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Jean-Michel Cazabat is stepping things up. After a major growth spurt and the opening of his New York store in October 2011, the French designer is thinking even bigger and bolder for 2012. With a broadened fall collection that is both creative and commercial, plus a global push in the works through 10 foreign agents, Cazabat aims to keep up the momentum.
9 a.m.: I start the day right with Jean-Michel by hitting the gym at Complete Body in Manhattan's Financial District. When I arrive, he is immersed in a sweat-inducing routine on the rowing machine, with the help of his tough personal trainer, Dino. I ask Dino whether he has ever received shoes from his client, and he replies that only his fiancée has been so lucky. "But she wants higher heels next time. We're Russian, so for us, those were practically flats!" In between Jean-Michel's grumblings, Dino adds, "It will probably be five more years before I get a pair. But he has no excuse; we're the same size!"
10:30 a.m.: Over coffee at his showroom, Highline United, we discuss recent sales trends. "We saw a big increase in the second half of 2011," says Jean-Michel. "In Europe, we more than tripled our business." With Barneys, Bloomingdale's, Neiman Marcus and Shopbop.com as some major U.S. accounts, Jean-Michel has also taken on agents and showrooms in Paris; Milan; Florence, Italy; Munich; London; Barcelona, Spain; Stockholm; Istanbul and Moscow. And while the Bleecker Street store is still in its infancy, Jean-Michel is already contemplating the possibilities for another shop. Los Angeles, Chicago and London are the priority locations for additional outposts.
11:30 a.m.: Jean-Michel walks me through the fall '12 collection, which consists of biker boots, Victorian lace-up styles and ankle boots with zippers. Sources of inspiration range from Mary Poppins to Michael Jackson and Coco Chanel. "What I learned from spending time in the store is that women wanted more mid-heel options, so we added lower heels on everything," the designer says.
12 p.m.: We peek inside Tagliatella Gallery on 10th Avenue, where Jean-Michel has been eyeing a glittery portrait of Marilyn Monroe. "I always like sparkle, but sequins have replaced glitter for me," he says. We then pay a visit to the shoe department at Jeffrey before heading across the street to Scoop, where Jean-Michel's spring offering is already available. "[Scoop has] a nice selection, but this is my favorite," he confesses, holding up a metallic sculpted wedge sandal.
1 p.m.: After our brief shopping trip, we indulge in burgers at The Standard Grill, one of Jean-Michel's regular haunts. "I used to go to the Boom Boom Room every night," he admits, "but now I only come once a week to the Standard. When you're in a relationship, there are more interesting things to do at home." Our conversation turns to New York Fashion Week, where Jean-Michel collaborated with both Libertine and Kevork Kiledjian on custom shoe designs.
2:30 p.m.: As we wander to our last stop — the new Jean-Michel Cazabat store — I inquire about how the designer intends to keep up the momentum. "Retail is the key," he says. "With retail, you can develop your image and you can propose more. But, obviously, to have a nice wholesale and retail business is ideal because one balances the other." Of his Taiwan-based partner, J.C. Chiang, who owns the factory, Jean-Michel says, "The ideal is to have the same vision and desires. When you are partners, then you are a priority because you have business to accomplish together."
3 p.m.: "I love the store and the area and the community," Jean-Michel says as we walk inside the shop. "Yesterday, a French actress was shopping here and told me she already bought three pairs since we opened." Now the goal is to bring in fresh product more often, with three to four deliveries each year. An extension of his handbag line and e-commerce are also in the works.