Another Sarkozy is flirting with the fashion world.
Louis Sarkozy, the 22-year-old son of Nicolas Sarkozy, French president from 2007 to 2012, is dipping his toe into the arena with a men’s shoe line. The elder Mr. Sarkozy was known during his time in office as “President Bling-Bling,” thanks to his affinity for Rolexes and Ray-Bans, his third marriage to the former supermodel Carla Bruni and his tendency to favor an elevated heel.
The younger Mr. Sarkozy is, however, experimenting with a different kind of look.
Made in collaboration with the nascent Spanish brand Boonper, which specializes in pebble-bottomed driving loafers, the collection is entitled Enigma and is inspired by a few of Mr. Sarkozy’s brainy heroes: Marie Curie, Sigmund Freud, Thomas Jefferson and William Shakespeare.
This makes him the third Sarkozy, following his father and his uncle, Olivier Sarkozy, the banker who is married to Mary-Kate Olsen, a designer of the luxury brand the Row, to pledge his troth (or at least part of it) to style.
Even by the standards of the political world, which has always been more consumed with image and image making than it would care to admit, that’s a lot of family members.
But Sarko Junior, as he calls himself on his Instagram feed, has his own reasons for getting involved in the whole thing. And they have something to do with a thought experiment on intellectual versus influencer credibility, and something to do with just how far an old-fashioned start-up can go on a dream and a direct message.
“Fashion is integrated into so many fields — sports, music — but not academia,” Mr. Sarkozy said one sunny afternoon in the living room of his apartment near Gramercy Park. Now at the very end of his stint as a philosophy and religion major at New York University, he has lived in the United States since he was a teenager; his mother, Cécilia Attias, and his father were divorced shortly after his father became president.
“Why not?” he asked.
Er … academia? That famous bastion of chic? The answer seemed pretty obvious.
“If you can put the two together, I believe a bridge can be built and is worthy of being built,” Mr. Sarkozy said, with a completely straight face. “It’s a talking point.”
So that’s what he and Boonper have done: Each shoe in the Enigma collection comes with the signature and various symbols of the individual it honors. The hope is, presumably, that when someone says, “Hey, nice shoes,” the wearer can point to his footwear and say: “They are inspired by Marie Curie. Did you know this is the symbol of radium?” Then an in-depth conversation about meaningful subjects will ensue.
“Yes, it may appeal to a small niche, but I think it’s worth doing regardless of its consumer potential,” Mr. Sarkozy said — also with a straight face.
Unlike his father, Mr. Sarkozy is tall, and was wearing a white Rag & Bone T-shirt, All Saints jeans and Stan Smith sneakers (his “uniform”). One wrist displayed a tangle of leather and skull bracelets, and he had a skull tattoo on one forearm. He was sporting some carefully manicured short stubble.
It was hard to tell if he was in the midst of the most thoroughly considered conspiracy to hoax the fashion gullible since Laura Albert created JT Leroy and fooled the literary world — a test of how elastic is the desire for a famous face and an insider product — or if he meant what he said.
Maybe a bit of both. But if the collection is a meta-commentary on consumer habits, a lot of clever people are in on the joke.
Boonper — the name is made up and doesn’t refer to anything — was founded two years ago by two young Spanish friends, Victoria Falomir and Pablo Gómez-Lechón, who met in college and wanted “to create a kind of little ‘gallery’ of rare driving shoes,” Mr. Gómez-Lechón said. “We like the versatility, comfort and timeless elegance of this product. You can make endless interpretations of a driving shoe without losing its lure and elegance.”
Their shoes look like a cross between Berluti and Tod’s, are handmade in Spain by a workshop in Almansa with 25 employees, and prices range from about $140 to about $340. The company is backed by the Spanish billionaire Juan Roig, the president of the Mercadona supermarket chain.
They discovered Mr. Sarkozy via Instagram and direct-messaged him about doing a post on their shoes. Given that he has a respectable but not overwhelming number of followers (27,700), he was perhaps not the most obvious choice as an early influencer, but in any case, he had another idea.
Mr. Sarkozy had already been pondering the existential issue of why his generation wasn’t finding fashion inspiration in the intellectual sphere and had, he said, written up a proposal for a fashion line. (He likes to write; in his spare time, he contributes to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog and has written such pieces as “Why I won’t vote for Trump in 2020, even though I would have in 2016” and “We don’t deserve Elon Musk.”)
He sent off his proposal to Mr. Gómez-Lechón and Ms. Falomir. They met in May 2018, hit it off and the partnership was born.
Nicolas Niarchos, a journalist and photographer and the son of Daphne Guinness and Spyros Niarchos (whom Mr. Gómez-Lechón and Ms. Falomir also found and contacted on Instagram), joined up to help brainstorm their marketing. Mr. Niarchos suggested “photographing the ‘intellectual heirs’ of the figures who inspired the shoes” in the shoes, Mr. Gómez-Lechón said.
The names they came up with were Steven Pinker, the Harvard professor, cognitive psychologist and author of such books as “The Better Angels of Our Nature”; the architect Robert A.M. Stern; the novelist Joshua Cohen (“The Book of Numbers”); and Zachary R. Wood, the president of the student group Uncomfortable Learning and the author of “Uncensored.” The models-to-be all said yes.
“It’s something I don’t do every day, to put it mildly,” Dr. Pinker said of why he was inclined to accept the Boonper proposal to become a shoe mannequin. “It seemed like part of the explosive variety of life opportunities. Plus, it didn’t seem like it would take a lot of time.”
The men were photographed in conversation with Mr. Sarkozy in return for shoes. Though Dr. Pinker normally wears cowboy boots, he said he quite liked the loafers. He modeled the Freuds, which are blue, with a Freud signature as well as dream catcher on the front.
They come in two fabrics representing “the conscious, refined and frontal suede, and subconscious, coarse and honest leather,” according to the Boonper website. During their brief interview, he and Mr. Sarkozy discussed the relevance of Freudian theory today.
“In Europe there’s more of a tradition of having intellectuals as part of popular culture,” Dr. Pinker said. Still, he wouldn’t commit to making a prediction about whether the Enigma collection would work. “They are going to be tossed into the great lottery of product ideas that sounds plausible,” he said.
Despite his new sideline, Mr. Sarkozy said he still considers himself a “fashion outsider.” Before appearing in his own ads, he was perhaps best known for winging some marbles and a tomato at a police officer while visiting his father in the Élysée Palace. Growing up with a politician parent, he said, meant clothes were associated with “meetings for hours with my family and advisers to decide what to wear to a public occasion and what messages an article of clothing would send.”
He said the reception in his home country to his new gig has been mixed. “We have a bit of a nuclear name in France,” Mr. Sarkozy said. “There’s been some blowback about the vulgarization of science and arts in order to make money, but philosophers talk about fashion as a physical expression of the zeitgeist,” so he is fine with that.
He is close to his extended family and said they are supportive of his venture into the dialectic of footwear. At the same time, he has been sending out job applications, focused on journalism and Capitol Hill. He is interested in politics and public policy but plans to continue dedicating part of his time to his work with Boonper.
The company said it sold about 100 pairs of Enigma shoes in their first five days on sale, all from its own website, though it is hoping to wholesale to department stores. (Mr. Sarkozy also has plans for a woman’s line featuring Virginia Woolf and others.)
Each shoe box contains a short bio of the person who inspired the style on the inside lid, and Mr. Sarkozy would like to include excerpts from the writing of each individual in the future, to provide a little light reading while you dress.
Though, he admitted, “it’s tough to sum up and honor the work of Confucius in a driving shoe.”
By VANESSA FRIEDMAN