Fashion — especially the accessories that are his hallmark — is a little bit art, a little bit science, but it's always about details. For example, the difference in the shoe that's right for jeans and a T-shirt versus a cocktail dress can be the slightest change in the width of the heel or vamp of the toe, he says. It's probably something most people wouldn't notice, but those are the things that drew him into fashion.
"I have always been fascinated by fashion. I like the esthetics of beautiful things," says Russo, wearing a silk scarf tied around his neck and perched on the roof deck of Manhattan's exclusive Soho House.
"It could be design, architecture, furniture or fashion, but since the beginning, I was surrounded by women getting dressed up. It was natural for me to go into fashion."
He is very much the high-flying fashion jet-setter but also a historian and craftsman, linking in the same breath the glories of the Internet and its globalization of style with Yves Saint Laurent's groundbreaking trouser suits and the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
"For me, shoes is what I do. It's what I'd decide to do in my next life, if I have one."
He's flattered by celebrities, including Anne Hathaway, Diane Kruger and Michelle Pfeiffer, who wear Sergio Rossi on the red carpet, but he's in it more for creating shoes and handbags for women of all ages and lifestyles.
"I love something sculptural, something solid and I am so, so attracted by the psychological relationship of women and their shoes. They love them, and I love watching them love them," he says.
Russo, born and raised in Italy, studied in Milan at the Marangoni Institute, where there was a brief stint studying ready to wear before moving into accessories. His resume includes top fashion houses such as Miu Miu, Costume National and Yves Saint Laurent. He joined Sergio Rossi, a brand owned by luxury conglomerate PPR, in 2008.
"No one has been able to answer what makes women so passionate about their accessories. It's something that goes through the emotional side of the brain," Russo says.
On a recent trip to New York, Russo got close to his muses. Barneys New York held an event in his honour in the new shoe department of its Madison Avenue flagship. Shoppers were allowed to ask questions or receive autographs, while the retailer raised money for the Human Rights Campaign.
His fans ask him about different materials and craftsman techniques; some will ask about his background and family. He prefers those. "More interesting," he says.
Russo says he tries not to give out much style advice because style has to come from the wearer herself. If pressed, though, he'll say he's "very pleased" with his Godiva pumps, which have a very pointed toe and a very thin heel and are very high, although they are .2 millimeters shorter than his previous pumps. They go with just about anything, Russo says, so he would recommend those as a must-have of the moment.
For 2013, he predicts women will love his styles that wrap up the leg like a corset and are made of exotic skins.
"I like to balance design and functionality," he says. "I don't want to cross the line either way."
Russo says he designs not for one woman but for many, and sometimes he'll think about what all their boyfriends and husbands might like. He never gives a name to his inspiration and doesn't name products after specific people, but they always get a personality.
He often gives them a full wardrobe, even if it's only stored in his imagination. "It's a good exercise for me to create a fuller look, but I get a more complete vision of the look of the woman if I think of her with no face."Suggest a correction