FN Summit: Designer Gordon Thompson On How To Create A Brand

A veteran of both Nike and Cole Haan, footwear designer Gordon Thompson has most recently been helping Caleres develop its newest men’s label, George Brown.

At the 2016 FN Summit on Monday in New York, Thompson and Jay Schmidt, president of the Caleres brand portfolio, shared with the audience the incubation process for the line, which hits stores this month.

Thompson recalled that the initial idea was born during a conversation with company CEO Diane Sullivan when the firm was rebranding from the name Brown Shoe Co. to Caleres:“I asked her, what are you going to do with the Brown name? It’s probably pretty appropriate for men, and boom! I got the eyes on me going, ooh, there’s an idea.”

From there, Thompson paid a visit to the company archives, which he revealed is behind a bank vault door that can only be accessed with not one, but two keys. It holds every brand catalog since 1878, as well as numerous product. “Any footwear designer who thinks they’ve got the most original idea, you don’t,” he quipped.

Caleres; FN Summit
Caleres’ Jay Schmidt and Gordon Thompson at the 2016 FN Summit in New York.
CREDIT: George Chinsee

After researching the archives and company founder George Brown, Thompson decided to focus on military designs, inspired by a line Brown created during WWI.

He also revived the “Brown Bilt” messaging system, which originally was a checklist in each box ensuring the quality of the product. It now will serve as a vehicle for the brand to communicate its story to the customer.

“It’s not just about design — it’s how we talk about shoes,” Thompson said. “How we sell them, how they’re connected to society.”

The George Brown men’s collection, made in the U.S., Italy and Asia, features dressy and casual looks, including a classic oxford, a buckled ankle boot and a rugged hiker, priced from $295 to $750. Each style is done in neutral brown leather or suede, with Blake and Goodyear-welt constructions.

Scroll down for a peek at a few of the styles:

George Brown
Fall ’16 leather oxford from George Brown.
CREDIT: Thomas Iannaccone.
George Brown
Suede hiking boot from the fall ’16 George Brown collection.
CREDIT: Thomas Iannaccone.
George Brown
A military-inspired boot from the debut George Brown collection.
CREDIT: Thomas Iannaccone
George Brown
A suede casual style from the fall ’16 George Brown line.
CREDIT: Thomas Iannaccone

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