superchat amsterdam: roberto di rosa

© officine creative – company directors luca di rosa [left] and his brother roberto di rosa [right].

based in the mountain village of montegranaro in italy's marche region, artisanal shoe brand officine creative has been a major innovator in the industry, creating leather treatment techniques that have contributed to a different perception and understanding of luxury. as a family-run business, the dynamics of its operations are guided by the insights of the company's fraternal directors luca and roberto di rosa. pairing common sense with a strong conviction in their product range, the brothers steer clear from any corporate expansion model, and strictly opt for an organic growth of their business. the recent opening of an officine creative store smack in the middle of amsterdam's historic canal district stems from a longtime business relationship and friendship with local entrepreneurs, and bears exact witness of this approach. so, when the company's managing director and men's designer roberto di rosa headed to the dutch capital to visit the alluring new outpost, superfuture sat down with him for a little chat about the company, the new boutique, and obviously, beautiful handmade shoes.

officine creative has been pioneering leather techniques such washing, burnishing and dying since its inception in 1998. it has become a trade mark of the company. how relevant is research and innovations for you today, and how do you aim to distinguish officine creative from other shoe brands? well, when i started the company in the mid-1990s the fashion arena was quite saturated, there were just so many brands. i felt i needed to create a different kind of product with a different aesthetic, not only to stand out, but also to provide a foundation for further growth. when we launched our brand, we created a variety of leather treatments to attain a distressed or worn look. actually, it was on a trial and error basis, because it was all new to us.

interestingly, during that time things were looking up economy-wise in italy, but there was a trend among more affluent consumers to flaunt a scruffy, i would even say, 'trashy' kind of style. that look was considered the pinnacle of cool back then. it has persisted to this very day, but has evolved into a more sophisticated and luxurious form. these days, it's all about a certain quality and refinement that's instantly noticeable. the techniques we apply today have evolved as well, we now acquire the patina effect in a more sophisticated way. for example, we still wash our leathers to achieve that effect the same way, but instead of using rough natural stones, we've now opted for ceramic stones that have a much more subtle effect.

to me, the finishing and treatment of the leather is pivotal to the brand, and actually, the research and innovation never stops at officine creative. by the way, most shoe brands use calfskin leather for obvious reasons: it's soft and smooth, but we don't use it. our style is largely based on skins of animals who've actually had a life. so, instead we choose skins of grown animals, be it buffalo, horse, camel, lama or kangaroo. as a small company, we simply need to be on top of our game and plan our future, and speaking as the company's managing director, it's some sort obsession, ha! our next step always needs to revolve around a product that's even more beautiful and sophisticated, it's as simple as that. 

could you elaborate on your design team, the creative process, and where do you usually find inspiration? we've been in love with the military look and worker style for quite some time now. the inspiration could come from service shoes or worker shoes, but we'll tweak these into the right proportions, and make sure the total look is less casual, and obviously infused with a solid officine creative feel. the design team comprises of my brother luca and myself, and about ten other people, all freelancing specialists who we rally for specific projects. generally, we draw inspiration from real life. our many trips abroad provide a good deal of useful bits and pieces that help us create our products.

what's your take on fashion’s seasonal cycles, how do you view officine creative’s place within the realm of luxury? i think these days the definition of luxury has become a multi-faceted one. there's this classic category of so-called bling-bling brands that projects dreams and aspirations, whereas officine creative is about luxury that's much more rooted in reality. i must say, it's pretty tough to compete with brands in the aformentioned category. as a small company we have less means, for advertising for example, and the only way to sustain growth for us, is through creating a good product.

© officine creative – creative director and women's designer luca di rosa and managing director and men's designer roberto di rosa at the office.

how important are new luxury markets such as china, south korea and india to your company, and do you have an outlined plan to cater to these countries? honestly, the only way for us is to wait until they knock on our door. you know why? these markets have an entirely different culture and different sensibilities. our shoes have a very specific look and feel, and i believe it's not yet full understood and appreciated there. i witnessed some ten years ago how many italian shoe brands entered the russian market with a country-specific strategy that resulted in an adapted marketing and even styles. their success proved to be limited, as in a few years' time, the taste level of russian consumer had drastically changed. in the end, russians increasingly opted for beautifully made shoes with an authentic story. our strategy is simply to wait until these countries are ready for our products.

we read that you’re company sponsors poderosa basket, a basketball team in your hometown, and we couldn't help but wonder if supporting the local community is part of doing business in the region? haha, well yes! when i was young during the 1980s my hometown was famous the world over for manufacturing shoes, and basketball was the only form of entertainment, so to speak. i actually had this dream to become a professional basketball player. i used to train a lot, but i lacked a specific height to be able to pursue such a career. so, in the end i thought it would be better to pursue a more serious career. but i still have a huge passion for the game, and obviously love to support the team. and yes, you could indeed say that giving back to the community is part of doing business where i'm from.

what is the profile of the officine creative customer? do you think the style sensibilities and preferences of italian clients are different from non-italians? i don't know. i've always thought of officine creative as a cosmopolitan brand and not as an italian brand. when we create a collection, we always picture london as the planet's leading style hub. so, if what we create is good for london, it'll be good for new york city, amsterdam, you name it. you know, it's only been during the past three years that italian males have discovered our brand. our shoes are generally intended for men and women with a bit of an attitude, if you know what i mean, people who truly appreciate and understand quality.
how important is a brick and mortar presence for officine creative? do you have a strategy at hand to roll out a retail network? as said, our company grows organically, so there's no strategy. of course having a store enables us to receive direct feedback from customers, have a better unerstanding of the retail business, and last but not least, it's a way to promote our brand. two years ago i couldn't have dreamed to manage a store, but eventually we opened our very first boutique last year in paris
what made you decide to open a store in the dutch capital? and can you tell us something about the design of the store? officine creative owes its success to a handful of countries, and the netherlands is one of them. it's a country i love, and there's a huge appreciation for our shoes here. also, i have a longtime relationship with the local entrepreneurs that have helped to set up this new boutique. as for the interior design of the shop here in amsterdam, the concept is inspired by a bank vault, hence the many deposit lockers, and it'll actually be the blueprint for future stores like the one we'll be opening in new york. but it's not a definitive design concept as i'd like to approach it as life itself, tweaking it along the way. for the amsterdam store i'm actually considering to add marble wall paneling for a heightened sense of luxury.
do you have plans for the future that you can reveal, new product ranges or any collaborations with other brands?  during the past twenty years i have collaborated on a few occasions with other brands, but that was in my capacity as an individual designer. it has been a means to finance endeavours within my company. othe than that, we were thinking about designing a jacket, but we cancelled the project because we realized we lacked experience to execute it properly. an expansion of our product range depends on timing and experience. it's also something which needs to grow organically.