Most footwear enthusiasts obsess over how a shoe looks, but Paul Janssen cares more about how a shoe feels. ECCO’s category director has been meticulously improving the brand’s shoe technology for the past six years, quietly transforming the Danish footwear giant into a global leader in men’s luxury footwear. His 20-year career in the business has instilled a commitment to quality and craft that has spawned collections of stylish shoes for any occasion. ECCO’s latest Vitrus MondialTM collection builds on this ethos, combining luxurious shoemaking techniques with modern details and the brand’s signature comfort technology, changing ideas of how formal shoes can look and feel. The result is a range of tailored, formal, and modern styles engineered for comfort.
You joined ECCO as category director in 2014 and have worked in luxury men’s shoes for 20 years. How did you get your start?
I actually started selling shoes in Zurich, for stores owned by my mother’s family. Then came a call from a company asking, “Hey, do you want to shift into the industry? I have a job for you in Italy,” which, of course, is where the heartbeat of shoemaking is. At the beginning, I thought I would be there for a year, maybe two years, but I’ve now been there for 23 years. I started in 1995 with the Hugo Boss collection — there were no Hugo Boss shoes before. And that was really my story for 15 years.
What was your vision when you joined ECCO?
I’ve always had respect for ECCO. Being part of the shoe industry, I know it’s a big com- pany with big volume and good technology — especially the di- rect injection technology, which we named FluidformTM. We are on our journey to make more modern and premium products, and that’s what we’re doing with Vitrus MondialTM, a collection of very premium shoes made with ECCO comfort.
How are you making shoes more modern and premium?
Modern is a mindset. We changed the people in the design studio to be more multicultural. We’ve also determined our consumer profile: the modern man who can play in different occasions from a formal shoe to a casual shoe, but also in a very athletic, athleisure-inspired shoe.
What was the inspiration be- hind the new Vitrus MondialTM collection?
We wanted to make a formal, stylish product with ECCO comfort. People think that formal shoes are stiff and uncomfortable — that you need to break them in. Nowadays, they come from an athleisure world where all the shoes have to be comfortable. We wanted to break that nut, but stay true to our ECCO DNA, which is “comfort comes first.”
ECCO shoes, particularly its sneakers, have been adopted as a normcore staple. Why do you think that is?We make good products, but we don’t talk enough about it. We were quite traditional in our way of communication. If you look at our advertising five years ago, there was a happy family sitting at the Danish coast with two bicycles sitting around. You will not attract new customers and modern customers with that image. Marketing-wise, people want to see different things from ECCO because we have a lot of good ingredients and we need to play them in a different way.
Where is footwear headed?
We are focused on athleisure, but there is always still a need for business shoes as well. It’s important that we work in this formal segment, what we call “advanced comfort,” because we are shoemakers. Really, we are shoe engineers: modern shoemakers with our own technology. We are not only shoemakers — we are also leathermakers. We make our own leather, we tan our own leather. And there’s a lot of craft to that.