About shoes and disruption : a talk with Alexis Lafont, founder of Caulaincourt

About shoes and disruption : a talk with Alexis Lafont, founder of Caulaincourt

Alexis is the founder, owner and artistic director of Caulaincourt, a house which PG has been keeping a close eye on for 10 years. The name “Caulaincourt” is well-known by shoe-lovers: it sounds like a promise, the promise of products with strong styling, an uncompromising approach to boot making, characterized by its bold design. A few months ago, Alexis Lafont appeared in an episode of Sartorial Talks. Today, we are going to delve deep into the artistic and philosophical inspirations of Alexis’s work, through an exchange I had with him.


Why, you may ask, would anyone venture to Caulaincourt? Why would one sidestep the convenience of mainstream shops, opting instead for the unconventional experience that Caulaincourt delivers? The answer lies in avoiding banality in favor of the mystical allure of the "sartorial touch", which transforms the simple act of purchasing…into an extraordinary human journey. 

Caulaincourt is a place where I have felt a notable, welcoming spirit. Alexis gives clients an immersive look at shoes and his shop is directed by people who love what they do, so you are bound to have a great time visiting. To add to the enjoyment, the team likes to explain their products, including how shoes are made and designed, whatever you ask.

In terms of his philosophy, Alexis refuses to behave as some brands who hide information touted as mysteries of the trade. “There’s self-proclaimed experts everywhere, he says, as he emphasizes that preaching about the virtues of quality, skill, craftsmanship, and heritage is not enough : you must embody these principles into a reality that can be seen, felt and worn !”

Hugo Jacomet believes we should be discerning when it comes to the deluge of products out there, and we should distinguish between the best and worst options before buying. But being a cautious buyer isn’t sufficient within itself. To have a meaningful buying experience, you have to know what makes an object valuable to you. Alexis disagrees with the idea that the value of a shoe equals a good quality-price ratio (even if their ratio is excellent, as the whole PG team can testify). He thinks that the creative and aesthetic aspects of a shoe are just as important as ticking off the points of what makes a shoe solidly constructed. He states: “A few years ago, some of our clients complained about the price of a pair from Berluti; I, on the contrary, asserted that you could not forget about the creative and aesthetic performance the shoes demonstrate”. This approach aligns with the outlook of Alexis, who happens to view technical reliability on par with creative expression.

I believe that Caulaincourt's artistic direction provides a lot of value. The brand stands out because of its distinct and unique inspirations, which result in a strong visual identity and bold shoes. Just one look at a pair of Gattaca loafers says it all.

After singing the praises of art and beauty, Alexis puts on his technical cap when discussing the subject of balancing design with performance. “Design is a complex task, he says, reminding me that aesthetics, durability and comfort have to be simultaneously realized. To put it another way, the combination of beauty, technical acuity, function and comfort, is the goal. How can we leave a lasting impression in this field if we don’t innovate ?”

As the interviewer, during certain points of the discussion, I forgot we were talking about shoes and fell into the illusion that we were talking about an approach to life instead of footwear. Alexis says for example that the most difficult challenge for a brand is to find its own identity. But the process requires a certain level of humility. Why ? Because, if you want to make traditional shoes, you have to keep in mind these have existed way before you, and that they have been extremely well made by thousands of craftsmen before us. In this field, some say after years of creating different models, a brand's DNA becomes defined and the hardest part is over. However, Alexis disagrees and instead views a company that designs shoes as a living system whose vitality comes from creativity and added value. “A brand can’t rely on just a few products that make up the majority of sales. This approach is paradoxical because once a brand creates an iconic product and reaches its ultimate goal, it can feel like the journey is complete and time stops. However, this mindset traps the brand in its own creation!”

To move forward, the brand must push boundaries and be demanding of itself. This is the only way to progress and stay inspired. If we are only as good as our last performance, it can be tempting to stop creating after making a shoe that becomes iconic. His purpose? “To leave a footprint which will survive time, and to make a meaningful contribution.” 

As a consequence, Caulaincourt offers very diverse products as well as different ranges while staying faithful to its values. Former plans include limited series and collabs with other brands such as two jackets created in partnership with the Japanese house Kyoya. Alexis said it: Caulaincourt doesn’t want to be what you expect, but to blow your mind through inspiring and creating.


One of the ways Alexis found to stimulate his creativity, is to surround himself with objects like architectural and artistic relics that echo the aesthetics he loves.

Photo credit : Vincent Fauchard

“As creative director, I could call this approach an aesthetic ecosystem. What I mean is, during the photo shoot we did with the Ferrari 512 TR, for example, everything wasn’t planned hours, or days, before. I even chose my outfit right before the shooting. All these diverse elements made an interesting combo - like the white jacket whose color is similar to the car’s - precisely as a result of surrounding myself with meaningful objects. I chose each object because I like its material, color, shape… and when I decide to combine unexpected elements together, they can easily echo one another.”

