Shoe lovers around the world should be familiar with the name Robert Clergerie. I remember seeing a pair of Clergerie shoes in my mother’s closet when I was a little girl and being fascinated by their architectural lines. The legendary designer was an icon in the 1980s, establishing himself as one of the most innovative shoemakers in the industry alongside the likes of Manolo Blahnik and Charles Jourdan.
After disappearing from the scene, the brand hit radars yet again when it was bought by Hong Kong based Li & Fung last year (spot the proud local!). Along with a new owner came a cool creative director in the form of acclaimed fashion designer Roland Mouret. His mission? To inject the brand with a fashion-forward, contemporary edge while making Clergerie relatable and covetable to modern women.
Roland was recently in Hong Kong to give editors a sneak peak of his spring/summer 2013 collection. He also joined us for a cup of tea to chat about his reignited passion for shoes…
Roland Mouret with Robert Clergerie
You are known for your exquisite dresses, but you actually started your career in shoes…
[Laughs] OK, so when I started out I was quite ambitious – if I could put my fingers in anything related to fashion I did. Shoes came to me as a project and I jumped on it. It didn’t succeed although it got me noticed by Robert Clergerie [the designer]. Eventually I began working with him in Paris on his ad campaigns until I moved to London to start my own label.
So how did you end up at the brand for a second time?
When Li & Fung bought the brand they asked Robert who he wanted as a creative director and he recommended me. I was so honoured and I also felt that I was the right person for the job.
What’s changed from before is that I have 20 years experience that I can bring to the table. It’s all about moving the brand to the 21st century. I want to recreate Clergerie as a desirable product, as something that fits in your wardrobe. I love the idea of a shoe as a best friend – it can save you at any moment.
What’s the difference between designing clothes and shoes?
The connection between a dress and shoe is very important. Unlike makeup or a bag, women only feel complete with a dress and shoes. On one side a dress is three dimensional – once the body of a woman is inside it, it comes to life. A shoe exists as a shape or volume first but then they have to be worn by a woman to appreciate them. There’s something about them that shapes the movement and character of a woman. It’s great that women react with so much desire and emotion with shoes. Bags were easy in the 1990s but shoes are the reality of now. Shoes touch you in many ways.
Was it hard to go from ready-to-wear to shoes?
Everything I learnt about shoes came from Robert so I had great training. It’s about architecture and minimalism – how a shoe can be a tool to understand the life of a woman.
When I design, it’s instinctive. You have to listen to a lot of people around you but then forget them and make your own decisions. In my own brand I have to create my own legacy, but to work as a creative director for someone else is such a different attitude. Robert gave me a great piece of advice. He said: “There has to be just one chef in the kitchen, so it has to be your decision.”
Styles from the spring/summer 2013 collection (from top left clockwise): Querrye, Vaxs, Orano and Xam.
Do the archives play an important role when you design each collection?
We use it on different levels. Certain pieces are a homage to Robert. For example, for spring/summer 2013 we created three styles in a similar vein to Clergeries’ collaboration with Thierry Mugler. We also look at the techniques, and how we can still use and develop them.
Tell us more about the spring/summer 2013 collection.
Comfort is something new for us and its very important. The concept of pain is associated to shoes and women don’t want this any more.
Something we also play with is the heel. Robert was not known for his heel so we have created a new silhouette with styles like the Vaxs. There’s height, but it has the perfect pitch so the shoe is comfortable.
We also experiment with this idea of the block. The Doccis for example is not high but its articulated. The wood platform is split so that women can walk easily in them. I also play with textures – wood mixes with snake, and so forth. We are also incorporating new techniques on masculine shapes, as seen in the Xam.
Was it important for your designs to have a strong fashion element?
I think Robert wanted me in the house not because I was a shoe designer, but because I was a fashion designer. The brand was asleep for the past 10 years – the shoes were great but they didn’t suit contemporary clothes. Now we are bringing them back.
What’s your favourite style?
The Quimis. It has a sharp line which is created using the same technique I use with a dress. For example, with a dress, I take a square and shape it around a round body. Most of the time shoes are cut with a curve, but I try to avoid this technique. So this shoe is the most ‘me.’ Everything about it is based on what you shouldn’t do – all the cobblers would argue with every aspect of this shoe!
The Quimis (above)
What is your long term vision for the brand…
I want to bring the shoe into the designer wardrobe while staying true to ourselves in the technique and savoir faire. I also love collaborations. Up until now Robert Clergerie has worked inside the factory but I like to work with young designers or influencers like Opening Ceremony. It’s important to have this injection of different attitudes in the brand.
What legacy do you want to leave behind?
I want to leave the brand in the same position as it was when it started all those years ago – at the top. That’s my challenge.
What is the secret to creating the perfect shoe?
There has to be something magical – whether it’s in the mood, shape or heel.