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Nathalie M. Butterfly: From the Cocoon Of a Family-Run Footwear House, a Design Diva Has Emerged

CULVER CITY, Calif. -- It could well be that Nathalie Marciano was ordained to be a shoe designer. After all, when your father owns a successful shoe company like Charles David of California, and childhood memories are clouded not by dancing sugar...

CULVER CITY, Calif. — It could well be that Nathalie Marciano was ordained to be a shoe designer. After all, when your father owns a successful shoe company like Charles David of California, and childhood memories are clouded not by dancing sugar plums but by the smell of fresh leather and aspirations of making shoes, what else would you do?

As principal designer for Charles David, which is also the licensee for Guess footwear, Marciano is exactly where she wants to be, proudly admitting, “Footwear is great. I never wanted to do clothing or anything else.” Marciano these days is growing the Guess and Charles David lines to the tune of more than 100 styles per season.

While the Guess pattern makers in Italy forge much of that brand’s line, Marciano’s hands-on work can be seen more clearly in the Charles David by Nathalie M. brand. There she brings an eye that has been developed under the tutelage of father Charles Malka, owner of Charles David, as well as an education from the AFPIC School of Design in Paris. Having studied in Paris alongside names like Kelian (Stephane’s son) and born of French parents, not to mention being a fan of Robert Clergeries, Marciano appreciates the French school of thought.

“The Italian designers are often too classic. The French are more diverse. They have great ideas using a lot of chicness,” she said. She tries to apply the same to her own line. As she noted, “There’s a nice variation. It flows together with good quality leathers, suede, nubuck, polished calf, crepe and linen. We always try to come up with something different.” Furthermore, she admitted, “Sometimes I go where (general fashion) doesn’t go, but you have to be risky. That’s what women want.”

An example is the Charles David riding boot. Add a 1 1/2- or 2-inch heel and voila, you have a new version of an old theme. Polished calfskin and stacked heels are an extra touch.

But Marciano has shaped Charles David into a “whole picture” company, as she puts it. No longer considered only a fall or boot resource, it competes in every fashion niche. “Right now, we’re creating what we are. I want a woman to relate to us. I want her to say, ‘I respect this company because it respects my money, my comfort and my style.’ Our customer is a versatile, outgoing, working woman. She’s the woman who will save up to buy a Chanel shoe and then buy ours. She’s a very clean and simple woman.”

And as the creative director behind all of the company’s advertising, she is also shaping the Charles David image beyond the product itself. Her latest effort is a film noir promotional video shot near the Colosseum in Rome. If it sounds like Marciano knows her customers, it’s probably because she could easily be one. She’s 27, pretty, and juggling motherhood, work and marriage to Guess Inc. chairman Maurice Marciano. The mother of two- and four-year-old girls, she herself likes fashionable, comfortable shoes. She also respects value needs. Price points average $120 for shoes and $210 for boots, and product is sourced in Italy and Spain.

Retailers like Errol Lurie of the San Diego area’s Let’s Go boutiques said that when a trend emerges, Marciano’s styling will be among the leaders.

Husband Maurice agreed: “Objectively speaking, she has a great feel for shoes and for where the trends are going. She’s rather forward sometimes but she has her father to tone it down to make it marketable. They make a great team.” To create is to use the senses, Nathalie Marciano offered. “You feel colors and leathers. You sense changes. The challenge is in offering variety. Women aren’t as limited as they used to be. They are more open-minded about shoes.”

With that, the company offers everything from cork-bottomed sandals to banded and strappy wedges to a well-rounded boot collection. Sales have grown dramatically over the past three years, with growth recorded every year since the company moved to the U.S. in 1987, executives said. (Before that, the company was located in Canada.)

Charles David is privately run and held together by Malka and his children. Alain Malka is in sales and international operations. Joelle Malka is in charge of the company’s five retail stores. Marciano is assisted by four line builders.

The backbone of the operation is Charles Malka, whom Marciano credits for her own success. “He’s a great teacher. I wouldn’t work with anybody else.”