by HOLLY HABER
photographs by ADAM FISH
What Texas company has employed a prestigious New York design firm, is running spring ads in Vogue, W, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and GQ and has a design and marketing office in Dallas? The answer is Lucchese. The 131-year-old bootmaker is on a serious quest to become a luxury lifestyle brand, and it is being propelled by $5 million from Dallas private-equity kingpin John Muse. This month marks a big step: the introduction of fashion footwear for men and women.
“For a long time people have been telling us they want Lucchese for other parts of their lives,” says William “Bill” Zeitz, the soft-spoken veteran of Nike and Cole Haan who is masterminding the reinvention as creative director and executive vice president of marketing.
Started in San Antonio by Sam Lucchese, an immigrant Italian shoemaker whose first clients were cavalry officers, the company is known for premium Western boots handcrafted in an El Paso factory that still uses the proprietary twisted cone last that the founder developed for ideal fit. Combine all that with a celebrity following that dates back to Gregory Peck, and Lucchese has a rich American heritage that is ripe for exploitation. The new fashion collection launches on lucchese.com this month with 45 styles, from python booties and appliquéd leather pumps for women to distressed oxfords and two-tone chukkas for men. Priced from $500 to $5,000, the boots are made in the El Paso factory, the shoes in Italy. They were styled by Banfi Zambrelli Design Studio, which lists edgy Derek Lam and refined Marchesa among its clients. Next up is a fall collection of leather handbags, totes and weekenders stitched in Italian workshops. Clothing is a couple of years down the road, assuming everything else is on track. “Every facet has to be done incredibly well,” Zeitz says. “The experience with the brand has to be perfect.”
None of this would be happening if John Muse hadn’t co-acquired the company in 1997 and later assumed a majority stake. “I’m very passionate about the brand, not just for the typical investment reasons, but because it fits my lifestyle,” he says. “I live a smart-casual lifestyle.” Muse forecasts the company growing from $75 million in 2014 sales to more than $300 million within five years. After all, his early investments in Jimmy Choo and Michael Kors have paid off handsomely. “I’ve seen how to do it and do it properly, and not just be a wholesale manufacturer but also control some of your own distribution by having your own retail and e-commerce,” he says.
And your own world-class polo team. Team Lucchese boasts a stack of trophies, and Muse is a devout player who competes with the best — who are typically less than half his age. “It’s the strongest dose of adrenaline you can imagine getting,” he says. Muse even shepherded Lucchese’s development of polo boots, which took a couple of years to perfect, and has more equestrian styles in the works: “I kept saying, ‘You need to think “construction site” here — thicker soles, more padding, a toe that won’t crumple — they need to take a ball going 90 miles an hour.’”