The thing we have to overcome is that people think of Lucchese in a one-dimensional way,” says William Zeitz, the creative director and executive vice president of marketing for the El Paso–based company. “The challenge is to shift perception beyond ‘We just do Western boots’ to ‘We craft beautiful leather goods.’ ”
Since its founding in 1883 by Sam Lucchese, a newly transplanted Sicilian, the company has been handcrafting boots out of a variety of exotic skins for a customer base as broad as it is loyal: The first buyers were members of the U.S. Cavalry (Teddy Roosevelt is said to have worn a pair up San Juan Hill). John Wayne and LBJ were Lucchese loyalists, as are Miranda Lambert and Jamie Foxx, not to mention two of the state’s most visible style icons: the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders and Big Tex, who famously got a new pair last year.
But selling $70 million worth of Western kicks a year apparently isn’t enough for our unofficial state boot maker. Lucchese announced last summer that it’s repositioning itself as a luxury brand, starting with a line of fashion footwear out this month. The 24-shoe collection includes the Fausto, a $795 men’s penny loafer available in a cognac-colored buffalo leather or a navy suede, and the Chiara, a strappy women’s sandal with a four-inch stacked heel that you can get in a blush-gray ostrich ($1,095) or a smooth turquoise and navy vachetta ($995). Handbags and other accessories are coming this fall.
You won’t find these styles next to the ropers at Sheplers. You will, though, be able to add them to your wardrobe via Lucchese’s spiffy new website and the company’s three stores, in San Antonio, Santa Fe, and Nashville. And eventually, Zeitz hopes, Barneys and Neiman Marcus.
Zeitz, who first discovered Lucchese boots when he was an undergraduate at Southern Methodist University in the late seventies, knows that he’s running the risk of muddying the reputation of a Texas icon. “I don’t want to be the guy that messes this up, because for one hundred and thirty years it’s been very pure,” he says. He cites the French house of Hermès as his model, which isn’t as odd as one might think. Though the Parisian company is known for its high-end scarves and handbags, it started off in 1837 as a maker of harnesses and bridles, and it still has an equestrian line. (It’s doubtful, however, that you’ll find many of the company’s $10,000 Talaris saddles on Texas ranches.) “It’s this very upscale luxury brand that is very respectful of its past,” Zeitz says. “If people say, ‘Well, you’ve created the American Hermès,’ that wouldn’t be bad at all.”
But why fix what’s already broken in? Zeitz says the aim is to introduce the handiwork of Lucchese’s artisans to a new audience—without, of course, alienating the current audience. But that can be a tough trick to pull off.
“The Western consumer is extremely loyal and extremely authentic,” says Paige Hill, the vice president of merchandising at Frisco-based Sheplers, which has nine Texas stores and sells hundreds of styles of Lucchese boots. “I would be surprised if the majority of Lucchese enthusiasts would even be able to pronounce Hermès.”