Iconic: Repetto Ballet Flats, From the Opera to the Sidewalk

Designed in 1947, immortalized by Brigitte Bardot in the cinema, Repetto ballet flats have escaped from the opera house to become a fashion accessory. Lusted after by city-dwellers, 500 000 pairs a year are sold at an average price of 150 euros. The French brand opened its first shop in the United States last winter.
© Repetto

In 1947, the mother of principal dancer Roland Petit designed a pair of ballet slippers for her son. An accomplished needlewoman, Rose Repetto invented the technique of “stitch and return”: The leather sole is stitched inside out before being turned back, avoiding friction from the seam on the skin and acting as a shock absorber. They were an immediate success with the corps de ballet of the Paris Opera: Maurice Béjart, Rudolf Noureev, Mikhaïl Barychnikov, Carolyn Carlson, they all wanted a pair! Rose Repetto abandoned her bistro to open a workshop near the Paris Opera, then a shop on Rue de la Paix.

The B.B. Effect

The ballet pump became cult when Brigitte Bardot, a trained dancer, ordered from the Repetto workshop a light, sensual, city model, for the fiery character of Juliette Hardy in the movie And God Created Woman (1956) by Roger Vadim. The movie was a success, as were sales of the ballerina “Cinderella” in red check, worn by the star, today renamed the “B.B” model. In the 1970s, Serge Gainsbourg also became an ambassador for the brand, wearing his famous white lace-ups “Zizi,” created originally for the dancer Zizi Jeanmaire, wife of Roland Petit.

The 1980s are a difficult turning point for the brand. After the death of its founder, the Repetto company was sold to the American sports equipment manufacturer Esmark, then fell into the lap of the Caisse Centrale des Banques Populaires. The brand was a has-been, before being successfully relaunched by the current director, Jean-Marc Gaucher (former manager of the sporting brand Reebook in France), who took over the company in 1999. Even its historic target, dancers, had deserted it, but he decided to turn Repetto into a global, modern, luxury brand.

The Town Rat

The Repetto ballerina of the 2000s adopts the codes of the classic ballet slipper, but in a more contemporary style. The low cut of the shoe gives a glimpse of the emergence of the toes, bringing a touch of glamour. Classical ballet dancers Dorothée Gilbert and Marie-Agnès Gillot, are asked to become muses for the brand. In the boutiques, crystal chandeliers, parquet, mirrors and red velvet are the inspiration from the world of entertainment, and every shop possesses a training barre and mirrors, to try on the slippers.

Classic and feminine, Repetto pumps permit no risk of making a fashion faux pas and offer a comfort which has seduced numerous city-dwellers who only wear this style. The ballet pumps can be found in the Parisian concept store Colette, Repetto stores and department stores Galeries Lafayette, Printemps and Au Bon Marché. Infinitely customisable, the slipper has been updated to become more trendy – in glitter, colors, python, with studs – and seduces a new hip clientele, but the model “BB” remains the best-seller.

A Know-How Made in France

The brand has maintained its production in France. Shoes are made in the factory at Saint-Médard-d’Excideuil, a municipality of 600 inhabitants nested in the rolling hills of the Green Périgord, Dordogne. Some 500 000 pairs of shoes are made there every year, in soft lambskin or goatskin leather. The hides, from France and Germany, are minutely selected: The leather must be supple and solid, and is not tanned as with a classic pair of shoes. Laces, ribbons and trimmings come from companies in the region of Cholet in Vendée, and the leather heels are made in Romans-sur-Isère, the luxury footwear capital.

The unique know-how of manufacturing stitch and return, unchanged for fifty years, imposes a manual finish and fastidious controls. A pair of shoes passes through the hands of 8 to 10 people and requires on average between 45 and 90 minutes work. The rigorous specifications insist on respecting a 5.5 millimeters thickness for the soles of the ballerinas. More than half the production is intended for export. After Asia and Brazil, the brand arrived last winter in the United States, with a first shop in Manhattan on West Broadway, just next to another French brand specializing in luxury for children: Bonpoint.