The French beat the British hands down at two things: cheese on toast (sorry, but the croque-monsieur is infinitely superior) and effortless dressing. Witness Jeanne Damas’s Instagram feed—a sun-soaked, fun-filled experience—and you’ll understand why Brits everywhere spent last August in one of her Rouje dresses. Sure, it seemed like an easier way to summon your inner French woman than reading Madame Bovary, but somehow (and this might just be me) it made you feel like a bit of a baked potato instead of a slender frite. My advice? Forget the robe for a second and think of something further south: your shoes.
You see the French have a similar knack with footwear as they do with fromage. But while everyone knows the wonders of gruyère, few have spent time seeking out chaussures. It’s definitely worth scouring French fashion houses like Sézane (for comfortable daytime heels), Sandro (for colour-block trainers) and Ba&sh (for new-season cowboy boots), but don’t forget the lesser-known labels that specialise in footwear.
Keep scrolling for the eight best French shoe brands that will take your wardrobe from meh to magnifique.
Repetto was founded in 1947 near the Opéra National de Paris as a ballet slipper company. Fast-forward 70 years, and it’s still making pointe shoes, leotards and tunics, as well as collaborating on ballet pumps with designers such as Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, Commes des Garçons and Karl Lagerfeld. The classic ballerina slippers are parfait for wearing with skinny jeans.
Shoemaker François du Chastel knows the way to our heart—flat slippers that can be customised. His brightly coloured shoes range from glitter-covered slippers to rubber-soled slip-on trainers and backless canvas mules (the latter can be personalised with colour-pop tassels from around £200). Customise these however you want.
You may not have heard of Robert Clergerie, but if you own a pair of backless leather flats, you have this label to thank. Its Alicek croc-effect slippers started the trend for “sliced” loafers, and short of our shoes flying off, we haven’t looked back since. These are ideal for the office.
It was Amélie Pichard’s stint in the workshop of a Parisian shoemaker that sealed her fate. “The strong smell of dust, glue and leather sparked my passion for shoemaking, and I never wanted to leave,” she says. Her shoes range from classic raffia mules favoured by Jeanne Damas to kitschy pink sandals covered in plastic flowers. We think these are so pretty.
Paris-based Jonak makes affordable shoes that don’t skimp on playful design details. The elegant Ballerines have an almond-shaped toe and a contrasting leather cap (very Chanel), while the pearl-embellished Bottines are just thing to perk up track pants. The detail on these makes a pair of black boots exceptional.
The famous purveyor of leopard-spotted bags, Jérôme Dreyfuss also cobbles some rather nice shoes, describing his classic Gabi flats as “Margot Tenenbaum in a loafer.” We’re sold. The contrasting heel on this pair is so ’70s, which we love.
Minelli is Paris’s answer to Office or Aldo. You can shop its inexpensive but surprisingly jazzy shoes online at Zalando. It has a particularly fetching way with electric-blue leather, which comes in brogue or loafer form (from £100). Super, non?
Swildens is technically a Parisian clothes shop, but its edit of chaussures is quite delectable. The pillar box–red, leopard-print moccasins might not go with Rouje dresses, but they will add a jolt of intrigue to any skinny jean–and-blazer combo.
The new wave of minimalist design has inspired a multitude of trainer brands. Some are closely associated with expert craftsmanship, whilst others are solely focused on the art of simplicity. Zespa is known for both. In its latest collaboration with super-cool French tattoo artist SupaKitch, it reinvents a pair with gold confetti detailing and a hand-drawn illustration on the insole. Cute.
Inspired by volume and proportion rather than fashion trends, French designer Pierre Hardy is renowned for his sculptural shoes. His boots are our favourite—often panelled with buttery soft suede in autumnal colours. Patent boots are everywhere this season, and this pair with their on-trend white piping is at the top of our wish list.
Family-run footwear label Sartore was founded by the couple Paul and Marcelle Sartore in the South of France. Now based in Italy, the brand remains in the family, being overseen by the couple’s two daughters. The brand plays with masculine and feminine influences to create a range of sharp, sophisticated styles. With metermaids and cowboy boots in its latest collection, Sartore could quickly become your go-to brand this winter.
“There is no need to suffer for beauty” is French cordwainer Laurence Dacade’s philosophy. Trained at the AFPIC School of Shoe Design and official footwear designer for Chanel, she uses her in-depth knowledge of construction to create comfortable styles that are feminine and functional. So there is a god? These embroidered velvet Belen ankle boots with intricate gold-and-silver florals and shimmering sequins are just the right statement piece this season.
Roger Vivier opened his first boutique in Paris in 1937 and famously created heels for Catherine Deneuve, Brigitte Bardot and Queen Elizabeth II. Today, each shoe and accessory epitomizes the effortless elegance and je ne sais quoi of Inès de la Fressange, the brand’s ambassador. Sporting the brand’s signature crystal encrusted buckle, these trainers are playful but elegant, and they’re perfectly offset with a chunky rubber sole. Wear with tailored trousers and a fluffy knit.
Next up, the best winter coats to buy now. It’s time to wrap up.
Opening Image: Style du Monde