PARIS — In the midst of a makeover, Robert Clergerie is expanding its reach in the men’s market.
The French footwear label, which dates back to 1895, is growing wholesale, revamping stores and rejuvenating its offering to respond to growing demand in the sector, according to chief executive officer Eva Taub, who’s been heading the company since 2012 following a long career at Christian Dior and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
“Men’s currently accounts for less than ten percent of total business, so it’s very small, but the goal is to double in the next two years,” Taub told WWD, citing the U.S. as its biggest market, accounting for 40 percent of total sales.
While the men’s footwear market is rapidly changing, with some brands playing catch-up, Taub said, it’s an exciting time for the company, “whose whole history is in men’s shoes.”
“We have these huge archives which are a gem, going back to 1900, and a manufacturer that is 120 years old — and still produces our shoes,” she noted, adding that it was only in 1978 when Robert Clergerie purchased the workshop in Romans, France, from its original founder Joseph Fenestrier that the label started focusing more on its women’s business.
Though Fenestrier is credited with bringing the Goodyear stitch to France, building what is considered the first French brand for high-end ready-to-wear shoes and avidly marketing the label via full-page ads, which was rare at that time, Taub argues Clergerie himself was “a visionary.”
“Back in the Eighties, he felt that the casual was going to take over, so he started doing shoes for men to wear on a motorcycle, and proposed Goodyear-stitched rubber soles to make them more flexible,” which appealed to the likes of Marcello Mastroianni, Bruce Springsteen and Peter Lindbergh.
For spring, the brand went out of its comfort zone, producing the firm’s first men’s sneaker, called Tolka, a hybrid between a sporty slip-on and perforated wing-tip brogue with removable fringe. For fall, the label followed up with the Runner, a more minimalist high-top featuring an ultralight, custom-made sole.
“Sneakers are everywhere now,” lamented Roland Mouret, who has been designing both the brand’s men’s and women’s lines since 2011. But, he said, “we do not follow trends; [we] start trends or reinterpret [them] to our image,” hence the wingtip brogues sneakers and raffia slip-ons, a company trademark since the Forties.
For the first time, the men’s styles are available via wholesale starting at 350 euros, or $382 at current exchange, with Le Bon Marché, Galeries Lafayette, Lane Crawford and Dover Street Market already having placed their orders for fall.
The firm at present operates one stand-alone store for Robert Clergerie Homme on Rue de Grenelle in Paris, and while it’s also selling men’s via corners in ten of its 21 women’s boutiques, Taub said that there are “more changeovers to bigger stores” in the works over the next two years.
In the women’s division, best known for its bold wedges and platforms, “sales grew by over 40 percent in the last two years,” according to Taub, “driven primarily by the U.S., where we took the business in-house.”
“In next two to five years we plan to continue to develop sales at leading retailers around the world and we expect further double-digit growth,” she added.
Mouret, who is looking to woo a younger, more fashion-forward consumer, said the goal is “to take the brand back to its glory days of the Eighties and Nineties when it was the reference in shoes and fashion.”
“There are so many pret-à-porter brands that have launched shoes, but the strength of Robert Clergerie is that it’s a pure player and has an amazing reputation with a strong following [among] stylists, celebrities and people in the industry,” he stated, citing a combination of high comfort, design and made-in-France quality as key.
The brand is also pushing into wholesale with a burgeoning line of leather goods for him and her, which for fall include minimalist totes folded from one piece of leather with no stitching. “They are not even one percent of sales right now, but it’s one of the initiatives we have,” Taub said.
Robert Clergerie is owned by First Heritage Brands, the holding company for Sonia Rykiel and Delvaux helmed by fashion veteran Jean-Marc Loubier.