Shiloh Heritage: Those boots are made for walking
France has long had an obsession with American ideas and icons, and enjoyed and profited from re-imagining them with a Gallic touch.
One thinks of writers like Alexis de Tocqueville in his Democracy in America or designers like Jean Charles de Castelbajac’s use of pop art or Christian Louboutin making one of his earliest pairs of shoes with a Coca-Cola-can heel.
The latest example of this profitable love affair is Shiloh Heritage, a company whose only product is what the French call le santiag, from Santiago, a Spanish term for Western cowboy boots.
Founded in 2019 by highly experienced fashion designer Johanna Touitou, Shiloh Heritage creates boots that are a subtle marriage of classic Texan rancher boots and a botte camarguaise. The latter are the flatter-heeled, softer-shaped boots worn in La Camargue, a vast plain of wetlands and lagoons that is Europe’s largest river delta formed at the mouth of the Rhone, where local cowboys, or gardians, wear them while riding the region’s famed white horses, one of the world’s oldest breeds. Cowboys who predate the real American thing, seeing as back in the 16th century many of these gardians sailed to New Orleans to round up cattle in the bayous of Louisiana and Texas.
“I have had this idea for this product in my head for many, many years. Shoes are my coup de coeur, or obsession, and above all the Western santiag. But I found the Texan heel too tough, and I loved the botte camarguaise, so I married the two,” explained Touitou.
First, in order to realize her dream, she had to find a truly authentic factory to consummate the new marriage.
“I must have asked hundreds of people, and finally found a family factory near Alicante in Spain. It’s 115 years old, and I loved that they have been transferring the savoir-faire between many generations. And they do everything by hand, which was essential,” added Touitou. She chose the name Shiloh, as it means Haven of Peace in Hebrew, suggesting the transmission of know-how and tradition.
Her marketing strategy was also novel.
“Our concept is to sell exclusively online. Our average price is 565 euros on the site; as at retail it would be twice as much,” explained Touitou, who creates boots in dusty hues of pink, khaki, stone and tan.
A graduate of Paris fashion college IFM, Touitou did stints at Sonia Rykiel, Elie Saab and Chloé under Phoebe Philo, ending up there as studio director. But a fixation with leather indicated where she would develop her own independent marque.
“My first influence is the savoir-faire of Texas and the birth of the santiag. And the way they became so adopted in France from the mid-1970s – this very bohemian look that was a little more masculine for women, with jeans, black blazer and white shirt,” she expounds.
So far, Shiloh Heritage has developed a small cult following, with 200 handmade pairs sold in the past year. It has also begun retailing outside of its website, in hipster boutique La Suite by AG in Geneva. Touitou’s goal is to eventually open a showroom boutique in Paris; and to gradually introduce ready-to-wear, with leather looks made in small drops.
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