What Chip and Joanna Gaines are for the house-flipping world, Dennis and Lynne Comeau are for the footwear industry. After stepping away from their own shoe line decades ago, the couple has made a name for themselves by purchasing and revamping a handful of classic footwear companies over the last 20 years, including sandal brand Bernardo in 2000, and go-go boot brand Golo in 2013. Now the couple is at it again with the purchase of a pair of 10-year-old lines once run by Cynthia Rowley alums Lee Reich and Nancy Geist.
After a quick round of negotiations that started last November, the Comeaus purchased special occasion brand Something Bleu in January, along with its sister brand Butter, known for a range of daytime-friendly women’s styles. And though most of Dennis Comeau’s research showed that the brands were respected by its retail partners, “the design was sort of stagnating, and it hadn’t really progressed the way it should have,” he said. “Sales were slipping from where they were at one point.”
However, the brands’ high-quality products, a competitive price point and the challenge of working with overtly feminine shoes convinced the duo to buy the brands. “I really love feminine, dressy shoes. Although we weren’t doing that before, it’s a look that I really appreciate,” Comeau said. “And the fact that they’re made in Italy in small factories by artisans, I found that really attractive.”
When the pair first took the reins earlier this year, Comeau said the lines between the brands had been blurred, with evening shoes showing up in the Butter assortment and more casual styles making an appearance at Something Bleu. “But any brand today needs to have a very strong brand identity, so the first thing we did was put down the rules of what each brand stands for,” he said. “Butter is for daytime shoes; there are no evening shoes at all. And Something Bleu is just special occasion—it’s wedding and party.”
To differentiate the brands, Comeau also crafted national and digital advertising campaigns to educate consumers about the quality and key products in each line. Something Bleu’s messages are targeted toward wedding and special occasion outlets, while Butter is going after more fashion-conscious consumers and will be featured in a full-page ad in Vogue’s September issue.
“I’m always looking at products and thinking about how I can re-engineer them.”
And though they do share some common threads—including their distinctive femininity and an average price range between $300 and $400—Comeau said the brands have slightly different target customers. Butter appeals to 35-to-55-year old women with high disposable incomes who tend to buy designer footwear, “but she sees our shoes—which are made in the same factories—at a lower price and the quality is good,” Comeau said. The net is cast a bit wider for Something Bleu, with any woman getting married or heading to a party as a potential customer.
While Comeau said both brands’ shoes are well-liked for their comfort and fit, the new owners are already making efforts to improve their wearability even more. “I’m always looking at products and thinking about how I can re-engineer them,” he said. To that end, he standardized all lasts to ensure consistent fit across styles and brands; put in softer linings; and introduced a proprietary insole with high-density padding.
Comeau and his team are also working on enhancing each brand’s designs for Spring ’18 and beyond, with the goal of giving key silhouettes new life, making the styles more modern and adding an emotional factor that helps the shoes pop off the shelf. For Something Bleu, that includes introducing evening wear styles in the form of wedges, ballerina flats, and platforms, as well as taking the classic satin bow high heel and adapting it to kitten heels and flats.
Butter’s bread-and-butter has long been the kitten heel, which Comeau wanted to continue designing around thanks to the silhouette’s wearable height and versatile styling. “We’ve changed the top line a little to make it a bit sweeter, and we’ve added a whole bunch of new materials in it,” including macramé, lace, snake print patterns, and leather floral prints sourced from Tuscany, he said. He’s also taken these design and material improvements and woven them into new styles like mules, slingbacks and more.
However, Comeau insists that he doesn’t want to make changes or introduce new designs just for the sake of it. “Everything has to have a reason to be,” he said. Likewise, every new design must be met with one question again and again: How can we make this shoe better?
“We’ve learned to really ask that question over and over first before it goes to sampling,” Comeau said. “We’ve designed a lot of shoes in the past and put them on the market before thinking, ‘If we had only done this,’ or, ‘If we could have changed that.’”