Bespoke Shoemaker Maison Corthay Finds Solid Footing in China

A staff member puts a patina on a pair of shoes at Maison Corthay. (Courtesy Photo)

A staff member puts a patina on a pair of shoes at Maison Corthay. (Courtesy Photo)

While big-name brands debate about whether Chinese consumers still love logos amid China’s economic slowdown, one small-scale French shoemaker is basking in its success.

Maison Corthay opened its first store in the spring of last year in Beijing’s upscale Shin Kong Place mall. It’s small, sandwiched on the second floor between top luxury brands, but its elegant men’s leather shoes, meticulously lined up against vibrant colored backdrops speak boldly. Inside the modest shop is a polishing table where staff members work diligently to add color and polish to the bare brogues. Shoppers can pick from styles that range from classic black oxfords to suede boots, to Japanese denim loafers and everything in between. They can also request for them to be designed to their preference and rest assured they won’t find the same pair, even at the shop’s other international locations—of which there are few. It’s this choice that has brought in men in droves, sometimes coming back for a second, third, or sixth pair in the span they have been open.

Maison Corthay's newest location in Wuhan International Plaza Shopping Center. (Courtesy Photo)

Maison Corthay’s newest location in the Wuhan International Plaza Shopping Center. (Courtesy Photo)

Sales have been so high that the brand is expanding. “It’s our number one store in the world by a long, long way,” said CEO Xavier De Royere. The brand opened a second store on the mainland in Wuhan in September, and is now setting sights on Chengdu, Hangzhou, and Shanghai.

“It goes to show that it’s really reassuring for smaller brands or brands that have fewer resources to do marketing or activities in China,” De Royere added. “It goes to show that Chinese customers are not shy to try new things and to explore brands they don’t necessarily hear about all the time.”

These Wuhan customers tend to be less adventurous than the Beijing ones as they primarily tend to be focused on finding quality, comfortable footwear, De Royere said.

“In Beijing, if they found a bright orange shoe that fit their tuxedo, they’d go for it,” he said. “In Wuhan, they’re a little bit more toned down.”

The more popular shoe thus far with Maison Corthay’s Chinese customers is a brogue with a denim upper and leather for a look that’s both formal and casual. The independent brand also has begun to accommodate a demand for a wider fit as opposed to the more traditional stiff shoe that needs time to break in. In an unexpected turn, a sandal meant for Dubai consumers has also been a hit on the mainland. Overall, their stock is attracting repeat customers in Beijing, a mix of half locals and half tourists.

A window display at Maison Corthay's Wuhan store, which opened in September. (Courtesy Photo)

A window display at Maison Corthay’s Wuhan store, which opened in September. (Courtesy Photo)

While Maison Corthay does do marketing on WeChat and Weibo and has its website translated in Chinese, its sales only take place offline. Thus, strategic placement in malls is critical for a brand that is not well known among the masses. De Royere said their strategy to move to Wuhan reflected this issue. “I like the idea that there’s one undisputed mall you can go to,” he said, referring to the Wuhan International Plaza Shopping Center.

In contrast, Beijing’s plethora of malls meant the decision came down to infrastructure and good management, plus the fact that it’s a “one-stop shop” for all things luxury. At a time when shopping mall competition is brutal, landlords who proactively bring consumers into their stores are not only benefiting the top luxury fashion brands, but give solid footing for this boutique maison to stand on.



Fashion, Market Analysis