In the 1980s, Roland Mouret — who was just beginning his fashion career — worked at Robert Clergerie crafting visual campaigns. For that role, he imagined every shoe as having its own identity, and photographed them with that idea in mind. “Back then, people were shooting pairs,” said Mouret. “We did three different feet and made them up to look like The Supremes — Diana Ross and the backup singers.” Decades later, Mouret is using that same forward-thinking approach as creative director of the Parisian brand, which has roots dating to 1895. But he’s also careful to respect Clergerie’s rich heritage.
“I’ve been acting more like someone who directs an orchestra because the music has been written by Robert for years,” said Mouret. “I see my work like a legacy from father to son more than breaking the mold and starting something completely different. There is an amazing back catalog of works. I just have to bring it into the 21st century.”
It’s a dfferent approach from his operating model for his namesake label: “What I love about being the creative director of the [Robert Clergerie] brand is that it’s completely the opposite of Roland Mouret.” At Mouret, the identity is based on the red carpet, but Clergerie takes a more low-key celebrity approach. “We dress a lot of actresses in their private life,” Mouret said.
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Case in point: Actresses Léa Seydoux and Marion Cotillard both wear the brand when they’re off duty, according to CEO Eva Taub. She noted that the latter eschews the services of stylists, preferring to visit the label’s store in Paris’ Sixth arrondissement on her own.
To keep the brand relevant in the digital world, Mouret recently unveiled a social media initiative called #ClergerieGirls, an Instagram-based photography competi- tion where the winner gets to shoot the brand’s campaign imagery. Now in its second season, the contest has been supported by Leandra Medine and her Man Repeller blog as well as Camille Charrière, who is known in the blogosphere as Camille Over the Rainbow.
“It’s fundamental to have the fans talk about a brand that has a huge emotional connection to women due to its unique aesthetic and uncompromising point of view,” said Taub, who came to the brand four years ago from Christian Dior. “It feels very modern, like skipping the land phone and going straight to the portable.”
Outside of marketing efforts, Taub has been focused on building the brand’s wholesale presence, particularly in the American market. “In 2012, it was 60 percent retail and 40 percent wholesale, but four years later, we’ve reversed that,” Taub said.
The brand is working with all major luxury department stores in their key doors, she said, citing Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus. Clergerie’s most important partner is Barneys, according to Taub. “They have a sophisticated customer base who knows and loves the brand,” she explained.
While the brand has a healthy presence in U.S. department stores, Taub is well aware of the challenges facing the sector.
“They are in a difficult situation squeezed in between these specialty stores and the internet, where people comparison shop,” she said. “We’re working with them to help them bring something different to the table.”
One way the brand is doing that is by pushing innovative and exclusive products with key partners.
For example, at Le Bon Marché in Paris’ Saint Germain area, customers can personalize their Clergerie shoes with fringes embellished with heart shapes and colored beads, which can be attached on the spot. In addition, after the brand rolled out a customization program for the Roel brogue last year, it is unveiling a similar initiative with the Alice mule.
Said Roopal Patel, senior vice president, fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue: “Slides are a big trend. We’ve seen the return of the flat and now, customers have more options than ever.”
“Our customers are always looking for unique and exclusive product, and Robert Clergerie’s Made-To-Order program, exclusively available at Saks, has an incredible offering of fabrics and colors that truly modernize the slide.”
“Given that we have our own factory [in Romans-sur-Isère in France’s South East], we can do many different things quite quickly that other brands might not be able to,” said Taub.
Other retail priorities include the brand’s two flagship stores in New York and Los Angeles. Clergerie also is working with edgy, well-positioned independent retailers such as Just One Eye in Los Angeles and Joan Shepp in Philadelphia. “They have a real card to play in terms of the customer experience,” Taub said.
Growth also continues on the digital front, and the brand is stocked with 20 pure-play clients worldwide, including Net-a-Porter. Clergerie’s website is also primed for a revamp. This will start with an option to preorder certain styles and migrate toward full-on e-commerce by the end of 2017 or early 2018.
Another way the brand has occupied the spotlight is through attention-grabbing collaborations.
“We have at least 10 different designers asking us to do shoes for them every season,” Taub said. “Footwear is a complicated category.”
Past collaborations include Carven and Sonia Rykiel. For spring ’17, there are tie-ups with Self-Portrait and Saloni. (The former will continue for fall ’17.)
“Collaborations are an important step for the brand on its journey,” said Mouret.