An Interview With Jerome C. Rousseau


An Interview With Jerome C. Rousseau

August 28, 2014

Krista Treide President/CEO, modus | mav'r'ik

Krista A. Treide has been creating, launching, leading, operationalizing, disrupting and refreshing brands for over 23 years.

Nearly a century after stating it, design harbinger Henry Dreyfus’ statement from the early 1930’s still rings true, “If people are made safer, more comfortable, more eager to purchase, more efficient, or just happier, then a designer has succeeded.” I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to work closely with designers throughout my career and I am always greatly inspired by the creativity and methodology of design-led creatives. I enjoy seeing their successes as they transform a simple idea into a three-dimensional, living, working, and often coveted product that is not only beautiful but also in many cases, brilliant.

The luxury market has tremendous license to deliver progressive and design-forward concepts, which in many cases offer consumers products they didn’t know they needed but find that they cannot live without. This ferociously competitive elite market provides a place for the intersection of creativity, innovation and modern-style.

One of the industry’s most beloved luxury footwear designers is Jerome Rousseau, a refreshingly creative gentleman who has taken the footwear industry by storm with his eponymous label, Jerome C. Rousseau. JCR is a globally distributed brand with a loyal following comprised of exclusive retail destinations, discerning luxury label enthusiasts and A-list celebrities. Today, in its sixth year in retail, Jerome C. Rousseau has confidently wedged its position against labels with multiple decades of tenure. Jerome’s signature is innovative and defines uniqueness—a deliverable that is critical to ensuring continued brand success, growth and relevancy alongside contemporaries such as Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin, Nicholas Kirkwood and others.

Jerome shares his thoughts on design, creating surprise and delivering unexpected products to the luxury market.

KRISTA TREIDE: How can design be used in uncommon ways to benefit people?

JEROME ROUSSEAU: Being a young designer in the luxury sector requires a surgical balance of both innovation and creativity. In the luxury retail market, your product must differentiate itself from the competition to motivate retailers and consumers to have an interest in it. This creative design focus is pivotal to the JCR business and largely a competitive advantage.

I recognize that products in my sector of the industry are not essential to anyone’s livelihood but I am gratefully appreciative when people approach me to let me know that JCR products have inspired them and provided an emotional connection to something beyond the footwear itself. One consistent credo I had when building the essence of my label was to ensure that my product is a source of inspiration to others. JCR products are intentional in their effort to make people feel good in everything they do. I love that in the varied world of design products provide a vehicle for consumers to feel fulfilled.

KT: Being uncommon focuses squarely on being original, not following trends or the masses but rather learning from them and creating products, services and messages of value that are unique. This seems paramount for a brand such as JCR. Can you explain how trends are interwoven into your collection as a leading luxury label?
JCR: The way JCR operates is extremely intuitive and has literally no relationship with what is currently trending with the market. I blur my personal life and passions with that of my work and as a result my work is quite personal while also extremely sui generis. My life and experiences motivate my designs, they spark inspiration and fuel unexpected paths for creation.

Recently I was gifted a beautiful coffee table book and the book did just that—it sat on my table unattended. I would notice it while moving around the studio but for a very long period of time it was never opened. One day I was on a call and started to pour through it and the inspiration poured—literally I couldn’t shake that book off my pencil when I started sketching ideas for a new collection. It had been under my nose for months but was never in my brain. The timing of that gift proved to be a headspring for that specific season’s inspiration.

Music is and has always been a significant inspiration for me and is part of my start as a designer—sketching shoes as a teenager after watching a Deee-Lite video. As musical inspiration is a signature of my work, people often ask me if music can really translate into product design. I assure them that for JCR it’s a critical source. I find that if I’m really drawn to a genre of music that embodies a mood or a melody that is optimistic and positive then the materials, colors and shapes in my products absolutely reflect what I’ve recently listened to––as a result it all translates through those products. Music provides infinite inspiration for me and it always will.

KT: Are you willing to share some of your sources of inspiration for the collection you are working on currently?
JCR: Absolutely! Friends of mine recently introduced me to this fantastic little club in LA. It’s very niche and extremely intimate—with a capacity of less than 150 people. Their theme is a ‘70s Disco Revival and it’s very well done. The people, glamour and aesthetics, the movement, apparel, colors, materials and fabrics have inspired me greatly. Of course none of this inspiration gathering was planned, yet this personal experience has been so incredibly stimulating and it’s nosed its way significantly into my current collection.

KT: While I appreciate the uninhibited and natural path of your creative process, is there any part of it that is structured—in the spirit of helping other aspiring designers?
JCR: Generally I do start with a dozen or so key elements curated with a very loose mood board to kick off a season—all things that are apparent in my life at that moment. When I initiate the first sketches, the key elements begin to show through and at times are interpretations of my original elements combined with a handful of disparate ideas. It creates a fantastic mixture of concepts for me to crystallize through the rest of the design process.

In my work, I don’t want the inspiration process to be organized, or to necessarily make sense—it defeats the purpose of what I’m trying to achieve. Sometimes the best ideas don’t come from an initial concept. I find as time goes on ideas really shape themselves versus me shaping the ideas. I enjoy letting the process organically live and emerge. I find it is commonly intangible how a product has been translated from an idea—some of the best products emerge from a sense of freedom from allowing the creative process to evolve.

