Revitalizing a 40-year-old heritage brand in the middle of a pandemic is no easy task. But Jerome Espinos, president of French Legacy Group (FLG), is proving that he’s up to the challenge with Clergerie, the made-in-France label that is gaining traction in the U.S. and internationally.
Clergerie has been under Espinos’ direction since it was acquired by FLG — controlled by Mirabaud Patrimoine Vivant private equity fund — in September 2020. (Other brands in the FLG portfolio include Avril Gau, Violet Tomas and the recently acquired Ateliers Heschung.)
Since taking the reins, Espinos has doubled down on product innovation, retail expansion and attention-grabbing collaborations with Gabriela Hearst and Chufy. “The global consumer requests authenticity, comfort, uniqueness, and quality. Clergerie is able to offer all of that through its incredible heritage,” he said.
Notably, the executive himself was born in Romans, where the brand is based, and has extensive experience both in France and internationally. After spending 11 years at Charles Jourdan, he was the general manager for Italy at Rossimoda before working at Ralph Lauren for 10 years as the head of footwear and accessories collection.
Espinos and creative director David Tourniaire-Beauciel, who has been at the design helm since 2017, are emphasizing “Made in France” craftsmanship and hope to expand the influence of Clergerie’s Romans factory, which employs 60 artisans.
The designer has focused on reinventing the brand’s iconic silhouettes, from derbies to criss-cross sandals to booties on the EVA Platform. “We are consistently elevating the products to elevate the status,” Espinos said.
As the product itself gets an upgrade, the brand is aggressively expanding its retail platform.
Stores have opened in Tokyo, Beijing, Paris, Brussels, and Southampton, N.Y. in the past year alone. In 2022, further retail expansion is planned in Europe, the U.S. and China during the second half, and by the end of the year, Clergerie expects to have 25 total locations around the world.
Behind the scenes, the company has ramped up its commitment to made-in-France, and created a new development center in its Romans atelier aimed at being more reactive and responsive to customer demands.
Clergerie’s French factory hub has also helped the brand navigate coronavirus obstacles and supply chain challenges.
“We were able to keep our facilities open [through the pandemic] by taking all the proper precautions, and only had to close for a short amount of time. Because of this we felt no major impact on our deliveries,” Espinos said.
But with the onset of Omicron, the situation has gotten more complicated in the early days of 2022 as some of Clergerie’s component suppliers have been closed. The brand is also experiencing some transportation and logistics delays, but its spring/summer collection has already shipped and it expects samples to arrive on time.
In the wholesale arena, the brand saw an increase of 37% in 2021 compared to 2019 — and has recently added Matches, Matches, Rendez-Vous and Shinsegae to its roster.
And much of the excitement has been in the U.S. market, where president Mathieu Kraut joined the FLG team as president of the Americas last April. While Clergerie had lost momentum in the U.S. prior to the FLG acquisition, the brand has been working to bolster relationships with key partners to fuel buzz.
In addition to its expansion at California retailer Elyse Walker, Clergerie grew is presence at both Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue in 2021.
“Clergerie offers a modern, sophisticated aesthetic that appeals to our advanced designer ready-to-wear customers, hitting on recent trends like platforms, lug soles boots, and loafer silhouettes,” said Will Cooper, SVP and GMM of women’s shoes, handbags and accessories at Saks. He noted that the brand has been able to attract new customers through its creative use of color and unique designer collaborations. “The Gabriela Hearst collaboration for spring ’22 will certainly be sought after by our customers.”
At Bergdorf, the retailer marked the brand’s 40th anniversary in 2021 by collaborating with Clergerie to develop an exclusive capsule focusing on new interpretations of iconic wedges and lace-ups.
“Even 40 years later, the Clergerie DNA is incredibly modern, always fusing feminine styles with a masculine twist. [During his time at the helm], Robert Clergerie was a master of shoe design and innovation and his playful combinations of different textures such as raffia, metallic leathers, and colorful suedes, are signature elements which combined with his classic silhouettes always feel fresh and new,” said Lisa Park, VP/GMM of shoes, handbags and soft accessories. “And because the collection is always designed with comfort in mind, the styles are ageless and appeal to a wide range of clients.”
Overall, the U.S. and Europe are the brand’s top geographic markets, while China and Japan are priorities for 2022.
“We’ve created a unique brand experience,” Espinos said. “One of our goals is to capture a new generation of customers by offering recognizable and comfortable collections which are innovative and daring.”