10/26/1998 at 01:00 AM EST
Marlene Dietrich, they say, used to visit his Paris shop almost daily. The Duchess of Windsor owned a closetful of his designs. And during the 1950s, Iran's empress reportedly ordered 100 pairs of his fanciful footwear—each year.
Shoe designer Roger Vivier, who died in his sleep at home in Toulouse, France, on Oct. 2 at age 90, won devotion from his well-heeled clients and awe from his peers. "He was the world's greatest artist of shoe design," says jewelry designer Kenneth Jay Lane, who once worked with him. Says shoemaker Manolo Blahnik: "People try to copy him, but it's impossible to find that mix of technical skill and design."
Many of Vivier's innovations—square toes, stiletto heels—set trends. Others caused jaws—if not arches—to drop: He fashioned the curved-steel "comma" heel, the "ball of diamonds" heel and the gold-kid shoes with garnets that Elizabeth II wore to her 1953 coronation.
Orphaned as a child and raised by an aunt, Vivier studied sculpture in Paris. Apprenticing at a shoe factory gave his interests a new direction. His designs, often festooned with feathers or gems (he was called the Fabergé of footwear), impressed designer Elsa Schiaparelli, who joined forces with him in 1937. Collaborations with Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent followed. He also opened shops in Paris and Manhattan.
Despite the acclaim, Vivier said he designed for the sheer fun of it. Before he died, he and Gerard Benoit-Vivier, 49, his adopted son, were working on shoe illustrations for London and Los Angeles exhibits, s "It's sad to lose someone so creative, whether they're 19 or 99," says Blahnik. Benoit-Vivier takes the long view. "Roger," he says, "had a very complete life."