Jeff Rudes is taking his L’Agence business to the next level with the launch of shoes.
The former J Brand Jeans co-founder tested out a small line of Italian-made footwear with customers online and in-stores for fall ’20, ranging in price from $350 to $450. After seeing a strong response, Rudes has since decided to go forward with a full expansion into the category.
For fall ’21, L’Agence will launch its shoe collection, this time in partnership with Titan Industries, which is licensing the shoes. “Shoes are very specific, and we wanted to work with partners that know what they’re doing and are experts,” CEO Rudes told FN.
The collection is made in Europe and will feature a curated line of wearable pumps, sandals, flats and boots, which will be an extension of L’Agence’s successful ready-to-wear business.
L’Agence debuted in 2008 with financial backing from Rudes. He joined the company full-time as CEO and creative director in 2017.
“After I sold J Brand [in 2014], I came back to work to build something a little bit more exciting and, of course, larger, with a newer model, which was a full lifestyle, multichannel global brand,” Rudes said, noting that the label has two retail stores in New York and Los Angeles. “This is where shoes fall in. Next to our ready-to-wear, [it will be] most important. Footwear is going to ride the coattails and build volume as we build the brand.” (Currently, jeans represent 50% of the brand’s volume.)
While the shoes will be sold online, Titan CEO Joe Ouaknine and Rudes are focused on a nuanced wholesale strategy targeting both department and specialty stores.
“[Rudes] showed me his success that he’s having at Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and these high-end department stores,” said Ouaknine. “The L’Agence clothing is on fire, and the demand for shoes was so overwhelming.”
Despite the uncertain retail landscape given the ongoing pandemic, Rudes remains confident in his wholesale model. “Once we see some stability and people feeling comfortable to shop, women are going to run to stores to shop. They are itching for that experience, [and] it’s going to be a flood of business [in] third and fourth quarter.”
For Ouaknine — whose brand portfolio includes Badgley Mischka and Jewel Badgley Mischka — business in 2020 declined 38% year-over-year; however, he too is optimistic about the return of heels. The executive noted that both Badgley labels are selling well, and he expects to see a big uptick once wedding and prom seasons return.
“We dropped in sales, lost a brand in [Splendid], but we’ve saved so much money in expenses. And my occasion shoes are on fire, which is holding us. I’m very upbeat,” he said.
Rudes also believes that challenging times offer opportunities, saying, “ will be a blow open year for the brands that are performing well.” In addition, L’Agence’s direct-to-consumer site will be a major focus this year and next. Online sales have improved in 2020 but the creative director added that more funding to the company’s marketing strategy to continue its growth trajectory is top of mind.