Edgardo Osorio is very much at home in the Middle East. And not just because of his love of exuberance and colour, nor the evil eye bracelet circling his wrist next to a vintage Rolex. Like the Gulf States, the 30-year-old has metamorphosed to international acclaim at lightening speed (his shoe business Aquazzura is just five years old and by the end of the year will boast eight stores and 10 shop-in-shops globally, including a standalone boutique set to open in Doha and two in Dubai).
This rapid ascent is unquestionably down to Edgardo’s customer-focused approach, which sees him create shoes in response to his clients’ lifestyles and needs, attracting women such as Sheikha Raya Al-Khalifa, whom Bazaar photographed with Edgardo in her home city of Doha and has been a collector of Aquazzura from the company’s inception.
“I think too many designers live in a bubble with this ‘muse’,” Colombian-born Edgardo says, “and I want something that fits my clients’ lives.” For Raya, 33, this means ferrying her nine- and five-year-old sons to and from school, navigating Doha traffic and going straight on to dinner, while staying stylishly shod. “Your shoes are not about being shy. It’s about incorporating looking chic and pulled together into your normal life,” she tells Edgardo.
“It’s a conversation,” the designer agrees. “In the end, the client is king. She decides. Obviously you need to dream and you need to make something beautiful and interesting but if nobody ever wears it and it stays in the pages of a magazine then...” he shrugs. “The most successful brand is when you can be in a magazine and be exciting, but that excitement can translate into the product that the woman actually wants to buy and wear.”
Sheikha Raya Al-Khalifa wears: Dress, Dhs10,750, Bottega Veneta at Ounass; Earrings, Dhs1,650, Oscar de La Renta at Ounass; Shoes, Dhs3,130, Aquazzura.
Indeed the brand was born out of a real life observation when, during a 10-wedding marathon one summer, Edgardo noticed that female guests’ shoes were vanishing faster than the canapés. “All I remember was women complaining about their shoes,” he laughs, “And I was like, ‘Okay, you’re paying a lot of money for those shoes, there has to be another way.’ If you arrive to a party and your feet hurt after 15 minutes from a very expensive shoe, there is something that is not quite right.”
By working obsessively on the architecture of the shoe, and rebalancing the pitch of the heel to prevent an over-extended back, with weight more evenly distributed across the foot, Edgardo’s designs attracted immediate adoration as women hailed their, whisper it, ‘comfort’. “At the time,” and we’re talking 2011, when Swarovski-plastered platforms were at their peak, “comfort was a dirty word,” Edgardo says. Even now, he is keen that the C-word is an adjunct to the primary design message. “Yes, it’s comfortable, but that’s not the point,” he explains. “If the shoe isn’t beautiful, you’re not going to touch it.” It’s the marriage of the two that generates the magic. “You can buy a beautiful shoe – there are many out there – but if you can buy a comfortable, beautiful shoe, you buy the comfortable one.”
In his quest to keep women on the dance floor for longer – he claims to always be first on and last off – this month, in addition to the padding already incorporated into the sole, Aquazzura styles will come with silicone injected under the ball of the foot. Not that he’ll be telling anyone, relying instead on word of mouth to spread the word. Which is exactly how Aquazzura shot to footwear fame in the first instance, when street style stars generated digital buzz about the hottest new shoe brand in town, helped by the strong visual signature of styles such as the ‘Sexy Thing’ sandal with its sensual foot-hugging identity.
“It really was the peak of street style and social media influence,” Edgardo recalls of the decade’s heady early years, when Tommy Ton would photograph Giovanna Battaglia in an Aquazzura shoe, its pineapple-punctuated bottom sole generating waiting lists unheard of for a fledgling designer. “This really made my brand global,” he says. “Now, it’s something else,” is his diplomatic analysis of the oftentimes circus-like commercialisation of street style.
Sheikha Raya Al-Khalifa wears: Dress, Dhs17,800, Erdem at Ounass; Sandals, Dhs3,410, Aquazzura; Abaya, her own.
Yet Instagram still provides an invaluable and intimate insight into the lives of Aquazzura’s customers. “Through social media, you have access to your clients. You can see her and send her a message,” Edgardo enthuses. “I like to see my followers and see what they’re wearing, where they are going, what they are doing, how they wear my shoes. I’ve met people initially through social media that have become friends,” he adds. Increasingly sophisticated analytics also help brands such as Aquazzura build a detailed picture of their client base. For instance, the brand’s followers in turn tend to follow the likes of Giambattista Valli, Valentino, Chloé and Alaïa, rather than more obvious luxury goods marques. But it’s observing women in real life that gives Edgardo the most valuable insight into his customers’ lives, particularly on their home turf, as evidenced during his sojourns through Oman, Qatar and the UAE last month.
“I’ve seen Middle Eastern women all over the world, but when you see them here in their own environment, even what they’re wearing at the airport, you get a more clear understanding of what the collection, and the buying, needs to be,” Edgardo explains. “You need to know how women interpret accessories here. They wear very glamorous shoes in a very casual way, which I really like. Actually, it is quite similar to China; the very young girls will wear a satin pump with crystals for lunch with jeans and a T-shirt. Whereas in Europe people would only wear that for a party with an evening gown. But here you wear that kind of thing even to go around the mall. It’s a very different way of wearing accessories. It’s casual, but in a more glamorous way. It’s glamour-caj,” he laughs. “I love how curated women are here. They really take care of themselves. They are always perfectly coiffed and when the world is becoming very casual, in the region women are still very elegant.”
Read the full article in the May 2017 issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia
Video: A Bazaar TV Production Producer: Paysley Ross, Production Director: Nicolas Gregorieff, Film Director: Olivier Ronot, Fashion Director: Katie Trotter, Production Coordinator: Natasche Hawke
Photography: David Wang
Words: Louise Nichol
Additional Words: Emily Baxter
Sheikha Raya Al-Khalifa's Make-Up: Sophie Leach
Hair: David Martinez
Hair Stylist's Assistant: Julianna Rose
Special Thanks to Museum of Islamic Art and Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels, SouqWaqifResort.com