Interview: Jerome Rousseau knows Shoes.
Los Angeles based shoe-architect Jerome Rousseau moved to the City of Angels six years ago, after a long stint working under names like Matthew Williamson, John Richardson and Jasper Conrad in the UK. In 2008, the French Canadian launched his eponymous collection to rave reviews, quickly followed by a clamor for collaborations ranging from Peter Pilotto to Disney’s Tron. Four years later, Rousseau takes an afternoon off to let Bloginity into his vision for Spring 2013.
A tall, pale man with dark hair and exquisitely refined features was kneeling on the floor by my feet and positively bubbling. The object generating this shy, boyish excitement was not (*sigh*) my perfectly slender ankles, alas, but a cork board containing, among other bits of paper, a small printout of an obscure, oddly colored couch.
“It’s sort of ugly, that color palette when you think about it, but it’s brilliant! There’s something so witty about it!” he gushed. Moving on to a painting next to the couch he continued, “This incredible undulating curve and then this very sharp line – altogether I think it’s amazing!”
Four years in on his namesake collection of architecturally luxurious footwear, with established retail partners like Saks 5th Avenue, which has supported the designer for four seasons running now. Not to mention celebrity enthusiasts like French actress Roxane Mesquida, who has been in two campaigns for the label to date. “You can just scoop her with a spoon, she’s just SO lovely, you know, like the most amazing dessert.”
Rousseau is catching his stride. He’s fantastically busy, right in the middle of the production of his spring 2013 collection, a period usually marked by sleepless nights and countless harried phone calls to factories in Italy. This season, however, he is surprisingly calm. Calm enough, in fact, that he doesn’t seem to think twice about spending a Wednesday afternoon waxing poetic about postmodernism and cactus, two of many central inspirations behind the new collection.
“I really fell in love with cactus,” Rousseau continued. “The shapes of them and the colors of them…I didn’t know for example that there was such a thing as purple cactus and pink cactus and people are buying me purple cactuses now.”
I glanced up and instantly spotted two gifted purple cactuses on the desk. Their presence is just a hint of the kind of supportive community Rousseau has managed to build around himself, an accomplishment made even more encouraging when one notes that he is based in Los Angeles, a city not necessarily known for it’s integrity and sense of community.
LCS: When most fashion brands are based in New York, what is it that drew you to set up shop in Los Angeles?
Rousseau: I moved out here originally to be with my boyfriend, not because I loved the city, but that changed and I grew fonder and fonder of Los Angeles. There’s a lot of potential for the city to grow and it’s changing for the better and it’s fun to be a part of that. It’s really nice to feel the energy of a lot of creative people in LA who are making a name for themselves and it’s beautiful to be a part of that. It’s a really good time for LA.
LCS: There are also a lot of crazy people in LA.
Rousseau: As far as I’m concerned crazy is good. I really prefer to hang out with a bunch of eccentrics that don’t fit in. In my heart I feel very happy with that, very embracing of that, very supportive of that…I just like it.
LCS: You began your career in London, is that correct? How has that city influenced you?
Rousseau: It’s just an incredible city. It has such a fantastic creative energy. A lot of people in my life who influence me, that’s where they live. I was young when I moved there and it really shaped a lot of what I’ve become, I think.
LCS: What sparked your fascination with shoes? Why not architecture or clothing?
Rousseau: When I was a teenager there was a band called Deee-Lite with a song called Groove is in the Heart. The music video clip [for that song] was a mix of 60s psychedelia and 70s disco and those kinds of influences. I didn’t know either, I mean, I was 13 or 12 and I wasn’t aware. For me it was all new and fascinating. In the clip they were wearing some pretty exaggerated platform shoes, the guys as well, and I was just immediately struck by that. I always loved drawing. I used to draw my bicycle, my walkman, so I decided to randomly draw the shoes from the video in art class in school. It was very technical, drawing it from the front and the side, it’s actually a very tough object to draw at different angles when you don’t have it in front of you.
LCS: I have attempted to draw shoes before – it’s not easy.
Rousseau: I really enjoy it. It’s easy to draw it from the side, that’s the easiest way for the factory to work with it, but I love to draw it three quarters and from different angles. I just don’t have time to do it nowadays.
LCS: I can imagine. Even with a great team, running your own business can be excruciatingly challenging. When you hit a wall, what is it that makes you keep getting out of bed in the morning?
Rousseau: There are times when it is very stressful, but I love doing this. Don’t get me wrong, I complain about it every day like “Ahh the Italians are late!” but I really have a passion for this. I don’t know, sometimes when you have a lot of difficulties building something and then it works you’re even more proud, so I also have this sort of masochism, because I know I’ll appreciate the result more at the end. So, I’m sort of happy secretly sometimes. I never admit this, but I secretly enjoy the problems because I fall in love with the product in the long term.
LCS: Have you thought about doing men’s shoes?
Rousseau: I have, I’ve already designed it in my head a million times. I’ve probably designed a men’s collection in my head every season. Right now though, I feel there are still some things to establish with the women’s collection.
LCS: Do you ever compare yourself to other shoe designers?
Rousseau: No, not really. I think maybe because my work is really about what things inspire me. I set my own trajectory and I follow that regardless of other things so it’s just not in my nature.
LCS: Is there anything about your lifestyle right now that you would change?
Rousseau: The only problem in my life is jet lag. It’s the only thing I can’t stand.
LCS: What is the absolute most important thing in life to you?
Rousseau: To be happy?
LCS: Where do you find happiness?
Rousseau: I find it in people I love and in my passions. I’m quite happy with just that really.
LCS: What is love?
Rousseau: Oh good one! Tough. No idea. It’s an unconditional passion for someone or field of work or a band or I don’t know – it can be all of that.
LCS: If you knew you were going to die at 6am tomorrow morning, what would you do tonight?
Rousseau: I’d probably call Italy. I would…Come on, I have NO idea, I’ve got no clue…play some good music and have a dance party? I would get very drunk and at six o clock hopefully I would pass out from the alcohol and not realize that it’s happening at six and actually forget that it’s happening at all at that point, that’s what I would do, yes, tequila baby!
It’s been almost a two hour conversation. At one point Rousseau had to make a quick phone call to his boyfriend in heartfelt Italian explaining why he was so late. There is something rapturously appealing in the young man sitting on the couch next to me, positively squirming in pleased anticipation for the next question. At our feet are piles of our conversation materials; mood boards, prototypes, samples, swatches of leather and suede, even a few last shoe forms he pulled out to explain how each piece of the shoe fits together.
There was a book too, titled Caught by Surprise, Cutting Edge Collaborations by Designers, which Rousseau had proudly pulled out of the back closet to show me the page commemorating the futuristic heel he created in collaboration with Tron. I was mildly disappointed it had not also included the sparkling creation he’d made for Miss Piggy as well.
There seemed to be no end to his quirky brilliance; his odd, reserved sense of jovial humor, and I was loath to leave the brightly lit studio.
LCS: I think that was it. Is there anything about you that you feel is particularly important that we haven’t covered?
Rousseau: Yeah, LOADS. Tropical fruits.
LCS: Tropical fruits?
Rousseau: Yes, tropical fruits.
Rousseau: Mmm yes but…
LCS: Star fruit?’
Rousseau: They’re beautiful but not so good. My favorite fruit is called Mamey. It’s in El Salvador, no one has it, it’s very hard to find in the US. I mean it though, it’s not a joke, I’m obsessed with tropical fruits. Obsessed.