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Conversations: Vittorio Cordella Has Very Good Advice For Budding Designers

The man behind Italy-based cult sneaker label Joshua Sanders also gets real about celebrity collaborations and the rise of luxury streetwear.

Milan Fashion Week is officially upon us! Feels like just yesterday that we were in Manhattan. (It has technically been a week, but we’ve been so busy rushing from show to show since touching down that we’ve lost all knowledge of time. Ever get that feeling?) While the big shows are hitting headlines left, right and centre, we’re also taking the time to look at the edgier, younger side of the fashion industry. These labels don’t have long histories and legacies to boast of, but they’re rising and they’re fast becoming forces to be reckoned with. Enter the new guard.

First up, we have Vittorio Cordella, CEO and creative director of cult sneaker label Joshua Sanders. You know those sneakers with the smiley faces and the “NY” varsity patches, spotted on the likes of G-Dragon and the who’s who of the street style pack? That’s all him and his team. Even before the recent rise of streetwear, Cordella has been championing something he calls “street couture”, the philosophy that stands at the very core of his aesthetic. Think fleece sneakers with a touch of fur, or wool sneakers with giant bows. They’re the exact mix of street and luxe that we love, that double-duty flavour that we talk about so much. Here, the Italian designer and sneaker mogul dishes the reality of starting a label, and discusses celebrity collaborations and the rise of streetwear in the high fashion industry.

Let’s start with a very important question. How many pairs of shoes do you own?
Great way to start! My house is full of shoes, but I have a section in our warehouse dedicated to my archive. So, maybe a thousand I would say!


How did your work with Joshua Sanders begin?
I owned two stores in my hometown for nine years; one was for clothes and the other for shoes. I always loved to search for new designers and bringing them into the market. Then, I had my own t-shirt brand and, around the same time, I started the JS project, learning from the bottom about what it means to make shoes.


Was it difficult to get to where you are today in the industry?
It is a question of passion, but also of hard work. Right now, there are a lot of people who want to start their own line, but they don’t have the commercial skills. I am a mix of a cool hunter and a businessman with a touch of creativity.

You need to be balanced and try to create something new even if the market is really saturated, but you need to be sure to know your target, to have the right supplier and to have your distribution channels. It is not easy, but working with your team and for your own company can feed your curiosity and give you lots of satisfaction.


What advice do you have for young people who want to work in fashion?
First, get some experience after graduating by working with a brand. Be humble and open-minded. Everything you see during those experiences can help you in the future. Never think you have arrived because that is the moment you start to fall.


Okay, now on to the fun stuff. When we last met you in Milan, you mentioned that you were looking into creating a ready-to-wear line. How’s that coming along?
You have such a good memory! We made some pieces that we keep secretly in the office. We need to feel the right moment to present it.


Can we get a little teaser?
As you know, JS has several capsules, so we created some t-shirts and hoodies with a street taste. We are working with an Australian writer for one capsule. It’s coming soon!


Everyone’s talking about celebrity collaborations these days and it is especially common for shoe brands. Do you see this happening for Joshua Sanders?
There’s a huge difference between bloggers and celebrities or influencers. We have both who wear our shoes. But we also receive offers for collaborations with some singers, actors or journalists. The key point is choosing the right ones who reflect your point of view and enjoy the making-of with us. Right now, we’re working on a capsule collection with a great person, and we are going to present it in January. Very famous in Asia, cool and super fresh.


Is there someone whom you think embodies the brand?
I don’t have real people, but some ideas of it. For men, he is someone who is not afraid of discovering new ways of life, eating and travelling. For women, she is someone who is happy, sophisticated and independent.


You’ve designed so many pairs of shoes and obviously it is difficult to pick a favourite. But if you had to, which would it be?
For sure the NY slip-ons in grey jersey with blue patches. I was in Tokyo running around with my assistant and we had the vision of adding patches onto our slip-on to represent a classic American college sweatshirt. Best thought ever! The best ideas always come when you are free, happy and feeling the vibe.


What is the most important thing in a pair of sneakers, besides comfort?
There are two different kinds of sneakers: the sporty ones and the fashion ones. The sporty ones need to be comfortable and help you in the activities [of your day]. The fashion ones need to be comfortable, but also let you express yourself! You need to wake up in the morning and start the day in a good mood, and be ready in case someone asks you out for dinner and you feel that you’re cool wearing that pair of sneakers.


Streetwear is having such a moment in fashion right now and street culture has always been a big part of Joshua Sanders. How do you feel about this whole “rise of streetwear”? You like to use the term “street couture” to describe the brand.
You got another key point of the JS world. For three years, we’ve been pushing the concept of “street couture”. This is how we are and how we feel. Taking a slip-on and elevating it in a luxurious way using new materials, soft Italian leather, new ways of embroidery, new accessories. Everything is done by hand in Italy.

This is what is happening now in fashion – streetwear brands are becoming cool and the multi-brand stores mix them with luxury brands. This is the way we also like to dress: my favourite look for going out at the moment is a pair of Gosha Rubchinskiy yellow sweatpants and a white Margiela shirt. Or Supreme, for example. I just bought a printed silk shirt from them. Who would have known that they use silk? So, after three years of talking about that, it is now happening in a strong way and I am so happy about it.


You’re known for reinterpreting ready-to-wear pieces into shoes, like the bomber jacket, shearling jacket and bandana shoes, for example. What’s one piece of clothing you’d really like to try turning into sneakers?
We [reinterpreted] Japanese souvenir jackets this season and it was a great success. I would love to work on another winter item. We are indeed studying on a new one, so we’ll keep you posted!


You also have a thing for turning your travels into shoes, and you were in Singapore back in May. Does that mean that a “Singapore” shoe is in the works?
I love to travel and putting the details of it into our collection, whether it is food, monuments, streets, vibes etc. Singapore is one of my favourite cities, so my answer is…it is possible. I’ll make you a proposal: let’s work together on that considering that you live there. [Laughs]


That’s an idea to look into! Do you feel the pressure to make “Instagrammable” shoes, though?
I don’t feel the pressure of it. I want to make eye-catching shoes. Yes! People need to stop you when you walk with our shoes. It is funny and it is also a way to connect and start a conversation with other people.


The brand is very much tied to New York City. What are some of your must-go spots in the city?
I love Momofuku and the great sensations derived from eating Chef David Chang’s creations, Nolita and a bit of the SoHo area, and Madison Square Garden for an NBA game or a concert.


Last one! If you could have a long conversation with anyone in the world, who would it be?
That’s a super nice question. If I had to choose a designer to talk with, for sure it’ll be Raf Simons. Outside fashion, I would have loved the opportunity to talk to Andy Warhol.


This interview has been edited for clarity.

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