Discover Houston's New, Authentically French Espadrilles

Atelier Aliénor brings a luxuriously modern take on a classic sandal.

By Sarah Rufca Nielsen June 29, 2017

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On the Mediterranean coast of France, espadrilles are synonymous with summer. Worn in the region since the 14th century, they are beloved for their ease, comfort and classically French style.

So when Laurie Cazaux, a native of Montpelier, moved from Paris to Houston in 2016, she decided she wanted to bring her love of espadrilles stateside. "When you live in the south of France, you always wear espadrilles. In France, versions are everywhere, and here I was surprised you don't see people wearing them as much," she says.

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Combining her background in finance with a modern design vision, she launched Atelier Aliénor this month, named after a medieval queen (Anglophiles will know her as Eleanor of Aquitane) who rose from Southern France to become one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in Europe. 

Cazaux's espadrilles are made by hand in southern France, by craftsmen who have passed the traditional skill sets down through generations. Cazaux says only one in 100 espadrilles these days is made in the traditional way, with a sole entirely formed from jute. She also shows me what the cheaper alternative looks like when bisected: a cheap foam sole with already fraying jute glued on around the edges. Her versions feel heavier and built to last, with the kind of supple leather insole that shapes to your foot over time.

And that's just the sole—the upper part of the shoes are made from either canvas or some of the softest, nubuck I've ever felt. Cazaux says it's sourced from the same tannery that produces leather for Hermès, so luxurious seems a fair way to describe it. And although the label of "eco leather" sometimes refers to a vegan leather alternative, in this case it means that all of the materials to produce the espadrilles are created using the most eco-friendly, sustainable methods possible.

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Turquoise leather espadrilles, $199

Atelier Aliénor launched with eight styles for summer, a mix of closed-toe slip-ons and d'orsay-style sandals affixed with either beaded ankle straps (Cazaux's favorite for a dressier look) or lace ribbon. The current color scheme is mostly neutral, but Cazaux says she's going to add more bold colors next season. 

The collection is currently available at Merchant & Market—Cazaux was drawn to Montrose because of its diversity and walkability—and via the Atelier Aliénor website. Prices start at $129 and go up to $209.

It's not exactly the same as a summer on the Mediterranean, but it's a good start. 

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