Parisian shoe designer and creator of luxury shoe brand Jour Ferié (meaning ‘day off’) Nathalie Elharrar is a self-confessed workaholic and mother to a 14-year-old daughter. So, holidays are close to her heart.
She says: “I LOVE Jour Ferié! I work too much, every year I have a burnout and have to stop working. So, I really know the value of doing nothing or simply doing the things that I love: reading and drawing.
“I like to spend at least one week each year on my own and really breathe, away from children and partners. For me, it’s a great happiness when you rediscover the feeling that you miss people. It’s also liberating not to have to think about whether there is enough food, whether you have things for the children… I live with a list of things to do and I simply feel guilty if I don’t accomplish it. I need to breathe, spend time drinking coffee, people-watching.”
I can hear myself applauding the sentiment. No doubt, one shared by many a busy working mum, who, incidentally, is a typical Jour Ferié customer.
Recapturing a simpler, slower way of life is the essence of the Jour Ferié brand: easy, comfortable shoes, beautifully crafted with artisanal know-how, made for stylish souls on the run.
Adds Nathalie, “Fashion should sell pleasure, a way of life. What I do illustrates my vision of fashion and what I expect. We have enough constraints; shoes need to not be constraining.”
So here’s to letting your feet have a holiday!
Nathalie grew-up in the wine-making town of Cahors in the South of France. Her mother was a talented seamstress, born in Agadir in Morocco, who loved to dress elegantly and made clothes for Nathalie. Despite her early connection to clothing, it wasn’t until she was seventeen or eighteen years old that she really felt a calling to the world of fashion.
"I saw a Helmut Newton image in Vogue, which really spoke to me. Until then, I wasn’t concerned with fashion.
I went to study Fine Art in Toulouse after the baccalaureate and the whole experience changed my life completely. I met people with the same passions as me: art, painting and drawing. I discovered some very talented, very gifted people, who were dealing with the question of making fashion for themselves not just being consumers of fashion.
“A shoe factory owner asked me if I was interested in designing shoes for him. I was extremely poor, as my parents couldn’t really support me financially. So, I would make the designs, work with the pattern maker and then see the finished product. It was like magic.”
As is so often the case, I proffer, we are shaped by the people we meet in life.
She agrees, saying “I’m very lucky when it comes to meeting people, I seem to meet the right people at the right moment.”
But it would be misleading to say that Nathalie is a woman who is waiting to meet the right people. She breaks off the interview to answer a message about finding a model for her photo-shoot the next day, and I can’t help but wonder if it is indeed luck that helps to shape our destiny or if we create our own opportunities in life?
Today, with thirty years of experience in designing shoes and accessories – Nathalie also teaches at the Institut Francais de la Mode - her CV reads like an itinerary for Paris fashion week featuring the likes of Balmain, Michel Klein, Thierry Mugler and Gallery Lagerfeld.
Her first foray into designing her own label came in 2007 when she launched Larare, a collection of outrageously feminine, statement shoes for women.
She says, “I loved this brand, it was linked to my first awakening in fashion - Helmut Newton’s disruptive, transgressive posture. The shoes were all about sexuality, the affirmation of woman, standing-up for women and creating a product which said ‘I can control my life even with 10cm high heels on and I am strong’.”
She adds, mischievously, “Some people go to a psycho-analyst for that, I did a collection.”
I can’t help being drawn to the four-inch stiletto heels and towering platforms placed strategically, rather like pieces of art, around the office of her Parisian apartment. At the same time, I’m wincing at the thought of having to walk in them! I wonder does she still wear them?
“In fact I don’t need this anymore,” she admits. “I used to wear heels but now I’ve become lazy about dressing up because I don’t think it is me anymore or the society we live in. I’m a sponge of my universe and even though I don’t want to be conditioned by it, in fact I am.”
Far from a lazy dresser, Nathalie’s style is understated Parisian chic: dark fitted top and trousers with a simple string of pearls. But, yes, it’s true to say the heels have been kicked off and swapped for comfortable, yet beautiful slipper-like boots from the Jour Ferié collection.
These are the creations of Nathalie and business partner Johane Collet, a graduate of Polimoda fashion school, Italy, who she describes as being ‘part of my tribe’ and who has brought the masculine element to the brand’s unisex designs.
Now, here comes the technical bit. Nathalie and Johane’s vision for Jour Ferié was to create an exclusive collection of easy shoes, which were still statement pieces with a very specific technical story.
The shoes themselves are very touchy-feely: all super soft vegetal calf suede (which means they’ve been treated the traditional way with natural elements of trees) and sleek Napa leather. The colours, inspired by vintage cars and holiday destinations, bring a vintage nostalgia to the brand. The designs are very pure.
Explains Nathalie, “We wanted to create a certain elegance from the forties and fifties with colours inspired by cars from this period, a sports shoe feel and shapes which really evoke 1950s men’s shoes. They are shoes that feel like slippers on your feet but still create a style statement.”
Wait a minute, I hear you cry, comfort and style just don’t go together in the same sentence, do they?
Says Nathalie, “Joggers and sneakers have traditionally represented the worst elements of fashion and were simply not glamorous when I started in fashion. Now, they have been transformed into stylish items – think how much stretchy fabrics are used in many high-end fashion houses.
Jour Ferié shoes have some thoughtful signature touches, which add to that feeling of a shoe loved and lived in.
Each shoe is named after loved ones: Olivier, Nathalie’s partner: Johane, the business partner; Jacques, the brother; and Jacob, the father. Even the interns have shoes named after them: Agate and Laurent.
Look for the little French flag hidden in the loop on the heel of the shoe: a subtle nod to appreciating the French way of taking your time, enjoying quality of life and quality products.
Jour Ferié is now on its fourth collection and has enjoyed a very successful partnership with French shoe retailer André. So, what’s next?
“We will look for new collaborations - to tell a new story and find new directions. We are learning from our customers that we need to better distinguish the male from the female designs.
Women want more recognisable products. The heel on the women’s shoes has to be slightly higher and women want girly colours, metallic trims. So we are tweaking the designs to make them more obviously feminine.”
Apparently, the combination of navy and black sells well with men, as does Jaguar green, which needs no explanation! Personally, I’ve already got my eye on a vibrant buttercup yellow pair, which has indeed proved to be a favourite with the females.
Having a shop-front has become a very important part of the brand.
Explains Nathalie, “I would love to open a permanent shop in Paris. We open a pop-up once every six months in a small boutique here on rue Martel (in the 10th), just across the road. The shop is important because people need to touch and try on the product. Also, it’s a great way of meeting people and getting to know who our customers are: lots of passers-by see the shop window and love the shoes.”
So who is the typical Jour Ferié customer?
“Independent people in creative roles, such as architects, artists and writers. Our typical customers include: busy mums; older women who love fashion but don’t want high heels and still want a cool look; and men, aged 35 to 55, who are their own boss, very confident, self-made and who want something with a twist or a little colour but still very comfortable.”
So, this is what it means to be well-heeled!