Hailing from the South of France and now based in Soho, shoe designer Jean-Michel Cazabat celebrated the opening of his first freestanding boutique on Bleecker Street last night.
The shop, which opens to the public on Saturday, is modeled after the designer's Soho loft in his signature palette of Napolean blue, red and gold. "Because I want the customer to feel as [if] they [are coming] into my house, my home," the engaging Cazabat explained to us in a charming French lilt while he excitedly worked the room, full of his friends and supporters, including sometime spokesmodel Becka Diamond, Nicole Miller, Garage Magazine's Shala Monroque, Bergdorf Goodman's Linda Fargo, Naeem and Ranjana Khan, and singer Maxwell.
Cazabat's covetable heels, boots and flats--sporting eye-catching details like perforated leather, delicate ruching and lush textures--lined the display shelves along the walls. Cazabat's men's line, which launched in 2003, was ensconced in a corner spot, with lots of exotic skin ankle boots and dapper brogues to peruse. A DJ was spinning clubby tunes for atmosphere while the chic guests quaffed champers and noshed on Asian fusion canapés passed by models moonlighting as waitstaff. We caught a moment with Cazabat — or Jean-Mi as his friends call him — before he happily disappeared into his crowd of party people.
Fashionista: So you started your career working for Charles Jourdan, for six years, as a buyer, but also as a store manager at one point. How did that experience help you in opening your own boutique? I studied photography and I was working as a photographer. I took a part time job [with Charles Jourdan] because I always love to sell. I’m very good at [personal] connection so they proposed for me to become a manager. I was always attracted by shoes and women’s beauty. So from that, I became a manager right away, [then] a buyer. After, I moved to Stephane Kéliane, where I developed the American market. It’s after all these years working in retail and in wholesale, you get the feeling of what you need to be a brand and a product. After many years, I decided — well, 11 years ago — now it’s time for me to launch my business.
So about that attraction to women's beauty, do you have a muse or muses when you're designing your collection? No, I just think for me, it’s women in general, you know? Like I say, "I love women and I don’t want them to suffer". First, even if your shoes are very sexy, it's really always [about] comfort. Really for me: The padding, the cushion, the front of the sole is very important because even if you have the arch, you need to be in a comfortable space. I know the kind of person who says, “America, sexy shoes....she will ride a limousine”. It doesn’t work like this. For me, I love women so much, it’s so important, I don’t want to make them miserable. Because if you make them miserable, they make you miserable.
In the age of the $2000 shoe, your collection sits in a fairly mid-range niche area... Our shoes are [at a] very reasonable and contemporary price. We try to keep the price as low as possible to have more people [who] can afford it. For example, our basic [shoe] is at $275 and after, I would say the higher [price point] is around $550. The core of the collection is between $295 to $395. But we always use a lot of interesting materials and components--interesting leather and fresh uppers.
Fresh uppers? What does that mean? [Cazabat picks up a perforated leather lace-up bootie from behind him and points out the anatomy of the shoe.] This is the base of the shoe...the sole...the uppers. Without the uppers, it’s like a naked body. The uppers is like the clothes. It’s what dresses the shoes.
Ah...So in general, what are you most excited about in opening your first store? I am so excited because this is the first store in New York, I mean, I have another one [a shop-in-shop] in China, but we did that as a test. This is the first store in New York and I love this neighborhood. I used to live two blocks away. I used to be for seven years on 10th Street and Waverly. I’m more a downtown person than uptown. Even though I know uptown because of business, but I’m more a downtown person. But if you had to ask me between Soho and the Bleecker Street — even though I live in Soho — I love [the West Village]. It's such a charming neighborhood. So many people stop by and are so nice, and they shop. A lot of modern active women — they shop.
It's as if this area has become a little Paris, with all the French stores like Pierre Hardy nearby. Kind of. It’s true.
So do you ever hang out with the other French designers, like Hardy, when they're in town? Not particularly, I mean, I know him [Hardy]. I’m close with a lot of designers, but we don’t do advertising about it. (Laughs).
(And then Cazabat's very striking and literally well-heeled fiancée entered the party.) This is my fiancée. I am going to go now!
Thanks! Um, bye...congratulations!