A STYLIST GIRL clad in one of Roland Mouret’s body-conscious Galaxy dresses has just revealed to the French designer the not-quite-fit-for-print comment her hubby made when she left the house. “There’s nothing I like more than a man who loves when his woman wears one of my dresses,” Mouret tells me. That same philosophy – creating flattering pieces for women who want to look fabulous and aren’t afraid to show off their figures – is behind Mouret’s new venture, his role as creative director of Robert Clergerie.
The French shoe brand had its heyday in the ’80s and was known for its fashionable yet comfortable shoes – a rare combination, especially nowadays. When Mouret took the reins of the company last year, it wasn’t unknown territory for the designer – he had worked for Clergerie in a different role about 25 years ago – but he faced the challenge of creating footwear for the first time in his career.
Mouret, who’s based in London and jokes that he feels French in the UK and English in France, is bringing a certain British eccentricity to Robert Clergerie: “In the UK I learned that bad taste is just taste, while in France I had always been taught that it was only about bon chic bon genre,” he says. On a recent trip to Hong Kong to give a preview of the shoe line, which will be available exclusively at Lane Crawford, Mouret tells us why his shoes won’t make women suffer and why nothing beats a great pair of heels – or flats – to make a woman’s day.
What’s the main challenge in designing shoes?
It’s so different. Even if I work in three dimensions with clothes, when it’s on the hanger, it’s still something that needs the body of a woman for it to exist. With shoes, it’s an object you’re dealing with and you have to be clever not to forget that it has to become a shoe. At Robert Clergerie there’s a kind of savoir-faire, and Robert is known for comfort – he respects completely what the shoe is about and you can wear it for a long time. They’re not shoes that will make your feet hurt or something that you can’t travel in.
When you created the Galaxy dress, you aimed to flatter women’s bodies. How do you apply this to Robert Clergerie?
What I love about my work is my relationship with women. I’m the kind of designer who loves to be close with customers – it’s part of the creative process. For this project, as the creative director, I still expect to use the same recipe with women – to make them really involved in the success of the brand. It’s important for me to spend time with them. The best thing is when they try on the shoes and I hear them say, “That’s the shoe I wanted.”
So how did you feel when Robert Clergerie approached you?
I knew his legacy could be transferred from one person to another. Robert was trying to find a kind of spiritual descendant that he could be sure would still remember what he did and be able to play with his legacy. That’s what I really loved about the brand – I can play with the legacy of Robert. I can say, “OK, Robert did the shoes of Mugler when he started,” because I remember.
What did you bring of your own identity to the shoes?
It’s 15 years of designing clothes that I bring to the brand because although I’m not a shoe designer and I don’t know the techniques, I do know fashion, what women wear. I thought that in the last 10 years the brand had fallen asleep, and I wanted the shoes to go with contemporary collections like Prada and to bring it back to a high design level. When a woman has got that in her wardrobe all those Clergerie shoes are very important because they become like your best friends. You can buy a pair of Clergerie shoes this season and know that it’ll fit with all your wardrobe and be there when you have to walk a lot or when you have to go out.
Are you intrigued by the techniques?
Yes, but not to learn them, because after you learn them, they control you – you just have to know that they exist. I still follow my instincts. I did the same thing with dresses because I’ve never been to school, I’ve never learned any of the techniques; I create my own techniques. I approach shoes the same way. I understand that there are things that work and things that don’t. I just go with it.
For the past 20 years you’ve lived mainly in London. How does it feel now when you go back to France for Clergerie?
For me in England nothing is impossible, but in France they say no to everything. When I’m in the factory and I say that I want something, they’re all like, “Noooo,” and the day after, they say, “Well, we thought about it and what do you think about that?” and I say, “That’s what I wanted!” I push the factory and the team to think about the clothes the shoes will be worn with. For many years, a lot of shoe designers frustrated fashion designers by trying to put so many things on one shoe, which didn’t work. Now you have to try and make shoes that are part of an outfit that would make a woman think, “I want that, I’m falling in love with that.” My job is to talk about clothes. It’s like an analysis of fashion; most of the time shoe designers don’t work like that.
So if something looks amazing but it’s not comfortable, you change it to make it easier to wear?
If I made women suffer, I would compete with the message of other shoe designers – that pain isn’t important. But our message at Clergerie is that pain cannot exist. We want to avoid it. The world is too painful – to even have pain when you’re in your shoes! Robert is a straight man who loves women and one thing he couldn’t cope with as a designer was making them suffer – you can make them suffer emotionally but not physically (laughs).
When you were appointed, did Robert give you a piece of advice?
The only thing he said is that there can only be one chef in the kitchen – everybody is going to have his ideas but you have to make a decision.
You also design flats and more masculine pieces.
My big challenge with flats is to bring the desirability out – like high heels. There’s something sexual about heels. Heels are your lovers and flats are your friends, but you need both of them in your life. We’re entering a new era in the world of shoes, which is quite fantastic. It’s like Adele. She wouldn’t have existed in the ’90s. Same thing for flats. People can now say about flats, “Wow, I want those shoes so badly,” like they would say for a pair of high heels.
The past decade was all about bags but now women seem more excited about shoes.
The thing with bags was that they were easy – regardless of the size of your body, you buy the same bag. Shoes are different. As desirable as they are as an object, they’re not something that can stand by themselves like a bag – a shoe has to fit your foot. It’s even more bespoken, which a bag is not. The best service you can have is to find a pair of shoes that fits like it has been made for you. It’s like an injection. It’s pure pleasure.