Creativity and innovation are thriving in the French footwear industry. Discover some of the nation’s most exciting luxury shoe brands
Although showcasing profoundly different aesthetics, the leading French shoe designers can be counted on to create fashion-forward footwear using exacting methods. Clergerie, Roger Vivier and Laurence Dacade are among the premier names that have created strong brand identities for themselves.
Clergerie was established in 1981, after founder Robert Clergerie acquired a shoe manufacturing atelier in Romans-sur-Isère, a town known for its shoe-making heritage. The brand is still strongly influenced by its roots, as creative director David Tourniaire-Beauciel explains: ‘Romans-sur-Isère is still at the heart of Clergerie. Ateliers have been there since 1895 and are still running. We are still proudly Made in France – we only look for specific know-how elsewhere. Raffia, for example, is handwoven in Morocco because they’re the best at it.’ From the start, Clergerie championed the use of innovative materials and raffia, in particular, is now a signature of the brand. Over the years, it has appeared in its footwear designs in a variety of ways and features in its autumn/winter 2018/19 collection. ‘The goal is to design raffia in an unexpected way,’ explains Tourniaire-Beauciel. ‘For Clergerie, it offers endless possibilities and we want to make it urban and cool.’
Roger Vivier has also long been known as a ground-breaking label. It is credited as being one of the first footwear brands to introduce clear plastic in shoes and displays technical prowess in styles such as the classic Virgule heel. Now, a new guard of French shoe designers is also keen to demonstrate this clever use of materials and technical mastery.
Laurence Dacade, who founded her eponymous label in 2003, studied at the AFPIC design school to fully understand how shoes are constructed. ‘The shoe is not only an object made for walking but it’s also an experimental tool of freedom,’ says the designer. Looking beyond the practical role of footwear, Dacade’s thorough knowledge allows her to push her designs in inventive new directions.
Change is a defining part of established footwear brands. 2001 saw the renaissance of Roger Vivier and the house appointed Gherardo Felloni as its new creative director in 2018, heralding yet another new chapter in its story. Talking about his new role, Felloni says, ‘I feel honoured to be part of Roger Vivier today and develop it further, respecting its heritage and tradition while adding a contemporary and modern take, something the brand has always demonstrated.’ Felloni is positioning himself between the brand’s rich history and a new direction that corresponds to his own artistic vision.
Clergerie is also going through a series of changes, ushering in a fresh era with the recent appointments of a new CEO and creative director, a full rebranding, store openings and the launch of e-commerce. ‘We are working on refocusing the brand on its core values,’ says Tourniaire-Beauciel and, in the brand’s latest collection, this can be seen in design features that are directly inspired by the ideas of its founder. ‘It’s a dialogue between our heritage and modern times. We improved some technical features that were introduced by Robert Clergerie, such as the articulated sole. Originally designed on a wooden heel, we used this technique for the first time on stacked leather chunky soles and EVA (ethyl vinyl acetate) extra-light platforms,’ he explains. Another way in which change is materializing is through the introduction of menswear for autumn/winter. For Tourniaire-Beauciel, this move felt like a natural step. ‘Robert Clergerie gained his reputation by fitting men’s shoes for women, without compromising on femininity,’ he says. ‘We are doing the same thing, but the other way around, so it seemed like a natural choice to relaunch our men’s line.’
These influential brands have also forged close ties within the fashion industry and Roger Vivier has created footwear for Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and Elsa Schiaparelli. More recently, Laurence Dacade designed pieces for Nina Ricci, when it was under the aegis of Olivier Theyskens, and was also the official footwear designer for Chanel. Working with a fashion house may require a slightly different approach, as it means creating styles that are perfectly in tune with the season’s ready-to-wear, but it also serves as another platform from which these designers are able to develop their visionary ideas.
These noteworthy French shoe brands are defined by a common desire to constantly surprise us with new and unique styles. Forever pushing the boundaries, they can be credited as a driving force in the industry, taking footwear design to new heights.