J. M. Weston: Le Moc’ crosses the Champs Elysees
The latest step in the renovation of Champs Elysees is the new flagship of J. M. Weston, historically France’s classiest shoe brand, and a marque very much on the move.
Designed by the noted architect Joseph Dirand, the 400-square-meter flagship in fluted walnut, black and gray marble, cut stone and beige leather is a superb timeless showcase, possibly the most luxurious setting of any shoe store anywhere. The world’s largest J. M. Weston boutique, located at 55 Champs Elysees, enjoyed a soft opening this month. Previously, Weston was located on the opposite side of Europe’s greatest thoroughfare.
This January, J. M. Weston named Olivier Saillard – the fashion historian and performance artist – as its new creative director. Last week, he staged his first happening, an arty presentation where Mathilde Monnier danced around the Grand Palais – 'Défilé pour 27 chaussures.'
Dirand has worked with Rick Owens, Chloé, Balmain and Givenchy, while diners in Paris will be familiar with his designs for Monsieur Bleu, where he wrapped the banquettes in green Connemara marble. For Weston, he blended the air of gentleman’s club; women’s department; and polishing and repair center. A permanent expert helps customers choose between 24 styles, in 110 diverse leathers in 28 colors.
The shop also included the first shoes, mainly moccasins, by Saillard, inspired by a parchment used to wrap shoes during production, that he spotted on a visit to Weston’s plant in Limoges.
Weston remains defiantly haute gamme: with an emblematic, entry-level classic loafer costing 595 euros. While the house prides itself on making footwear that is worth repairing; producing all its shoes in its Limoges atelier.
“We completely repair some 15,000 shoes per year in Limoges. Which says a lot about how customers consider the quality of our shoes,” said CEO Thierry Oriez.
Ironically, many people think Weston is a British brand, given its Anglo-Saxon styles. Even its own website features a British E-Type Jaguar parked at a chateau in Normandy. While the brand took off in the popular imagination in the early '60s when French Mods began wearing Le Western Moc’ without socks unlike their dads.
“We remain a very boyish brand,” smiles Oriez, who joined Weston after stints with Christofle and Baccarat, when Philippe Starck worked his magic on the latter’s Place des Etats Unis museum.
Weston employs some 375 people, with some 200 in Limoges, where an atelier prepares a half dozen new artisans each year in the exacting skill of shoemaking. Its shoes are made in calfskin, always in France, using the soles prepared with unique vegetable dye in its Tannerie Bastin, opened in 1806.
France’s toniest shoe brand was founded by the Blanchard family, though got its name in 1891 after the founder’s son Eugène Blanchard went to Massachusetts to discovered the new welting method pioneered by Goodyear in the small city of Weston. Upon returning to France, he started using that marque.
Today, Weston is one of the brands of the privately-held luxury holding EPI that includes Bon Point, Piper-Heidsieck champagne, Château La Verrière from the Luberon and the famed Brunello wine of Tuscany, Biondi Santi. The celebrated French businessman Jean-Louis Descours founded EPI in 1974. It now employs some 1,600 people; distributes its products in 150 countries and is managed by his grandson Christopher Descours. EPI bought Weston in 1974.
Notoriously discreet, the younger Descours has requested that the respected French business magazine Capital remove him from its Biggest Fortune in France list. For the record – he is ranked 70th with over a 700-million-euro personal fortune. Weston does not release financial figures, but has an estimated annual turnover in excess of 60 million euros.
The house opened its first Paris store in 1922, and now has some 40 boutiques, and just two franchises. It’s a brand 95% based on retailing, with nothing much in US or UK department stores. Nor does Weston have an eyewear or perfume license.
“But we are enjoying very solid development,” says Oriez, who sees the future in leather goods - backpacks, wallets and belts and the rest.
Weston brought in Saillard, Oriez says, “because of a desire to create a strong rapport with a person who has a 360-degree view of fashion. Not just fashion and fashionable objects – but someone with the capacity to bring in ideas and creative collaborations to Weston.”
In effect, the new flagship is a gentleman’s club for tony footwear fetishists. Also on display, sneaker collections with Roland Garros; Norwegian style hunting boots to guarantee a completely dry foot (barely 100 are made a year); and hyper-polished boots for Paris’ most famous cavalry, the Garde Republicaine.
“We are very proud of the fact that we boot some 250 cavalry officers. The brand has always accompanied the great bourgeoise in their free time, golf, hunting and horse riding,” he says, noting a series of women’s brogues with golf tassels.
But, why did Eugène Blanchard stick the initials J.M. before Weston, one enquires, which draws an Oriez smirk: “That’s part of our mystery!”
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