The debut spring collections unveiled this week by young bloods Michel Vivien for Robert Clergerie and Alain Tondowski for Stephane Kelian should help stop these once-influential footwear brands from fading any further. Both designers were faced with the challenge of enticing new customers without alienating the old.

Tondowski’s footwear collection built on Stephane Kelian’s signature of intricate weaves by adding knots and offbeat color combinations. “Reviving Stephane Kelian has been challenging,” said the designer, whose novel approach to weaves included using them for insoles instead of uppers. He added materials like satin or Chinese beads into the mix and then painted stacked leather heels in colors like mint green. Evening bags such as one that mixed flesh-colored satin with a woven silver leather clasp also got the Tondowski treatment. According to the designer, “Orders for spring 2004 are already up.”

Since Vivien has come on board at Clergerie, export sales manager Gilles Assor says that top shoe accounts like Coccodrillo in Anvers are ordering once again. Vivien has reworked Clergerie standards such as brown vegetable-tanned leathers and burnished-metal hardware and has added hot colors — fuchsia and turquoise, for instance. He has also fashioned wooden beaded uppers into a butterfly shape and introduced a cone heel covered in leather cord.

The designer has his sights firmly fixed on what Clergerie once stood for. “I understand exactly who the Clergerie woman is, but I see change as a gradual process so I intend to help our customers move gradually into different style,” Vivien says.

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