When Barneys New York approached the Italian designer Walter de Silva at Paris Fashion Week last fall, he was overcome with “strong emotion.” De Silva was debuting his first shoe collection—a restrained yet powerful line of architectural stilettos—and while the moment would have been exhilarating for any new designer, it was the fulfillment of an unlikely decades-long dream for the 66-year-old de Silva, who recently retired from his role as head of design at the Volkswagen Group.
Yes, Volkswagen Group—as in cars. The award-winning de Silva, who began his career at Fiat in 1972, is legendary in the world of wheels, responsible for concept cars such as the avant-garde Lamborghini Egoista as well as slightly more practical models such as the Audi A5. But while de Silva acknowledges that his transition to women’s shoes may seem odd, he fundamentally sees himself as a product designer.
“Cars and shoes are the only two forms of emotion in product design; an airplane, for example, is pure mathematics,” he says. “I like the sex appeal. I like the surfaces. I like the lines. The car is a product where you have to imagine the design in movement. It’s the same for the shoes. Shoes are nice when they’re on display in a shop, but they are much better on the foot.”
While some stilettos look more like sculpture than footwear, de Silva’s are not among them. The shoes in his first collection, “Noir Extreme,” are designed with form in mind. They are perfectly suited to fit both arch and ankle and exuding confidence with every curve. When de Silva notes that his grandfather, Ferruccio, operated a women’s shoe factory in Milan between World War I and World War II, the unifying objective in his work becomes even clearer: to make something beautiful and functional, both beloved and lasting.
From the shoes to the packaging to the promotional materials, de Silva designs every aspect of his brand in Munich, where he and his wife have lived since 2002. He sends the shoes for production in Italy, which allows his small enterprise to “mix Italian creativity and quality with German precision.” This balance—between emotion and discipline, exuberance and elegance, Italy and Germany—informs his overall design philosophy and each shoe in the collection. And like his legendary cars, these shoes are designed to transport in style.