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Jourdan, Charles

JOURDAN, Charles

French footwear designer

Born: 1883. Career: Foreman at Établissements Grenier, shoe leather cutters, 1917; independent shoe manufacturer, 1919; Seducta, a luxury range, introduced in Romans sur Isére, France, 1921; extended distribution to all of France, in the 1930s; after World War II, sons Rene, Charles, and Roland took over factory, adding shoelines in the mid-1940s; first Charles Jourdan women's boutique in Paris, 1957, and London, 1959; Dior contract with international distribution of shoes under Dior label, 1959; Perugia began designing for Jourdan in early 1960s; first New York boutique, 1968; created bags and ready-to-wear clothing line, 1970s; 21 franchises by 1975; firm continued after Jourdan's death, sons launched menswear and Un Homme fragrance in early 1980s; company bought by Portland Cement Werke in 1981, chief designer: Bernard Sucheras, outside designers commissioned including Hervé Leger for accessories, company specializes in shoes, leather goods, accessories, jewelry, scarves. Exhibitions: Charles Jourdan: 70 Years, Galeries Lafayette, Paris and The Space, Tokyo, both 1991. Collections: Musée de la Chaussure, Romans sur Isére, France; Charles Jourdan Museum, Paris, including 2000 creations by André Perugia. Died: 1976. Company Address: 28, Avenue de New York, 75116 Paris, France. Company Website: www.charles-jourdan.com.

Publications

On JOURDAN:

Books

Swann, June, Shoes, London, 1982.

Benaim, L., L'année de la mode, Paris, 1987.

McDowell, Colin, Shoes, Fashion and Fantasy, London, 1989.

Grumbach, D., Histoires de la mode, Paris, 1994.

Wilson, Eunice, A History of Shoe Fashions, Theatre Arts Books, n.d.

Articles

"Dateline Paris," Footwear News (New York), 15 April 1985.

Cohen, Edie Lee, "Charles Jourdan Monsieur," in Interior Design, September 1986.

"The Added Essence of Elegance: Charles Jourdan," Elle (London), September 1987.

"Flirtations of a High-Heeled Pump," Vogue (London), September 1987.

Pringle, C., "Quoi de neuf?," Vogue (Paris), October 1987.

"La couture a quatre mains," Vogue (Paris), August 1992.

Anniss, Elisa, "French Connection," Shoe and Leather News, November 1992.

"Le jeux de la métiére," Liberation (Paris), March 1993.

***

Charles Jourdan, a shoe manufacturer, made the name Jourdan synonymous with couture by licensing and diversifying in the manner of the Paris haute couture houses. No other footwear company has so successfully marketed its image, and eight decades later Jourdan still symbolizes luxury, international fashion, and the best of couture.

The founder of the company, Charles Jourdan, was both a skilled craftsman and creative businessman. His aim was to produce shoes of quality, made with the best materials and the traditional skills of a bottier. He also recognized that many of these skills could be translated into the much larger ready-to-wear market, producing affordable luxury shoes. Jourdan believed in the power of advertising. As his business expanded during the 1930s he used a network of commercial travelers to introduce his brands across the whole of France, backing up this sales force with advertisement in popular magazinesa new concept at the time.

His styles were not trendsetting but their classic luxurious look succeeded. He produced perfectly handcrafted ladies shoes that could be worn in harmony with elegant outfits; not that these first simple styles were influenced by the direction of Parisian fashion. The only thing Jourdan had in common with his contemporaries Poiret, Schiaparelli, and Chanel, was that he also used only the finest materials. He did, however, benefit from the new higher hemline which raised the visibility of shoes, making them a much more important accessory in the modern woman's wardrobe.

The economic crisis of the 1930s, followed by the war, drastically affected the couture market, which could not cheapen its products. Jourdan, ever ready to diversify, recognized price was an important selling factor at all levels of the market, and he introduced new lines at lower prices. He sold to the newly emerging chain stores, and the Jourdan empire grew.

In the 1950s Jourdan's three sons began managing the business. The youngest son, Roland Jourdan, who was responsible for design and development, has been described as "the most able man in the shoe industry." He was fully aware that it was simplicity and quality, not wild innovation, that sold Jourdan shoes. When Jourdan's first boutique opened in Paris in 1957, Roland Jourdan only offered a small range of styles. But each style was available in 20 colors, all sizes, and three widths. At Jourdan, not only would the shoe fit, but it would also perfectly accessorize any shade of outfit.

The ultimate connection of the luxury shoe brand to haute couture came with the contract between Jourdan and the house of Christian Dior in 1959. Jourdan created, manufactured, and distributed shoe models for Dior worldwide; it was the ultimate seal of approval. The next two decades saw Jourdan at its most successful and creativethe company launched a series of seminal advertising campaigns that profoundly influenced both fashion and advertising. In the 1960s they commissioned Guy Bourdin, a young Parisian photographer, who produced a series of surreal, witty, and often visually stunning advertising photographs. The images usually had nothing to do with shoes, and the name "Charles Jourdan" appeared as a small caption in one corner. It is difficult now to imagine the impact of this campaign, but its success was such that for a time the brand became associated with a sense of innovation and modernity that the shoes themselves, perfect creations though they were, did not really possess.

The Jourdan boutique design helped perpetuate the company's innovative image. The ultra modern interiors and striking window displays of the first Paris boutique became a blueprint for a chain in every fashion capital of the world. It was the environment which created the Jourdan look, one extended at its peak in 1979 from neckties to sunglasses, allowing the dedicated customer to be completely Jourdan accessorized.

Jourdan achieved a level of product diversification unsurpassed in the footwear industry. Borrowing the haute couture strategies of licensing and franchising, and creating a global presence, Charles Jourdan became the couture accessory. This success attracted competition: new names such as Bruno Magli and Robert Clergerie were concentrating solely on footwear. The diversity that had made Jourdan so big suddenly threatened to dilute the brand name's exclusivity. Finally, the loyal customer base was growing older, and a new generation of women found alternative designers outside the classic couture mold.

In 1981 the family's dynastic control of the empire ended with the retirement of Roland Jourdan. The name and company survived and thrived, as true luxury would never be out of fashion. The continuing success of Jourdan, however, was also due to presciencelike bringing menswear into the fold in the early 1980s, and building a flagship store in New York City. In 1986, the town of Romans, France, paid tribute to the company and its founder through the dedication of a street, rue de Charles Jourdan.

In the 1990s, newer and younger lines were introduced yet still evincing the sleek, elegant style for which the Jourdan name is famous. The company went online with the Charles Jourdan website in 1997, one of the earliest couture houses to do so, and opened new boutiques in Australia, France, Germany, Israel, the Middle East, Russia, and the U.S. over the next two years. In 1999, the company redesigned its image and brand, creating an updated "visual identity" befitting the coming millennium. Charles Jourdan remains an important name in the fashion world, because its enduring strength is the recognition that what any man or woman really wants in shoewear or clothing, is the simply the perfect fit.

Chris Hill;

updated by Nelly Rhodes

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