Sergio Rossi

MILAN — “Goodbye Maestro.”

Sergio Rossi’s family thus honored Sergio Rossi on Friday, a day after the legendary footwear designer died in Cesena, Italy, “not without fighting.” Rossi, who was 84, had contracted the coronavirus and had been hospitalized for days in the intensive care unit of the Bufalini hospital in Cesena.

“His is a story of unconditional love for shoes, which began in an Italy consumed by World War II, and was transmitted from his artisan father, who had always made bespoke shoes,” said the family in a moving tribute, led by his son Gianvito Rossi. “At the age of 14, he was a skilled shoemaker and together with his brother Franco during the winter he produced the shoes he would later sell in the summer on a kiosk along the Riviera. His talent was soon noticed, and he began a successful journey from a young designer to a great entrepreneur. An extraordinary career that has made San Mauro Pascoli a world capital of luxury women’s footwear.

“His line has combined creative design with a quality achieved by a long work of improvement, tireless and endless. His international rise is marked by collaborations with the greatest fashion icons, including, the most iconic ever, young Gianni Versace. A man who gave all of himself, to the shoe, but also to his community. He wanted to donate the knowledge learned in a lifetime to future generations, transmitting them through Cercal, a school founded with his Sammauresi companions. He has always stood out for his class and his strong, charismatic, generous, courageous character: a natural leader, loved and respected at the same time by his collaborators, with whom, in the long journey of his life he created one big family.

“There are those who have had the good fortune to transform their art into a work and those who have the extraordinary talent of transforming their work into a work of art. Sergio Rossi was this man. A husband, father, grandfather and progenitor of a family that followed his example. The family offers, with love, their last goodbye. With the unquenchable fire of your passion, you taught us that there are no limits for those who love what they do. Goodbye maestro,” the family’s tribute concluded.

Rossi began creating footwear in the Fifties and launched his first namesake collection in 1968. At the same time, over the years he designed shoes for brands including Versace, Dolce & Gabbana and Azzedine Alaïa.

Santo Versace recalled how his brother, Gianni, considered Rossi an artist and a master. “He was an artisan and a genius, his shoes were feminine and made in the highest quality but wearable at the same time,” he said.

Rossi made women’s shoes for Versace for years and Santo Versace recalled fondly the hours-long meetings with Gianni, Sergio and Gianvito, aged 12 or 13. It was work but also a family affair. “Sergio was a hard worker and he loved his family,” he reminisced. “You can say the best things in the world about Sergio. He was a true Romagnolo [from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region], jovial, a lovely person. He helped build the San Mauro Pascoli footwear hub. And even after he left his company, we stayed in touch, exchanging opinions.”

Rossi left his namesake brand shortly after then-Gucci Group, now Kering, took full control of the company in 2004 (it had first taken a majority stake in the firm in 1999 when Gucci was under the leadership of Domenico De Sole and Tom Ford). European investment fund Investindustrial bought the company in 2015.

“He was a master; it was a great pleasure to have met him. He was our spiritual guide and he is today more than ever,” the brand’s chief executive officer, Riccardo Sciutto, said Friday morning.

Sciutto, who was appointed to the role in April 2016, has over the years paid tribute to the founder of the company and created an archive of more than 6,000 models at the state-of-the-art San Mauro Pascoli manufacturing plant.

Sciutto recalled how moved Rossi was when he visited the archive last Christmas. “He was really surprised that so many of his designs from the Fifties onward were part of the archive. He had never thought of doing it because he had lived those moments, but the archive is an inspiration for us.”

Rossi developed a number of trailblazing styles, such as the Opanca sandal with its curved sole and characteristic heel.

Sciutto said the designer “loved women and was able to capture a woman’s femininity in a unique way. He was never over-the-top, always in good taste. The shoes were always wearable and he was never satisfied until they were perfect. They were not accessories for him. He told me once that he wanted to create the perfect extension of a woman’s leg.”

Siro Badon, president of footwear association Assocalzaturifici, also called Rossi “The Maestro.”

He defined him a “cornerstone,” a “pioneer” and “a point of reference” in the history of Italian footwear,  style and fashion of the 20th century. He had “extraordinary intuitions” in developing designs that had never been seen before, combining beauty with comfort, functionality and perfect technique.

Underscoring how his death has had an “international echo,” Badon said there are men who never die “and continue to be an example” for future generations.

Andrea Morante, who left his role of chairman of the Sergio Rossi company about a year ago, said “surely the footwear sector loses one of its main protagonists.” The designer, he said, “had a visceral passion for the creation of women’s shoes, increasingly more beautiful, and, especially, also very comfortable to wear. It is also thanks to Sergio Rossi that Made in Italy shoes have become synonymous with quality and elegance.”

“In the small town of San Mauro Pascoli, we are 10,000 inhabitants only and we all know each other,” said Giuseppe Zanotti. “When I was a teenager, there were only model-makers, but Sergio was already a designer and entrepreneur, a true legend for us. The 1970s were the years of the rise of companies like Casadei and Pollini, which were already doing business in Italy and abroad, especially in the USA. Sergio belonged to the generation before mine and he has always been a legend and role model for many of us. He did so much for our shoe district – he started Cercal, a school which trains young students to become professionals in the world of footwear, and that I am proud to be part of along with other renowned shoe companies. I respect and admire Sergio, because he was a pioneer of the shoe industry. He was the first to collaborate with young designers in the late 1970s and early 1980s. A real loss for us and for our industry.”

“When I heard the sad news today I realized that we can’t take life for granted. My heart is with Sergio’s family in this time of sorrow and grief,” said Cesare Casadei, creative director of the Casadei footwear label founded by his parents Quinto and Flora in 1958 in San Mauro Pascoli. “My thoughts and prayers are with them. I remember Sergio as one of my father’s best friends and close neighbors. A strong man with a vision, fair competitor and loyal man. Gianvito and I learned from our fathers the integrity, respect for others and appreciation for what we were given. I am sure that we will all remember Sergio as one of the shoemakers that changed the concept of footwear.”

“Sergio Rossi and I have been friends for our entire life. There was never rivalry but deep respect, harmony and sincerity between us,” said Gimmi Baldinini, president and ceo of storied footwear label Baldinini also based in San Mauro Pascoli and founded by his grandfather with Giuseppe Pollini in 1910. “The Sergio Rossi brand stands for Italian excellence and I will forever remember him with deep love.”

Gianvito Rossi has been building his own successful brand since 2007.

Gianni Dori, who leads the Rodo footwear and handbag family-owned brand, said that when he started in the business in 1972, “there were only two examples we looked up to: Sergio Rossi and Bruno Magli. Sergio Rossi’s style, quality have made the history of Made in Italy’s tradition in shoes.”

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