Since she was a child, Laurence Dacade has been fascinated with footwear. Even before her teenage years, Dacade’s closet was filled with shoes, and she would often find herself buying a new pair simply so she could examine them.
“I know it [sounds] crazy,” she said. “I was spending all my money on shoes, and I was not even wearing most of them. I just wanted to look at them [because] shoes are like sculpture. They’re so subtle and special.”
In the years since, the French designer’s passion has blossomed from a childhood crush into a successful career that has led to an eponymous brand, shoe collections for top fashion houses and several runway collaborations.
A graduate of Paris’ AFPIC school for shoe design, Dacade began her career in apparel. But after years of designing clothing, Dacade returned to her early love, designing shoes for Harel for four years before signing on with Givenchy in 2001 to steer the legendary label’s footwear collection and later teaming up with Chanel.
But while at Givenchy, where she spent seven years, Dacade decided to create shoes under her own name and launched the Laurence Dacade collection in 2002. Since then, her line has flourished and is now carried by about 50 luxury retailers worldwide, including Jeffrey New York, Carrots in San Francisco, Saks Fifth Avenue in Saudi Arabia and Harvey Nichols in London.
Her innovative shoe designs have also caught the eye of ready-to-wear designers. For spring ’09 alone, Dacade created footwear for the runway shows of Erin Fetherston, Nina Ricci and Kenzo.
While she continues to design for some of fashion’s biggest names, including Chanel, she chooses to be private about those connections in favor of focusing on her own line.
Still, she is constantly looking for new challenges. Dacade’s shoes are firmly planted in the luxe market, priced between $650 and $1,000 — a vulnerable area in a weakening global economy.
“I don’t like being negative, and I don’t like to cry about the bad things,” she said. “We have to keep going and stop thinking how crazy and complicated [the economy is]. It’s just a situation, and we simply have to adapt. … You have to think a little differently.”
Footwear News recently sat down with Dacade during a recent trip to New York, where she shared thoughts about making it in the shoe industry, surviving the current economy and why love is critical.
FN: You began your career designing clothing. How did you end up in shoes?
LD: I had lots of fun designing [fabrics and clothes for men, women and children], but that was it. [Then someone at Maison Martin Margiela asked] if I could design shoes, and I thought, “I don’t think I could do that.” But I took my pen and started to design, and I had a sensation that I never had in other things I was designing. That was something very special.
FN: You juggle a lot of projects between your line and the collaborations. How do you keep track of all the designs you’re working on?
LD: I don’t count collections or how many shoes I am doing. It would scare me. I know I have to do a lot, but I don’t think about how many. It is enough for me to think “a lot” rather than focus on a number. If you want to be creative, you can’t put a number in your head. When I’m designing a shoe, I’m not thinking about how much it will cost. I just know, subconsciously, what the cost will be. It’s too difficult. You have to leave your spirit free for creating and designing. You just have to think about the lovely things you want to do.
FN: You’ve worked with some of the biggest names in fashion. What made you finally decide to start your own line?
LD: It just came together. It’s not that one day I thought, “Now I’m going to do my own things.” [I have always] loved the moment when [clothes and shoes] mix together. Fashion makes me dream, and I love the idea of [marrying] my designs with those of another designer. I love giving to other designers and going into a story with them. I need that because I hate looking at only my own shoes. I couldn’t do only my brand. It would be so boring.
FN: Many designers try to launch collections right out of fashion school, but you have been associated with some of the industry’s biggest players for years. How did those connections help as you branched out on your own?
LD: I’m just giving a lot to my brand, and it’s too calculating to think about these [other] things. I love my job, and that’s it. Sometimes people will say, “You must keep the best things for yourself and give the rest to the other person.” But anytime you work with another company, you give and you take. It’s just experience. If you’re a hard worker, you get [better] experience. What is important is [building relationships] with the people you work with. You have to fall in love with the people. You have to love the designer, and he must let you give to him also. I’ve been lucky because I’ve worked with people I love, and I’ve taken time to discover them.
FN: Is it challenging to create your own collection while designing for others at the same time?
LD: [Designing] is a question of love. It’s very romantic. You love [the people you work with], and they inspire you. But each [job] is a challenge, and I love generous challenges. You have to do beautiful shoes [for the people you work with] because the shoes really belong to these people, and you have to make them happy. The second challenge, which comes at the same time, is making an impression on the market with the work you’re doing. I love to go further to bring the client and the label to new [places]. This is the challenge — not just [creating] new things for the look, but creating a new way of life.
