John Lobb Plots New Retail Thrust

PARIS — Historic luxury shoemaker John Lobb is sprucing up its retail network and will soon unveil the new store design, which debuts at its Paris Right Bank flagship — with Los Angeles next up.

“The idea is to ensure that the label continues to resonate while fitting current times,” said Philippe Gonzalez, chief executive officer of the label, which belongs to Hermès International.

The executive took the helm of the label at the end of 2018, bringing his experience working with high-end fabrics at Hermès and other brands at the group to the maker of elegant boots, loafers and high-end sneakers.

“We want our universe to be warm and welcoming and light and inviting,” said Gonzalez, speaking from the label’s Paris showroom, downstairs from its workshop, where over a dozen artisans work, carefully cutting, stitching and hammering pieces of high-quality leather. One model of shoes is made with one piece of leather, that is carefully wrapped around the foot, and cinched with a buckle.

The most popular classic, ready-to-wear styles are the Lopez and City II, priced at around $1,495.

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“John Lobb clients represent a multitude of styles, and often the style of our clients is a reflection of their professional lives,” he said, ticking off examples of various profiles, like people in the entertainment industry, lawyers, architects or designers.

“What unites them all is their taste for good materials, high-quality products, and the details offered by products of John Lobb,” he said, noting that the label uses leather with natural tanning techniques.

“Over time the leather will gain richness with a patina — we grow attached to products that have lived alongside us and age well, that’s part of the appeal, like with a pair of jeans we’ve had for a long time or a nice bag,” he added.

“The label has its heritage and we make this our own, we build a common history, I find this very interesting, this is what unites our client,” he said, describing a client’s relationship with the products.

“Our objective is to propose products, shoes, that are suitable for various men’s styles,” he added.

John Lobb was in the South Coast Plaza mall in California and has decided to head to Beverly Hills with a two-story flagship to get closer to local clients, adding an intimate VIP space on the second floor.

The pandemic has been challenging for a brand that offers various levels of customization, from “by request” offer to made-to-measure — crafted in the studio in Paris.

Foot measurements are taken by hand, and then a shoe-making form is carved out of wood; a finely sanded oak shoe tree is made at a later stage. The process can take more than half a year — or as little as four months if the label already has a shoe-making form for a client on hand. The Paris workshops have a room lined with shelves of the wooden forms — which are destroyed after a few decades if a client hasn’t made an order, noted Patrick Verdillon, director of bespoke services for John Lobb.

“There are three levels of products, we like to allow our clients to move from one to another,” remarked Gonzalez, noting the range starts out with ‘ready-to-wear’ shoes made in the production site in Northampton, England.

“When we refer to ‘by request,’ it’s an offer of the entire catalogue, not just a few products of the collection that we can customize, but all the products,” he said, noting that a favorite pair of shoes from 20 years ago can be remade.

“You can choose the leather, the sole, the lining,” he added.

“It’s a real differentiating service, there’s something very reassuring, knowing that a pair of shoes that you loved 10 or 15 years ago, can be made again,” said the executive, pointing to the label’s vertical structure as making it possible to keep making products that date back a couple decades.

The label launched the “by request” service earlier this month, with a view to broadening its offer and making it playful, the executive explained, pulling out various models of the Lopez loafer, to show how it looks different in various colors and soles.

“We can completely transform a product,” he remarked.

The executive seeks to reach a broader audience through the store network, he said, noting that he wants the network — which will expand gradually from 19 stores currently — to be a place where people feel comfortable to come and discover the products, sit down and exchange with sales teams. He stressed the importance of welcoming people who might not have the means to purchase a pair of the label’s shoes, drawing a parallel with an art gallery that might carry works of art that are out of someone’s budget range, but might inspire interest in purchase at a future stage.

“My role and our role is to make the brand known to a larger number of people — who are we, what makes us unique — and to do it honestly and with sincerity,” he said.

He described the store space, at the center of the store there is a sort of capsule that opens, covered with stainless steel, the interior outfitted with wood, and showcases the label’s focus on long-lasting products, customization and shoe care services.

The surrounding space is very pure, he said, featuring a coating of a thin plaster on the walls and shelves to display the products.

The made-to-measure spaces are designed to feel intimate as cozy, often set in the back of the store.

“We chose nice, simple materials,” he noted, citing the use of walnut wood in Paris, beechwood in Los Angeles, off-white plaster — slightly brighter in L.A. — thick carpets, high-quality velvet fabrics for furniture, a blue marble table, brass and stainless steel. The label worked with French design studio Ciguë, which has been associated with stores of brands like Aesop and Isabel Marant.

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