Photo credit : Alexis Lafont

“I like contrast, because it makes volume more visible. Contrast is what truly reveals a certain color. Contrast also highlights a personality, a taste, a sense of elegance, even a bias in terms of aesthetics. I am fond of using photographs such as this one, where you may notice a combination of sartorialism and disruption. There is a nomadic touch in this tote bag, which is meant to appear unusual. I find amusement in this kind of project, and I think I can bring an added value to my work while making an image tell a story.

My mission is to create shoes with an aesthetic bias - a personal perspective, a view people may adopt, or not. Such artistic vision isn’t expected to be reproduced (you may wear the shoes I create without owning a white Testarossa). Let’s call it a form of fantasy, an entertaining extrapolation with a sort of humor : there is a special touch, a sort of Miami Vice-like atmosphere, that I have to admit I like, even if my everyday life does not exactly look like that.”

I think there are different perspectives through which people approach sartorial style. Some people - and I am of those - appreciate the comfort of classical style with variations and twists reasonable enough not to shatter the image of traditional suits. On the other hand, some people actually need to test the limits of sartorial style; their creativity emerges on the edge of other styles and they mix several aesthetics with their universes. When mastered, these skills can produce incredible results. I admire the way some figures of the sartorial world express their inventiveness and creativity. Without these examples, I would not have imagined I could mix some specific colors or add a certain element to make my outfit better and to make it unique. 

Photo credit : Zoé Fidji, for Septem.

“For me, to create something unique in terms of what we wear, is an everyday need and a pleasure — it sets taste to music. Taste is a concept I cherish as I am always looking for singularity, but can not reach it without harmony. It’s a way of playing on the edge of rules and limits, and something I am passionate about.

Our clients appreciate our aesthetic ideas and products, and my hope is to give clients all the inspiration I’m capable of giving. It’s not about making others adopt my style or my definition of taste, but to encourage others to notice a detail or a precise element, while looking at a set of images, a prototype, or my shoe line. If they can feel an aesthetic spirit in what they are viewing, then I find happiness. And if you can play the modest role of helping someone find an inspiration, it is truly great ! We are here to create an object that provides pleasure and enhances everyday lives.”

Hugo Jacomet has been advocating for the need to break free from the influencer system and move more towards things and people that inspire. Alexis seems to share the same objective. “A shoemaker doesn't dictate what his clients should wear; however, being responsible for a sartorial brand lends credibility to offer new ideas on aesthetics. And while photos on Instagram and popular products can influence what we purchase, if given the option, many clients prefer a total aesthetic experience that resonates emotionally and intellectually.”


Bandit(s), released in January 2023 and realized by Peter Lyng

This is my final point: I wanted to ask Alexis about the significance of the word "bandit" in the universe of Caulaincourt. 

“Why 'bandit'? Caulaincourt aims to offer high-quality products. But we must remember the reason many of us became creators and shoemakers: we still have the desire to play like little boys. We have simply transitioned to different games. In my opinion, a ‘bandit’ is not a criminal. The bandit represents a figure from the world of children. Our idea was to capture the excitement of a child about to discover something fantastic, a child who behaves like a mischievous boy while learning to control his own creative freedom. This mischievous boy desires to be where no one expects him to be.”

Today, it is vogue to encourage disruption in product introductions, personal development, and marketing... However the concept can be meaningless when done for its own sake. Being disruptive without purpose renders innovation futile. At Caulaincourt, Alexis convinces us that true disruption should come at a cost and never be achieved without merit.

"A brand cannot be disruptive if its products lack legitimacy and are of poor quality. Being disruptive with something cheap or shoddy is completely uninteresting. On the other hand, creating a shoe with excellent materials, craftsmanship, and a disruptive dimension – regardless of what that disruption may be – is a real challenge. Being a disruptive brand is demanding but thrilling. When I founded Caulaincourt, I knew it would be a long and arduous journey of ten to fifteen years. I needed time to establish legitimacy in the shoe making market with products that could be valued for their quality and technicality. I knew this would take considerable time, but it was my primary focus. Friends and well-meaning individuals criticized me because they couldn't comprehend why I wasn't progressing faster. However, I was after legitimacy.

There was a time when Caulaincourt operated as a 'reasonable' brand, knowing its limits. And when the time came, we broke free from those limits, like when we started making sneakers. It was crucial that we followed the right sequence. When we created the iconic pair called the 'Bandit' (a mid-top sneaker), our goal was clear: Caulaincourt was no longer playing it safe, and people should not expect us to be in familiar territory. At the time, a brand with a classic shoemaking reputation suddenly introducing sneakers was indeed a daring move – even if it now seems normal. Naming this pair as 'bandit' was a way to convey to people that we understood the audacity, but wanted to offer an incredible product. Bandit represents our philosophy. I provided my clients with the opportunity to go beyond traditional or classic shoes, while continuing to produce the previous shoes and maintaining the same level of quality as before. I needed my clients and the public to trust me, and they did. That is why my job brings me immense joy, and why I plan to continue creating."

Photo credit : Alexis Lafont

Translation by Agathe Vieillard-Baron & Sonya Glyn

Cover credit : Saul Aguilar