Interview: Parisian Designer Frédéric Robert's Debut Shoe Collection "ME.LAND"

January 26, 2018 10:00 AM

A vibrant brand of Italian-made shoes for men is emerging this year as one-to-watch. ME.LAND is the brainchild of Frédéric Robert, a veteran Parisian designer who toiled away at some of the most renowned companies in the world including Dior, Hermès, Kenzo and Lanvin, where he launched their first sneaker. He was most recently the director of travel and leather goods at Hermès, where he further honed his craft and design skills before he decided to embark on this latest chapter in his impressive career. As he’ll explain, he realized there was a sweet spot in men’s shoes that lacked significant penetration, that middle ground between sneaker-mania and traditional formalwear. Fresh from showing his debut collection during men’s fashion week in Paris, Frédéric spoke with TWELV to discuss why he set out on his own, his background working for fashion’s biggest brands, and some of the important lessons he’s learned along the way. 

Where did you get the idea for the name of your label?

I named it ME.LAND to express opportunity and myself. The first part is “ME,” alluding to every single client who is different from one another, followed by “LAND,” referring to shoes, the earth and keeping my feet on the ground.

What prompted you to set out on your own and embark on your own footwear brand?

I was working on the commercial side at Kenzo but I really wanted to go to the creative side, which I ended up doing at Lanvin and Hermès. Having worked on both, I wanted to focus solely on the creative aspect, because for me, it’s the most exciting part. That said, I couldn’t draw exactly what I wanted at a fashion house where I had to answer to artistic directors. I wanted to do my own job. So, I used all the accounts I had in the bank and created my own collection. I chose to focus on shoes because the first item I could draw was a shoe. I called my shoe friends in Italy to help with production, whom I formed relationships with during my time working at the other brands.

What did you learn from working at companies like Dior, Hermès, and Lanvin?

I learned that large companies are looking for big quantities when you sell, as well as diversity. I also learned that you need to adapt your wishes to your needs and what you want to express to what the markets want to receive. Starting your own business allows you to decide and do things more quickly, and your plan can be drawn and readdressed every week if needed. It’s much more agile and flexible.

What’s the most impactful piece of advice you’ve ever received?

I learned from Pascale Mussard at Hermès that if you need to make a revolution, make it now. I took that personally and it’s what I believe every day. Beatrice Gouyet, also from Hermès, taught me to stay to who you are and always be yourself, which is why I’m proposing my own vision of shoes.

How would you describe ME.LAND on an aesthetic level?

In the market I see two main trends, sports and formal. And I think there’s a third casual chic offer that can be on the market. I love well-made items but always with a twist, and I think the brand reflects this. Styles are simple but rich and twisted and colorful, resulting in a cocktail for chic elegance and timeless spirit. It stems from the spirit of Montmartre, inside and out. I’ve always been fascinated by men who express their own identity in a look, particularly the Teddy Boys and their anti-establishment outlook. I always say I design for good men with rebel hearts.

How was your recent debut in Paris?

It was pretty quiet but still very good. We had many stores visiting, a few really good buyers expressed their interest, and I’m waiting to see how it plays out. Buyers from places like New York City, Paris, Tokyo, Beijing, Dubai and London all saw the collection.

What are your main sources of design influence and inspiration?

I love crazy energy whether it’s fashion or photography. I also love French music. It just has a magnetic, good feeling and Motown spirit.

Tell me about the debut campaign and the story behind these images.

In my mind, it started with one image: just a man standing on a chair over the crowd expressing himself. With so many brands in the market, I feel like you need to shout to exist. We offered up a strong, quirky, colorful, dynamic campaign that captures the tension of the body and energy of the muscles. I love the contrast expressed between formal shoes and colorful sport socks. I had French photographer Gilles Crampes shoot the campaign, and he captured the colors and tension and background contrasts very well.

What ambitions do you have for ME.LAND this year?

I have great ambitions but, as I’m just starting out, I have to be realistic. I would love to have around 10-15 good accounts globally, to be represented in big cities, and have a successful e-commerce business. The site will launch end of April or beginning of May, where I’ll start with a small series of shoes that will hopefully expand to the US after Europe. None of this would be possible without my manufacturers in Italy and the Paris showrooms to present my collections, and my photographers as well. I have a small but amazing group of people around to help me achieve my dream.

  

INTERVIEW BY MARIO ABAD

EDITED BY HOLLIS DE LANEY

 

PHOTO CREDIT: ME.LAND, Photographed by Gilles Crampes. Portraits of Frédéric Robert by KFStudio157.

 

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