Across the French footwear market, several storied heritage brands are making a comeback — from Clergerie to Freelance. Now 101-year-old Charles Jourdan, owned by Groupe Royer, is reemerging for fall ’22 under the direction of a new artistic director, ready-to-wear designer Christelle Kocher.
The creative director of the Koché ready-to-wear label and of the Chanel-owned feather and flower-maker Lemarié said she was ready to take on a new challenge in footwear. “Shoes are not only accessories in my mind, they are a central element that defines every look,” she said.
Groupe Royer, which bought Charles Jourdan in 2009, has made several attempts to relaunch it, most recently in 2017 with the opening of a store on Place de la Madeleine in Paris. But Jourdan has been dormant for the last two years, and has been absent from the American market for much longer. (In the U.S., Titan Industries and BBC International teamed up to acquire the North American licensing rights and relaunch the brand in 2009, but it never materialized.)
For Charles Jourdan’s latest iteration, Kocher — who has worked with brands from Converse to Pucci — dug deep into the archives, reviving a 1970s graphic logo, which appears on architectural heels, buckles and packaging. The material stories include orange bouclé wool and lilac satin embossed to look like ostrich leather. Metallic heels inspired by minimalist artist Donald Judd and architect Eileen Gray.
“It was a real technical feat making all these heels. They’re like little sculptures. I wanted them to look good on the foot, but also to be beautiful as objects,” she explained.
The collection is made in Italy, a departure from the brand’s French shoemaking roots. (Its original factory in Romans, France is now closed.)
Here, Kocher, who was featured on FN’s 2017 Emerging Talent list, talks about bringing fresh perspective to the brand, the joys of going through the archives and what it takes to modernize a heritage label.
What are the three words you would use to describe Charles Jourdan?
“Forward thinking, sexy, audacious.”
As a ready-to-wear designer, what do you bring to a classic shoe brand?
“I guess that’s why Charles Jourdan chose me for this relaunch — to create something with a fresh eye. Shoes can totally transform a silhouette, so I pay the same attention to clothes and shoes when I create a look for my shows, for example. The shoe business is of course different, but, at the end of the day … it must show the vision that you have for the woman.”
You can tell that you really studied the archive. What was the process like?
“I dove deep into the archives. I’m kind of a fashion history geek, so having access to all of this incredible heritage is priceless. I was like a kid in a candy shop. In particular, I was fascinated by the old catalogs and advertising, of course Guy Bourdin, but not only. It was so modern and beautiful. It was really a moment of joy for me.”
What do you think is the key to bringing back a heritage brand?
“Heritage is so precious these days. It brings back a part of fashion history that makes us understand the evolution of our time. But you can’t just rely on that, otherwise your brand becomes a museum. So, the key element is modernity — what bridge can we build between the past and the future? It has always been part of my creative process from Koché to Pucci, Converse, Maison Lemarié and now Charles Jourdan.”
— With contributions from Joelle Diderich