Venice’s traditional gondoliere shoes head to the capital of fashion
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The first time I slipped my feet into a pair of ViBis, in March 2016, I was at the Palazzo Papadopoli in Venice – the ancestral home of Viola and Vera Arrivabene, the brand’s founders – enjoying an aperitivo. In loped the twentysomething sisters bearing a basket filled with furlane, the traditional rubber-soled gondoliers’ slippers – usually in velvet – dating to the 18th century, and which the Arrivabenes’ mother, Bianca di Savoia Aosta, had been buying for years on the Rialto Bridge. “We were constantly asked by our friends where they could get them,” says Viola.
And so began an e-commerce business. Bedazzled navy, Kelly green bordered in emerald, chambray with fuchsia detailing, a cheeky camouflage canvas… ViBis decisively upped the gondoliere style game. All hand‑stitched, perfect with cropped jeans or a full-length evening skirt, comfortable, and – joy – a cinch to slip into and out of, whether hopping a gozzo or negotiating security at Heathrow.
Six years, multiple collections – including, most recently, a collaboration with Emilia Wickstead – and an explosive social media phenomenon later, the sisters have opened their first bricks-and-mortar location, in the heart of Milan’s Brera district. In keeping with their predilection for colour, the parquet-floored space has ice-blue walls detailed in cadmium red. Ladylike sofas and soft chairs in candy-striped cottons abound. More than a boutique, says Vera, who is based in Milan and can often be found on the premises, it’s “like our living room. We want our customers to feel part of our story when they visit.” Not such a stretch: some of the furniture was commandeered from the sisters’ first Milan flat, and the saffron-yellow curtains pinched from their parents’ house on the Grand Canal.
Furlane for men, women and tots, along with zeppe (espadrille-like wedges), sturdier gym shoes, and sweet mary janes are all displayed in artfully lit alcoves that span from floor to ceiling, as well as on vintage side and coffee tables – and, yes, in raffia baskets, waiting to be tumbled out.