Piferi — Vegan Shoes Made Divine

Words & Photography:
Sofi Chetrar

When I first met Alfredo Piferi, the founder and creative director of the homonymous brand Piferi, I was stunned by his artistic journey. Having previously worked for Jimmy Choo, Valentino and Versace he is now on the path of creating and establishing his own brand of luxury shoes made from vegan leather. Surrounded by designer furniture and gorgeous shoes laid out on display, his design studio and office is also his apartment. Alfredo shares his ideas on the future of fashion industry and how he sees taking his brand even further.

Sofi Chetrar: The first time I saw your shoe collection, I was fascinated by the exaggerated yet very elegant heel. What is the inspiration for your brand’s signature?
Alfredo Pīferi: The heel goes back to when I first saw Anish Kapoor’s sculpture in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern and it was very, very impressive. It was a massive shape which occupied the entire gallery space- that was the first time I sketched it out.
Later through the years, I made a few prototypes of the heel, until I found the correct proportion for it to look unique and sexy when worn. It wasn’t an easy task, I made four or five versions of the heel before I found the perfect heel silhouette. When I was developing my brand, I started to look out for old things and things that I always loved. That same sketch popped out and I thought: “This is it. This is the Piferi here”.
It is interesting because you think that when launching the brand you need to look for new things that represent and inspire you, but for me, it was about going back in the past to see what was relevant for me. So that is how the heel came around and is establishing itself now.
SC: Are all your designs made out of vegan leather and sustainable materials?
AP: I don’t use the word sustainable, because it is a huge word. I prefer to use the word responsible instead. Nobody knows what sustainability is exactly and what it means, I try to be responsible with my choices and use recycled or biomass materials whenever I can, but at the same time, I also think about the narrative of the brand. And I don’t think vegan is perhaps the word to describe it anymore, because there is a lot of misconception that comes with the word vegan. Every time you say vegan, people expect it to be 100% sustainable, which I don’t think is possible for anyone to be really.
We all in the fashion industry should be more responsible and more sustainable. It is a conversation that is open to everybody, and we should all sit at the same table and find a solution for everyone. You don’t open the brand, which is not something that we particularly need, to be an advocate. You become an activist and that’s the best way to be responsible and sustainable at the moment. The best thing you can do at the end of the day, as a designer, is make responsible choices. Try to use recycled materials and use biomass materials as much as you can. So it’s a balance between aesthetics and design, and values.
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SC: Great, because my next question is how do you find the balance between staying true to your vision, and also implying sustainability in your creations?
AP: It is a fine balance, and it’s not just about fashion. We haven’t tackled the issue of plastic production or intensive animal husbandry fully yet. We haven’t found a solution for them, and the balance is not possible for anyone. But that is not just implied in fashion, it plays a big role in so many industries. 
A few years ago Business of Fashion tackled a topic on Instagram, questioning whether vegan leather is only plastic and there were a lot of violent comments claiming that vegan leather is just a cheap material that does not feel luxurious. I disagree, because the material we use in particular is made in Italy, so it costs just as much as real leather. 
Ask yourselves these questions. Are our seats in cars made of leather or plastic? And our sofas, clothes? How do we store water in the fridge, with some leather socks? (Laughs) Do you know what I mean? 
So fascinating to me that everyone gets so focused on their shoes being made out of leather, but when it comes to the rest of their life it can easily be made out of plastic.
SC: Would you consider yourself an advocate for a more sustainable future in the fashion industry then?
AP: I am trying to demonstrate that you can have a non-leather luxury product. So for sure, I am tackling that space. The bottom line is the production of plastic material is around 38% less emission than animal farming. We have all the data to know that it is one of the main polluting factors, and we also know that 70% of the plastic in the ocean is fishing nets. But we are more focused on straws in our drinks and create a lot of marketing around non-plastic straws. So there is a big elephant in the room, but nobody wants to talk about it. And we go around picking details.
SC: What is the process you go through when creating a new design?
AP: I am, what you could say, a merchandising designer. I think about the function and what my customer needs and is expecting from me. I am not necessarily coming off from what I have seen in my dreams, but from thinking ‘What are the pieces that are missing in my collection to create a perfect wardrobe?’. On top of this, of course, there is an aspect of things that I’ve seen and inspired me, but there is never a mood board. In my case, I think the mood board is made to explain your creativity to others, but as my company has a small structure, I don’t need to explain myself much to everybody. What I create is in my brain already, usually, it is a mash-up of what I’ve seen, like a gorgeous woman walking on the street with beautiful shoes on, a movie or an exhibition.. I think in three dimensional way, debating what are the perfect lines that will look beautiful on our feet and will dress feet the best way. Because a lot of times I see shoes looking beautiful on the shelf, but when they are worn they don’t perform so well.
Ultimately, it is between me and the white piece of paper. There is no exact recipe that I follow.
SC: You have an incredible portfolio of brands you’ve worked for, from Valentino to Jimmy Choo. What was your journey like, and how did you come to the point of creating your brand?
AP: I studied menswear, so it wasn’t my intention to become a shoe designer at the start. At the same time when I discovered shoes in my first job in Valentino, I fell in love with shoes. Versace was my first job in shoe design, where I started learning how to be aware of the details. Ever since then I’ve worked only with shoes, I find them to be the kind of architectural element that I was perhaps missing in menswear, but also it gave me the chance to analyse this product almost as an architect who designs a building.
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SC: What is Piferi’s perfect customer like?
AP: I keep the conversation very open, we try to be very inclusive. Today, there are transgender people who want to wear our shoes, there are men that want to wear heels, and there are drag queens, which I adore and love to see wearing Piferi. And in terms of aesthetics, anybody can be a Piferi customer. If you entered the store or you found the style you love- it is right for you.
SC: Lastly, how do you see your brand’s future?
AP: Well, I definitely would like to expand into more categories and send the message of the brand across the different products. I am also looking forward to building a more solid financial foundation, having more events and engaging more with the customers and press. There is something about the final consumer that fascinates me and I love the relationship we have with them. So I am looking forward to doing more events in-store and getting to know the people that want and wear my shoes, I think this is very important.
Words & Photography: Sofi Chetrar