By the late Nineties, however, while working as the company’s chief women’s accessories designer, Atwood was getting restless, as well as distracted by what he calls “the sexy-shoe-girl thing.” “Women were buying shoes instead of paying their rent,” he says, laughing. “It was definitely [a market] where I wanted to place my product.” After mulling the move for a while, Atwood started his own line with Donatella Versace’s blessing, designing shoes characterized by beaded and feathered detailing; intricate, bondage-inspired straps; and high—very high—heels. Two years later, at the 2003 Council of Fashion Designers of America awards, he won Swarovski’s Perry Ellis Award for Accessory Design.
While Atwood says he has no plans to shutter his company, and even hints at possible expansion into ready-to-wear, his current focus is very much on Bally, for which he spends a majority of his time in Milan. “My goal is to make it an aspirational brand, a desirable product, and we want to inject that sexiness without scaring people away,” he says. As if on cue, a publicist hands over photocopies of the company’s new ad campaign, photographed by Mario Sorrenti, and Atwood holds one up to the light. Sure enough, there’s a pouty model, pale skin bared in all the right places, draped languidly in front of a window overlooking a glittering nighttime Gotham. It’s classic Atwood: alluring and just a bit racy. “We’re focusing on the strength of all the lines now, from the suits to the blouses,” he says. “And we’re turning up the volume.”