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How to make it big in footwear, according to L’Eclisse

IMAGES BY MELANIE DESA
WORDS BY MAEVE KERR-CROWLEY

Sidestepping trends.

This article was originally published in High St., Armadale’s inaugural guide to the iconic shopping strip, produced by the team behind Fashion Journal. Read the article and full mag below or find it here.

Owner of leading High Street footwear store, L’Eclisse, John Rizzo says his cutting approach to fashion comes from being in the business for so long.

L’Eclisse only opened its doors in 2016, but Rizzo got his start in fashion back in the ’80s with buying and product development for Aquila and Trellini. He describes the fashion industry during this time as a “club”, accessible only to designers, photographers, stylists and their very fortunate friends.

“I got swept up in the glamour of doing all the big shows with Gaultier, Versace… and this was in the ’80s, so they’d really just started,” says Rizzo. But amidst all the exclusivity and glamour, he held tightly to a passion for shoes. One buying trip among many led him to branch into women’s footwear, which sparked a desire to try out wholesaling for himself. He opened a studio where he made retail sales as well as supplying accounts to iconic brands like Scanlan Theodore, Hoss and Lee Mathews. This was the forerunner to L’Eclisse, and it honed the inimitable taste that Rizzo brings to the store’s very core.

“I was pretty much chef, cook and bottle washer,” Rizzo analogises. “Selling on the floor, conducting buying trips, purchasing, making judgements on brands eight to 10 months in front of our seasons.”

His approach to buying has always been instinctive, based on personal taste and an eye for something a little different. Repeatedly and passionately, he condemns fashion’s current obsession with trends and arbitrary, self-inflicted rules.

“Everybody has an idea of what they want, and it’s the same idea,” he says. “I can’t be in the business of translating an idea, because that becomes volume and that’s not my market.”

This anti-trend attitude made the jump with Rizzo as he opened L’Eclisse. After customers and friends told him he should capitalise on the uniqueness of the shoes he so lovingly hunted down, he established two very important partnerships that would shape the High Street store. The first was with a technical shoe designer who tackles the design side of the store’s in-house brand, Conflict of Interest, as well as client projects. The second was with longtime friend, architect and interior designer Chris Connell, to create the physical space of their combined dreams.

“Chris and I have been friends for years, and we were always completely obsessed with some of the legendary Italian designers of the ’50s and ’60s,” says Rizzo. “When this project came up, we sat down and got to introduce a lot of the concepts we’d always spoken about.” Those concepts include pale blue hues and washed, aged plaster walls, peppered with unconventional materials chosen specifically for their visual impact. Chris presented a French PVC, able to be stretched across a ceiling frame and rendered in a beautiful shade of tan, and the pair found an industrial red oxide to paint the space’s steel features.

For both the space and the shoes that fill it, Rizzo and his team drew inspiration from cinema and Italian neorealism. The store’s name, L’Eclisse, is taken from Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1962 film starring Monica Vitti.

Rizzo gleefully cites an interview with Antonioni, where the filmmaker notoriously declared, “modern love is shit.”

“The association between that [attitude] and what we do, it’s the same sort of intensity,” he says. “But at the same time, we don’t strive too much for absolute perfection, because then you’re looking at 3D-printed shoes.”

While perfection isn’t the goal, Rizzo extols the allimportant quality of the shoes he sells. Handmade in Italy in small runs, each style is workshopped extensively to ensure the fit, materials and overall design are just right.

One thing you’ll notice about the range is its undeniably beautiful colour palettes, which is something Rizzo is visibly proud of. His frustration with fashion’s recent evolution is clear in the way he discusses colour, eschewing colour trends for an emphasis on personal taste.

“When fashion people – I don’t mean that nastily, I was a fashion person, too – come in and say, ‘Oh, that blue is wrong, this blue is right.’ I say, ‘You see the blue in the sky? That’s been beautiful since I was born,’” says Rizzo.

“The colours are always there, you don’t need to attach them to seasons. The colour of the ceiling in this shop is camel. Camel has always been beautiful for me. It doesn’t matter that it’s a strong colour next summer. Who cares? It was strong last summer.”

Rizzo has little to no concern about working against the grain of the industry, expressing wryly that there are enough stylists in the business to keep the status quo flowing. He’s happy being the ‘something different’ his customers are looking for.

With a modest laugh, Rizzo says, “People ask me, ‘Are you a shoe designer?’ I say, ‘No, I’m just a shoe enthusiast’.”

leclisse.com.au
highstreetarmadale.com.au

 

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