Charles David Changes Course

LOS ANGELES — What’s old is new again at Charles David.

For fall, the company is remaking its footwear collection to include more classic looks. Charles David had been focusing on trend-driven styles such as fashion-forward heels and wedges, but now the emphasis will be on familiar designs, including riding boots and oxfords in distressed leathers.

According to Retail Director Joelle Malka, executives approached the season by examining what had made the brand successful in the past — and out of that exercise came the idea for a made-in-Italy collection.

“We went back and looked at our history and what we used to do very well, and that is beautiful product that’s designed in Italy with beautiful craftsmanship,” said Malka.

Charles Malka, owner and CEO of the company, said that as China has become a more expensive place to produce quality shoes and the euro has slid slightly against the dollar, the timing felt right to move some production from China back to Italy and Spain. And if the euro continues to fall, the move could be even more profitable. “When the day comes that [the euro is] 1.20, it’s going to be very favorable to work in Italy again,” he said. “That could happen. Europe needs to get the work back. There’s going to be a change.”

Joelle Malka added that the first made-in-Italy styles would debut as part of a small capsule collection for spring ’10, followed by a full global launch for fall. Already, the line is gaining traction with retailers.

Melissa Lawson, who runs the East Hampton, N.Y.-based Shoe Inn with her husband, Billy Lawson, said she has been impressed with the boot assortments vendors are offering for fall, but that Charles David tops her must-have list. “Their Italian boot collection was one of my favorites in the market,” she said. “It’s a fresh direction for next season. And for Italian product, the price points are terrific.”

Oxfords in the collection will start around $230, with over-the-knee boots retailing for about $500.

In addition to tweaking the styling of the line, Charles David is seeking to expand its global audience.

As part of that push, the firm rehired Lyn Fleming, director of international sales, who started with the company in the early 1990s and left in 1997 to head up BCBG’s international business. Fleming, who returned to Charles David eight months ago, said she’s been building an extensive network of distributors across Europe and Asia. Through the company’s French distributor, several shop-in-shops are set to bow in that country later this year, as well as two freestanding stores in Paris and one in Nice, slated for fall.

While international sales make up just 10 percent of the company’s total revenue, Fleming said by 2012, it could rise to 25 percent to 30 percent, as the firm develops its distributor network in China, Central and South America and Russia.

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