Standing in Stuart Weitzman’s airy Hudson Yards HQ in New York City, the brand’s newly appointed creative director, Giovanni Morelli, could easily be mistaken for a rock star. Maybe it’s the all-black ensemble, or the chunky silver jewelry that picks up the gray flecks in his unruly mane. But most likely it’s because, in the accessories world, he is very much a headline act. For the last two decades, Morelli has served as global design director at some of the top fashion houses, churning out such hits as Marc Jacobs’s quilted Stam bag, Chloé’s padlocked Paddington, and, most recently, Loewe’s slouchy yet structured Hammock bag. His fall 2018 debut for Weitzman marks the first time in the company’s 32-year history that someone other than its namesake has helmed the brand. Weitzman himself handpicked the Cosenza, Italy, native for his boundary-pushing creative vision and ability to drive desire.
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“To me, there are two main points of reference in the perception of the brand,” Morelli says in his languorous Calabrian accent. “One is the stretch 50/50 boot, sexy but with an element of comfort. On the other end, you have the Nudist pump, which is so linked to Hollywood and the red carpet.” Their identities are polar opposites, he explains. But fans of the iconic styles need not fear: Morelli plans to maintain the classics, with a few artful updates thrown in. The Nudist, which was first worn by Diane Kruger at a 2013 party in West Hollywood, has already undergone several iterations over the years, rising and falling in height and embellishments. For fall, a thicker heel appears square from behind, but in profile takes on a slight flare. The ankle straps are also wider, obscuring the buckles, and Morelli has decorated the newly squared-off toe with sculptural brass pieces that resemble a twisted segment of ribbon—far edgier than a dainty bow. “It’s a great canvas,” Morelli says of the slinky sandal. “So it’s a good place to evolve.”
His biggest design shift has nothing to do with heels. Morelli switched up the brand’s signature royal purple packaging and linings to a more cobalt shade he’s dubbed Blue Violet. The new hue also inspired him to launch Weitzman’s first significant foray into handbags, the rectangular Shoebox bag. “There was zero identity with the bags,” Morelli says of the brand’s previous offerings, which included only simple evening clutches. “We transformed the shape of an actual shoebox into a bag—turning something quite basic into a classic.”
Blue Violet isn’t the only new addition to the Weitzman palette. “Color for me is really important, particularly for shoes,” says Morelli, who has broadened the range of what can be classified as neutrals with the addition of olive and cranberry, to name but two. “These are easily wearable, everyday colors, but they’re also vivid enough to lift whatever you might be wearing.” Equally important to Morelli: keeping a wide range of signature styles in constant production, with customizable heel and material options. “All modern women have complex lives,” he says, “but at some point, they want to be sexy.” Sex appeal is something Weitzman has long had in spades; remember the ad campaigns featuring supes wearing nothing but shoes?
Those making predictions about the next face of the brand need look no further than Weitzman’s celeb-filled NYFW presentation at New York’s scene-y restaurant The Pool. There, Morelli hobnobbed with singer Solange Knowles and actress Camilla Belle. But he credits his mother as one of his biggest inspirations. “She definitely influenced me,” he says. “When I was around 15, it was quite clear to me that I should pursue design as a career.”
While the previously Milan-based Morelli is still adjusting to life in the Big Apple, he references his frequent trips to Weitzman’s Elda, Spain, workshops as a high point of his new gig. “I’m at home in the factories,” he says. “Plus, there’s the best CrossFit gym right across the street.” Another perk: an extensive archive of Weitzman designs that offers an endless source of creative fuel. In addition to his own work, Weitzman himself is an avid collector of vintage and antique footwear. Though Morelli was not involved in the curation, he will undoubtedly be among the hordes when the New-York Historical Society hosts Walk This Way: Footwear From the Stuart Weitzman Collection of Historic Shoes (April 20 to October 8).
Given Morelli’s track record, one can’t help but wonder what’s the common thread that links his biggest hits. “Attitude,” he insists, with a flick of his mane. “Sometimes you have to be willing to go against the market.”
This article originally appears in the May 2018 issue of ELLE.