How Iconic French Ballet Shoe Brand Repetto Is Planning to Take Over the U.S.

In France, Repetto is to ballet shoes what Apple is to phones. “It’s so synonymous with your classic ballerina, it’s almost like you don’t say ‘my ballerina,’ you say ‘my Repetto,’” said Le Bon Marché style director Jennifer Cuvillier. “Our customers don’t just have one pair, they have them in several colors.”

Now it’s time for a new challenge: conquering America. U.S. CEO Gilles Assor joined the brand in July 2017, moving from Robert Clergerie Americas, where he was VP. There is only one U.S. Repetto store, which opened 18 months ago in New York’s Soho. “The brand has not yet realized its potential,” Assor said.

Retail openings are planned for the West
 Coast and Miami — followed by another location in New York. To kick things off, Assor has hatched a four-point plan, kicking off last September during New York Fashion Week with a pop-up at The Webster. While the U.S. market might be more entertainment-centric, he observed, “the general idea is to create emotion.”

The second phase is the Transgression Project, launching for spring ’18. It’s a statement-making limited-edition collection composed of six models inspired by significant moments in Repetto’s history — with a twist. “‘Transgression’ in French means changing the codes and changing the rules,” Assor explained.

Assor’s “upside down” marketing strategy mirrors this notion. Transgression will not be available in Repetto’s New York flagship. Instead, it will be exclusive to Barneys in 14 locations across the U.S., plus select concepts stores, including Just One Eye in L.A., Opening Ceremony in New York, Hirshliefers in Manhasset, N.Y., The Webster Miami and SSense in Canada.

Gilles Assor
Gilles Assor

“We decided to do it in a different way. Our wholesale is not properly developed or in the right position, so I wanted to be in high-end department stores next to desirable brands,” he said. “I wanted to introduce new people to the brand to have them come to the retailers to discover something that is unique and exclusive.” The Transgression Project collection features gingham ballerinas — an homage to Brigitte Bardot — and Mary Jane flats, which are a nod to contemporary Repetto fan Bella Hadid. Another look: print pony-hair pumps worn by Kate Moss. “We saw her wearing them everywhere in the press
 in 2005,” Assor said, revealing 
that the shoe in question was never mass-produced. “They 
only sold around 30 pairs, as
 only one store ordered them.”

Repetto spring 2018 installation in Paris.
Repetto spring 2018 installation in Paris.
CREDIT: Griffin Lipson/BFA.com

There are also new takes
 on Zizi Oxfords popularized by
Serge Gainsbourg. “He was 
one of biggest dandies of the
20th century,” said Assor. “We 
found an old film by Helmut 
Newton in which he was wearing them — with Jane Birkin dressed in a leotard sitting on his lap.”

A ballet shoe/kitten heel hybrid plus a low-cut pump embellished with tutu fabric rounds out the collection. “The joke is that we’re calling it the ‘ballet shoe,’” said Assor, laughing.

This limited-edition component of the Transgression Project is made possible, he said, by the house-owned factory in southwestern France, where special units can create limited runs of five to 80. There are also new laser-printing machines. “We recently fulfilled a special order from a client who wanted a picture of his family printed on our shoes for Christmas,” Assor said.

The Repetto Atelier customization service operates at the brand’s boutiques on both sides 
of the Atlantic, but starting this month, the service is to be extended via an additional digital update. Physical pop-ups with U.S. retailers are also planned, a strategy already employed in France. “We work well together on special projects and customizations like charms and patches,” said Cuvillier, citing a new and upcoming partnership, the department store’s Let’s Go Logo collaboration in February. The brand is also introducing a ballerina flat in pink, blue and black satin in the same shape as its classic pointe shoe. “We’re bringing the ballet to the street,” Assor said.

Repetto spring 2018 installation in Paris.
Repetto spring 2018 installation in Paris.
CREDIT: Griffin Lipson/BFA.com

In addition to this main consumer-facing business, however, Repetto makes bespoke pointes for star dancers — a service Assor is set on developing in the U.S. as well. “We want to be the only premium dance brand providing bespoke pointes for professional dancers,” he said.

Phase three of the master plan includes a special Repetto dance studio due to open during New York Fashion Week in Chelsea. “We’re creating a space that will be the heart of a community, where people can express themselves,” said Assor. However, in the vein of his “expect the unexpected” mantra, it’s not your regular studio. Instead, it’s to be the Soho House of the dance world. Yes, Repetto is opening a Soho House for ballet dancers in New York, a
 club for star dancers where they can teach their private clients.

These master classes will also serve as a laboratory, allowing Repetto to test new products. Once a month, there will be a VIP dance lesson hosted by celebrity fashion designers, musicians and choreographers. The space will be wired, allowing Repetto to create digital content from these events, while it will also serve as a showroom and host presentations during Fashion Week.

Repetto launched ready-to-wear in 2012. “We’ve had a good reaction,” said Cuvillier. “It’s very different from regular sports, and activewear as the link with dance is super strong, so the product is very clear and easy to understand. And it works.”

The final phase of the plan for 2018 involves a series of collaborations, including partnerships with a fashion designer, a musician and a choreographer — all yet to be revealed.

“Every year, the New York City Ballet invites fashion designers to collaborate with them on costumes, so we’re doing the opposite and taking the ballet to the designers,” Assor said, hinting that some Repetto dancewear could well find its way onto the runway.

Gilles Assor at Repetto spring 2018 installation in Paris.
Gilles Assor at Repetto spring 2018 installation in Paris.
CREDIT: Griffin Lipson/BFA.com

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