ViBi Venezia and Saloni Team Up, Offer Alternative to High Heels for the Holidays

MILAN — Those looking for an alternative to high heels for this coming holiday season will find the new collaboration between ViBi Venezia and Saloni launching Wednesday very timely.

The Italian footwear label and the London-based womenswear brand have joined forces on a limited-edition capsule collection of furlane, the traditional Venetian slippers that sisters Vera and Viola Arrivabene have helped gain international recognition for with their ViBi Venezia label.

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For this tie-up, the brand’s signature velvet slippers and mary jane styles were embellished with Saloni’s distinctive embroideries handmade in India with bejeweled bows, moons and stars — all motifs that also mark the Saloni holiday 2023 collection of feminine dresses and party gowns.

The idea for a collaboration traces back to April, when Indian-born, Hong Kong-based designer Saloni Lodha traveled to Venice in her first trip since the pandemic. Here, she met with the Arrivabenes, as both parties were customers of each other’s brands, and the natural connection evolved into the collaboration.

“Saloni’s textile director was our fairy godmother,” said Viola Arrivabene showing the shoes during a preview at ViBi Venezia’s store here on Tuesday. The cofounder explained that the patches with the embroideries were made in India and shipped to Italy, where they were stitched on the velvet fabric before the making of the shoes.

The ViBi Venezia x Saloni capsule collection.
The ViBi Venezia x Saloni capsule collection.

The two brands share a similar approach to their core categories, having focused on staples and timeless silhouettes and shown variations within the respective perimeters, which enabled them to carve a niche of loyal customers. What furlane are for ViBi Venezia, embroidered dresses in vibrant prints and textiles are for Lodha’s Saloni brand.

Signature frocks include Viola Arrivabene’s favorite, the Lea ankle-length dress, defined by a fluid, bias-cut silhouette with a retro flair with its V-neckline, high waist, puffed sleeves and tiny buttons running down the front. The Camille velvet style is also a popular one for Saloni, thanks to its distinctive split neckline held together by three decorative bows or hearts embellished with crystals, beads or pearls.

The founders’ on-the-move lifestyles also match up. “We can say this collaboration started from our suitcases,” said Arrivabene, pointing that both Saloni airy dresses and ViBi Venezia’s furlane are easy to pack and go-to choices for the sisters and Lodha for their trips.

Available in black, navy and burgundy tones, the ViBi Venezia x Saloni styles are available at 160 euros each on both brands online stores, in addition to the footwear brand’s flagship store in Milan.

The ViBi Venezia store in Milan.
The ViBi Venezia store in Milan.

Opened earlier this year, the boutique marked a milestone for the label as its first directly operated brick-and-mortar unit. Located in Milan’s Piazza del Carmine, in the heart of the city’s arty Brera district, the 754-square-foot shop carries the whole ViBi Venezia offering, which includes the signature velvet slippers as well as different styles crafted from silk and damask fabrics and a kids line, among others. In addition, homeware pieces in Murano glass by Giberto Venezia are also available at the store, which was designed to evoke a home rather than a shopping destination.

Key elements include a big, green velvet sofa — once housed at the sisters’ first apartment in Milan — as well as striped armchairs hailing from their residence overlooking the Grand Canal in Venice. Baby blue colored walls painted by artist Assia Pallavicino, yellow curtains and a red-and-white striped carpet complete the space, punctuated by baskets showcasing the different pairs of shoes.

The ViBi Venezia store in Milan.
The ViBi Venezia store in Milan.

“The store is performing beyond expectations. We definitely needed to have a physical space like this one in Milan, also because many of our customers are based here, so it’s turning out to be key for our growth,” noted Arrivabene.

“For a client, to see the product and a space in person really changes a lot, also because they can get the feeling of how we are as well, just by taking a look around,” echoed her sister Vera.

The boutique, which also serves as office and showroom for the brand, was followed by the launch of a pop-up store at Galeries Lafayette in Paris last month. Running through Dec. 6, the shop is installed on the department store’s fourth floor dedicated to footwear and reprises the Milanese flagship’s colors in its design elements.

Viola and Vera Arrivabene at the ViBi Venezia pop-up at Galeries Lafayette in Paris.
Viola and Vera Arrivabene at the ViBi Venezia pop-up at Galeries Lafayette in Paris.

The two retail projects were part of a busy year for the sisters, since last spring they also unveiled a collaboration with Emilia Wickstead that saw the furlane reinterpreted in lightweight canvas and rendered in floral motifs matching Wickstead’s swimwear range presented for pre-fall 2022. Previously, ViBi also teamed up with Luisa Beccaria and developed special editions for retailers including Liberty London, Net-a-porter and LuisaViaRoma.

“The idea is to build awareness around the brand and give our customers different moments to experience our products, showing them how we can interpret this specific shoe style by interacting with other worlds, too,” Arrivabene said.

Since launching the brand in 2014, the sisters catapulted a low-key, local footwear style into a global one. Dating back to the 19th century, the furlane was originally produced from leftover fabrics and old tires, becoming a success among gondoliers as the rubber sole allowed them to have a firm grip while rowing without scratching the surface of gondolas.

Wearing the style since childhood, the Arrivabenes were regularly asked by their friends abroad to bring them pairs whenever they met them, so the sisters sensed the demand for the style could have a bigger scale. Establishing a brand focused on the concept showed their willingness to support local artisans and celebrate their hometown, too.

The ViBi Venezia pop-up at Galeries Lafayette in Paris.
The ViBi Venezia pop-up at Galeries Lafayette in Paris.

Product-wise, the founders have increasingly expanded the offering, showing variations of the style by experimenting with sportier takes in slip-ons with thicker rubber soles or feminine wedges and platforms.

“For the first time we’re both concentrated full-time on developing the brand. We want to see where we can take it,” said Arrivabene about this year’s change of pace in running the business and the proliferation of collaborations.

Looking forward, the main focus for 2023 is launching a store in Venice and expanding in the U.S., a market the Arrivabenes consider full of potential based on the demand registered through ViBi Venezia’s e-commerce and at the selection of retailing partners in the country, such as Bergdorf Goodman and Anthropologie.

Vera Arrivabene, Saloni Lodha, Viola Arrivabene at the ViBi Venezia store in Milan.
Vera Arrivabene, Saloni Lodha, Viola Arrivabene at the ViBi Venezia store in Milan.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is already the top-performing market for Saloni, followed by U.K. and Italy, which took over Australia in the ranking. Lodha said that over the past 12 months, the full recovery of social gatherings and events has propelled the business, which she launched in 2011.

During the years, Saloni gradually expanded its offering by introducing separates such as shirts, pants, suits and knitwear, but Lodha stressed she’s focused on organic growth and perpetuating “a sustainable business model” by remaining “very true to our craft.”

“It’s very important not to do everything and be authentic to what you do,” she said, underscoring the limited scale of her company. Also in light of this, made-to-measure and bespoke services are offered but with a lengthy production time, with a bespoke pieces taking up to six months to be finalized.

Distribution-wise, during the past year the company focused on growing its own e-commerce, where it offers some exclusive styles, such as heavy embellished dresses. In general, prices for the brand range from $280 for tops to $2,600 for embroidered gowns.

The wholesale channel still retains its relevance for the business, as Saloni is carried in more than 100 international stockists, including Matchesfashion, Moda Operandi and Net-a-porter, among others.

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