The story starts in a small town in the southeast of France, between Valence and Grenoble. The little town in South East France called Romans-sur-Isère is a shrine for shoe aficionados everywhere. Base for several of France’s top shoe designers due to its long tradition of tanning that goes back to the mid-19th century, (it is also home to the startling Musée International de la Chaussure where famous shoes are treated like relics in a chapel to footwear.)
One of Romans’ most famous footwear exports is iconic footwear designer, Robert Clergerie.
Clergerie fell in love with shoes and leather accidentally. After studying business administration, he went to Mexico to work in a steel plant for a year before going into the French Army. "Coming back from the war in Algeria, I was not comfortable working in an office," he said. So he went into road construction. "You know," he added, "building the turnpike." One day he got fed up. He looked in the newspaper. "I was looking to do something in furniture," he said. He ended up in shoes.
Mr. Clergerie was hired by the Charles Jourdan company in 1970 and after a while, he decided to go out on his own. He resigned from Jourdan in 1978 and bought the Unic Fenestrier shoe manufacturer that was in bankruptcy (included in its portfolio heritage French brand, J. Fenestrier) "I had no money, so I couldn't get a company that was doing well, could I?" he asked.
It took Mr. Clergerie four years to achieve a modicum of success. "My idea was to make women's shoes inspired by men's shoes but with women's proportions," he said. A friend told him that because Mr. Clergerie had an old French name that sounded good, he should take advantage of it. "I didn't want to do it," he said. "But in the winter of '81, I put my name in the shoes."
As it happened, that season was a very good one for his business, and his name became widely known. "I was lucky," he said. "That's all."
Mr. Clergerie views success in general, and his in particular, as the result of the confluence of three factors. "First," he said, "your product must correspond to the know-how of the factory. You must have roots.
"Then, you must have an intuition of what the market is waiting for."
And third, "You must be lucky enough to be the only one to have this idea," he said
Mr. Clergerie shrugs. "It's about simplicity," he said. "It's just a feeling. When I stand in front of a painting, I don't like to explain, why, why, why. I like it or I don't like it."
A series of awards and store openings later, a buy-out and a buy-back, and the Robert Clergerie name remains synonymous with well-crafted, traditionally made French shoes. Always creative, stylish and beautifully simple. Even the most experimental of Clergerie creations are never vampish or wacky, relying on more purely aesthetic forms found in Japanese platform sandals or in Minimalist modern art.
in 2011, French designer Roland Mouret was appointed creative director. Mouret introduced the first Clergerie stiletto heels and a certain 1940s cinematic flair.
Shop our collection of Robert Clergerie