LONDON — It’s time for sneakers to step aside and make way for other sorts of gender-free footwear. At least that’s what Alain Leber believes.
Leber is a footwear veteran and founder of Monsieur L., a French brand that makes updated classics — Chelsea boots, Derby brogues, loafers, and Oxfords — meant for everyone.
European sizes range from 36 to 46, and each style has a “female” fit and a “male” one. Otherwise, all the details are the same, with prices ranging between 300 euros and 500 euros.
A pair of loafers costs 395 euros, while Chelsea boots in leather and neoprene cost 475 euros. There are plain leather sneakers, too, which cost 345 euros.
Leber, who has worked in both creative and commercial capacities for Michel Perry, Louis Vuitton and Burberry footwear, and who consults for brands such as J.M. Weston and Mansur Gavriel, said that after a career working for big brands, he wanted to return to his first love.
“I wanted to be linked with product — and with the process of designing shoes. And I wanted to do something with purpose, which meant something personal to me,” said Leber in a telephone interview.
He also felt there was a gap in the market for something that wasn’t a sneaker, for styles that could sit between what he called “super-classic” and “super-fashion.” Leber recalls his female friends asking him for years to make “men’s shoes for women.”
In response, he came up with Monsieur L., with the “L” meant to stand both for Leber and as a nod to “elle” the French word for “she” and “her.”
He said the styles are meant to be “genderless, timeless and as sustainable as possible.” He wants the shoes to last in people’s wardrobes, to be comfortable, and to work from day to night.
The shoes are made in Portugal from vegetable-dyed, chrome-free leather, with internal footbeds made from recycled foam. Leber said the components come from Italy, and most are made from natural or recycled materials.
The packaging is made from recycled paper and certified, recycled cotton. The company said it is trying to source as locally as possible to avoid unnecessary carbon emissions, and is looking to optimize manufacturing and purchasing operations.
Leber said he has forged long-term partnerships with suppliers, and is starting off with a retail and direct-to-consumer model. He plans to move slowly into wholesale via specialty stores.
Last week he opened the first Monsieur L. shop in Paris at 34 Rue Jacob in Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
Leber said he chose that particular neighborhood because it’s residential, and he wanted to appeal to local clients who are used to walking around, rather than tourists or fashion hunters. The website is also active, and features people of a variety of ages — mostly Leber’s friends — wearing the shoes their own way.
Going forward he said he wants to sell to shops that can carry a variety of the Monsieur L. styles and showcase the brand in all its genderless glory, rather than splitting it into women’s or men’s areas.
Leber said he plans to take things slowly, market the brand carefully, and maybe open a second store. The brand is also making small leather goods, such as belts, cardholders and keychains, and socks, the latter of which are made in France.
This story was reported by WWD and originally appeared on WWD.com.