FN: Now that you have your own line, is it difficult to think about both the business side and the creative side?
LD: I always liked [the business aspects]. Since my first job, I worked at it like it was my own company. I get bored if I don’t give all of me. It’s everything or nothing. I’m quite excessive on that kind of thing. I need to understand everything [about my company]. But when I’m designing a shoe, I’m thinking about what kind of woman I want in that shoe, why I did that shoe and what it will bring to the market. There’s always a story to tell about it.
FN: You’ve said that shoes are very sensual. Why is that?
LD: It’s just an attitude. The shoes [a woman] wears express the feeling of that woman. They help you be what you want to be. You’re going to walk in a different way [because] of the way the shoes make you feel. And this is so exciting, because [I get to help] shape the attitude of the woman.
FN: Why is it important for your shoes to be both sexy and comfortable?
LD: Nothing should hurt. You must feel [good] and be able to walk easily. There are a lot of men designing shoes, and [some] don’t think about whether a woman will fit well in the shoe. They just think, “That’s sexy.” This is boring. You’re supposed to [put on] a pair of shoes and feel comfortable. Women buy shoes that are uncomfortable, and that is very frustrating. It’s always a very difficult but exciting challenge [because] when women buy shoes that are comfortable, they are addicted.
FN: Has living in Paris influenced your designs?
LD: Totally. I love the idea of being a French designer, but I don’t always feel very French. In my family, there are a lot of people coming from different countries … and I have always been interested in foreign people. The world is more amazing than thinking about just Parisian and French people. But Paris is very international, and that I love very much. For me, it’s important to live in Paris because you [get to] keep your eyes on [the impeccable] French taste. I love the idea that people who are living so far [from France] can be seduced by this country and its culture. I love the idea that someone who has such a different culture and way of life can fall in love [with Paris] and the [fashion here]. I’m more excited by foreigners buying my shoes than French people. It is the international sensibility that’s fun to me.
FN: What are some of the challenges new designers face when they’re starting their own labels?
LD: The biggest problem is not generating ideas, but finding the factory. The [luxury] market is getting very big, and factories are not exactly crying because they don’t have work. They have more than they need. The challenge is to find a good factory you can work with, that can do the work you want in the way you want. [Many] factories [produce for] plenty of big brands, and you are not the priority. That’s a huge challenge, and if you speak to other young designers, they would probably all say the same thing.
FN: The luxury market is traditionally more insulated from dips in the economy, but things are much shakier now. How is the high-end business faring?
LD: I don’t like being negative, and I don’t like to cry about the bad things. We have to keep going and stop thinking how crazy and complicated [the economy is]. It’s just a situation, and we simply have to adapt. If you do luxury, maybe you’ll have to go much more luxurious and much more expensive. Or maybe it’s about getting to a different market and going less expensive. Who knows? But I don’t want to hear about these things and be scared. You have to think a little differently, but it doesn’t mean you have to be negative. I’m not saying [the economy] is good, but this situation happened, and of course, it worries everybody.
FN: It doesn’t appear things will turn around anytime soon. How do you think this will impact the luxury market in the next few seasons?
LD: Shoes are a big market. [Everyone] is going to have to adapt. If you’re used to doing 100 shoes in crocodile skin, you might [have to scale back] and do only 20. Some people will still have the money, but some will feel ashamed to spend in a time like this. [I’m scaling back] and I hate that. I’ll be designing and have in my [mind] that maybe, in a better time, I would do 10 colors for this style, but for now, I might do fewer.
FN: Tell us about the signature dot on all your shoes.
LD: It’s a beauty mark, and it’s always on the right heel. When it’s a flat shoe, it’s at the base. It’s not always gold and could be a different color or a diamond or a cutout. [But] it’s always a dot. I think it’s very sensual. I love the idea of the 18th century, and that’s when women were putting white powder on their hair and making this beauty spot. I’m not very girly, but it’s a girly thing I like.
FN: Did your own beauty mark inspire the dot?
LD: No. (Laughs.) Maybe it did subconsciously. Some people have said, “It’s fantastic, and you have it on your face, too.” But when I decided on it, I didn’t even think about my own.
FN: Do you have plans to open boutiques of your own?
LD: I’d love to, but not right now. It’s something I think about, but my main plan is to find a [good] partner to work with. I don’t want to make a mistake, and I need to have someone who has the same focus I have. I’m not in a big hurry because I want to be doing this until I’m 80.