By  on March 2, 2012

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was said to have owned 16 pairs of Bernardo’s iconic “Miami” sandal.

She was one of many who helped propel the footwear brand into its heyday during the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies, when everyone from Onassis to Twiggy to Jane Birkin wore its sandals. This is when the 65-year-old brand became best known for the now patented and trademarked “Miami,” a thong with a leather sole.

While Bernardo is still around — it’s currently carried at about 200 retailers — the brand’s reputation has become somewhat staid, and new owners Peter Cooper and Todd Miller are gearing up for a serious makeover.

“What we discovered about the brand in its current state that made this venture a good idea is the fact that it’s a globally recognized brand with a rich heritage and beautiful catalogue of images shot by famous photographers,” Cooper said, rattling off such names as Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Bert Stern and Helmut Newton.

But what the company lacked was “real direction,” according to Cooper, who added that there was no strategy, year-to-year plan or consistency in branding. He cited shoe boxes printed with different logos in different colors as evidence that the company was in need of a comprehensive branding overhaul.

Cooper and Miller acquired the company, which was owned primarily by Jean and Cynthia Smith, in September of last year. It’s the first venture for the newly formed private equity investment company Cooper Miller LLC, and the pair have since made it their mission to create a new identity for the brand, starting with the fall 2012 lineup.

“We decided we were going to give it a new look, a fresh feel, and reach back and embrace the history of the company and marry it to the future. We began creating a new identity for Bernardo,” Cooper said. “Part of this was identifying what the Bernardo DNA was. We did a lot of work trying to decide who the Bernardo woman was.”

He uses words like “iconic,” “effortless” and “sophisticated” to describe the new product range, and said one of his primary initiatives is to grow the brand’s fall offerings, which have typically been sparse given the nature of the product.

This means 18 new styles in patent leather, suede, pony hair and faux exotic leather with details such as beading, contrast piping and glitter. Silhouettes include pumps, loafers with chunky high heels, wedge booties and an updated version of the moccasin in a color palette of sand, luggage, truffle, anthracite and brighter shades of pink, orange, yellow and teal. Prices range from $155 to $525, and the shoes will hit stores during April to June deliveries. Prices are quite a bit higher from the current offerings, which top out at about $200.

Cooper is also eager to revisit the brand’s heritage through the new “Bernardo 1946” capsule collection — a selection of five classic styles that have been reinterpreted for today and that will retail from $275 to $695.

While Bernardo is sold at about 350 to 375 doors worldwide, including Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s (this number doesn’t include online retailers such as Zappos and Piperlime), Cooper hopes to increase this amount significantly, as well as introduce the elevated line to higher-end stores.

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