KT: How do you feel that design has promoted new ways of thinking in your world?
JCR: In the world of luxury footwear and accessories, design is expected to promote new ways of thinking, and moreover design is a glorious vehicle for new ways of feeling. Consumers generally don’t know what they want until they find it. They are profoundly discerning and desire products they haven’t yet seen or experienced. They appreciate the constant element of surprise. I love providing that element of surprise and wonder for them and enjoy seeing their reactions when they in fact do find what they are looking for—even if they didn’t realize they wanted it or needed it to begin with. Largely, purchases in the industry are emotional and consumers in this luxury sector do not necessarily go to Barneys hunting for a specific shoe, but when they see a shoe on the shelf it’s an inexplicable rush of adrenaline, an immense desire and craving for that item. Design works twofold in this business, to set trends of style in motion and to evoke endless emotion.

KT:  Talk for a moment about the role of ‘purpose’ in design. Some think there is a fine line between design and art, and that purpose for a designer is not that different from purpose for an artist.
JCR: I have to disagree. Art is fantastic inspiration for design. Nobody is stopping a designer from creating art but design is technical and functional and there is a great deal of science and intuition around timing. If a designer designs a brilliant product and that product is destined to do well, the designer must ensure the timing of the product at retail is appropriate. For example if the product is destined to succeed in two years but it’s introduced in one year and it fails it’s a bad design—yet if the designer has the patience to hold onto the product for a launch in two years and it is a success then it is a great design for both of those reasons—timing and intent.

KT: Design can define a brand or hinder it—how do you ensure that you are constantly using design as a benefit for your label?
JCR: Design is a powerful tool to define uniqueness, and while every brand in my category focuses on their handwriting to differentiate themselves from others there are uniquely inherent JCR signatures I incorporate into my products. My label has become known for surprising colors and color combinations and unexpected color blocking. I also use volume in my footwear design in uncommon ways, ways that are not ordinarily used when conforming to the foot. A lead element in JCR is to always ensure the products are feminine and elegant and I do that through surprisingly plunging top-lines, chiseled toe shapes and ankle scalloping—all recognizable, unique to the brand and extremely innovative.

KT: How do you look at life and business in an uncommon way and motivate others to do the same?
JCR: Prior to launching my own label, I spent over a decade finessing my footwear design skills in London and LA working alongside names such as Matthew Williamson, John Richmond and John Rocha. Prior to that I built a strong technical knowledge of footwear design at London’s Cordwainers College—a university known for its reputed design alumni. Using my foundation and my relentless passion for design and this industry, I took the entrepreneurial leap and it’s truly been one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Being original is celebrated in my business and it’s a perfect fit, allowing my label to continue to lead by example. I encourage others to turn their passion into their work as it makes the work that one does endlessly enjoyable.

KT: What’s the future for JCR?
JCR: Thankfully these past years of strategic distribution with appropriate retail partners has benefitted the brand as we have a loyal consumer following in key domestic and international markets. We’re also proud that we’ve exceeded our goals to-date, however our team would like to take the brand to new levels organically in the coming 3-5 years armed with the proper resources to support that growth. Along this next phase of buildup, our daily challenge will be to ensure the brand does not compromise the integrity we’ve worked so diligently to build while we continue to intensify our already strong core DNA.

Jerome shares a few UNCOMMON SENSE keys to success:

1. Follow your passion and turn it into your work—what a glorious way to build your career path and the inordinate amount of time that you’ll be working through your lifetime.

2. Hone your skills and ensure you have the foundational building blocks and knowledge of your industry soundly mastered.

3. Be ever so strategic and honest with yourself with your jumping off point to ensure it is as seamless as possible—you’ll know when the time is right, trust yourself.

4. Assemble a strong network of advisors whose core competencies bookend yours. As an entrepreneur there will be times when you are leading all facets of your business, whether you are an expert in those areas or not. For example, while my background isn’t in the legal or financial world, I have always had strong allies and resources that have helped support those critical areas of my business when I was first starting out. I have always kept a handful of fantastic individuals close to me in order to help analyze major strategic decisions—they are, and will continue to be, integral to the future growth of the label.

5. Provide uniqueness as an extension of yourself. Consumers crave options and especially those that are designed with purpose.

The JCR brand has transitioned from an idea to a globally recognized and highly sought-after brand––one in which celebrities like Lady Gaga are creating rallying cries on behalf of. The brand’s success is balanced with humility. Jerome has spent quality time building a strong brand DNA and ensuring that each and every decision they’ve made is rooted in the heartbeat of their brand essence. In Jerome’s case, he has emerged as an extremely respected and authentic designer in a very competitive category of business. As he’s grown, he’s made decisions that consistently build equity in his label and through his actions and the brand’s direction he’s galvanized the values that form Jerome C. Rousseau and earned greater permission to stretch his brand. Jerome’s relentless and meticulous work and attention to detail come to life in his bespoke, handcrafted and one of a kind “Juda” beaded bootie.

Krista Treide President/CEO, modus | mav'r'ik

Krista A. Treide has been creating, launching, leading, operationalizing, disrupting and refreshing brands for over 23 years.

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