world with the taste and elegance typical of the Neapolitan culture.  

mario valentino
An historical portrait of Mario Valentino, founder and father of the current CEO Vincenzo Valentino

Mario Valentino’s shoes have been defined as “art in the form of a shoe”. But how a masterpiece destined to be carved in the history of fashion, the foundation of contemporary civilization, comes to life? Vincenzo Valentino, CEO and third generation of an internationally prestigious firm that does not renounce its elitist image, answers this question. “The origins of the company – he explains – go back to an ancient tradition started by Vincenzo Valentino, a manufacturer of shoes mainly for men. Vincenzo handed down Mario the art of footwear making: not only technical notions, but also those secrets of charm and style that distinguish a high-level shoe from a common one meant for daily use. Mario, however, had an extra skill compared to his father, that skill that allowed him to face the female universe, a world made up of messages sent through colors, craftsmanship, shapes and heels. A world where high quality and dexterity were no longer enough, as many new parameters were needed. All of these elements, put together, constituted those art objects still a symbol of the Italian fashion manufacture.”Mario Valentino

Some items from the F/W 2020-21 collection

Vincenzo Valentino, That of Mario Valentino is a family story with a Neapolitan, creative, bright DNA. How does it feel to carry on a tradition of excellence by adapting to the times and market changes? We cannot deny that Naples’ creative and enlightened DNA was to Mario Valentino a fundamental help, as it still is for us today. Naples is a constantly evolving city where a lot of ancient artists, writers and poets, over the centuries, have found the purest inspirations for their works. Just to give few examples, 3000 years ago Virgilio came to Naples, as well as Axel Munthe, the most important Swedish writer, and also Horace Nelson has lived in Naples for a period of his life. Not surprisingly, the ancients were persuaded that the Gods decided to place here, in our paradise, the Hell itself, under Lake Avernus. Our history, our environment, our sun, our mild winter, our islands, but also every tourist, from Italy or from abroad, are an unlimited source of inspiration that helps us adapt and adjust in compliance with shifting times and market’s changes

Covid-19, in addition to causing a huge health emergency, is also having dramatic implications for the real economy. In your opinion, what will be the consequences of this crisis on the footwear and leather goods sectors and on the stylistic choices of future collections? As we know, Covid-19 has undoubtedly struck without distinction every economic field, except of course pharmaceutics and healthcare. Several companies, including us, have suffered the absence of customers for several months, and today, considering the financial distress and uncertainties about the future that our customers are enduring, we keep noticing their reluctance to purchase. We have certainly been affected by the situation, and were also forced to cut costs, but the stylistic choices on present and future collections will definitely remain untouched and unchanged. We believe that, even in case of economic crisis, stylistic choices shall not be altered. What really matters is that our customers find in our collections the messages they are looking for: delicacy, sensuality, elegance must always be present. Afterwards, customers will buy the quantities they consider more appropriate within the context of an economic crisis.

Your creations draw inspiration from the past with an eye to the future. From a technical point of view, what are the manual processes that you have preserved over time and which ones do you entrust to new technologies? Yes, it’s true, our creations are often the result of a brand-new study of the past aiming to the future. We have a huge historical archive full of drawings and models dating back the ‘60s. Not only Mario Valentino’s sketches, but also drawings of young stylists who became, years later, worldwide famous, for example Karl Lagerfeld. In technical terms, high fashion footwear experienced few drastic transformations during the last fifty years. High level shoemaking requires a high percentage of manual skill, sometimes even 100%, for example in case of sandals. A remarkable revolution took place almost 40-45 years ago, with a new machine called “premonta” (tack lasting machine) that wraps and stretches the upper around the last, gluing them together automatically. Today almost every shoe factory uses these cutting-edge machines to obtain extremely precise results, but this is obviously just a phase of the whole shoe creation process, the final phases always require great manual skill and, as I have already said, sandals can only be handmade by highly specialized and qualified craftsmen.

Leather, skillfully crafted, is the distinctive element of the brand. What role do those technological and innovative materials linked to the increasingly widespread eco-friendly sensitivity of consumers play in the new Mario Valentino collections instead? Besides leather and hide, we mostly use fabrics like linen, cotton and their derivatives. We have often examined brand new, technological and innovative materials, however we are doubtful about their actual eco-friendliness and sustainability. We are sure we are not mistaken because we have been using materials already in use during prehistoric era. Even though we are certainly in favour of eco-friendly alternatives, it is really hard to find materials that could match the quality of those of natural origin.

In order to keep growing on the international markets, in addition to investing in quality and excellence, today a company must be modern and “think digital”. From this point of view, what does Mario Valentino’s future hold? In the last few years, Internet has gained an incomparable importance. It made possible online purchases even during the lockdown caused by Covid-19 emergency and limited enormously the disastrous socio-economic consequences if this health emergency would have occurred during the ‘70s. For what concerns Mario Valentino, we’ve been enforcing our presence in the digital world since 2019. Covid-19 has slowed us down, but we have resumed our projects to achieve our goals in the shortest time possible.