Michael Petry is Senior Vice President and Creative Director of storied boot manufacturer The Frye Company. With a resume featuring positions at Adidas, Ralph Lauren and Prada, Petry uses his shoemaking range and design expertise to usher a classic American brand founded in 1863 into the present.
What’s the key to maintaining the integrity of a 150-year-old shoe company?
The key to maintaining the integrity of our brand is to continue to make quality products, use quality leathers, adhere to original craftsmanship and keep high quality standard… the same principles that keep Louis Vuitton, Hermes and Prada in business.
Are there any styles that have been part of the line since the beginning?
Not as they exist today. There have been styles that have been in the line since the early 1900s, with some tweaks and alterations. We have the Jet Boot from the 1920s, which was reintroduced in 1944, and the Campus and Harness boot from the early 60s and the Engineer from the 70s.
What challenges are you presented with in staying true to original aesthetic?
It’s not so much about staying true to original aesthetic as it is maintaining craftsman and artistry and keeping the brand current. That’s the most difficult task; to take what’s happening today, the technological or physical characteristics that happen within today’s marketplace, and maintain the quality and the craftsmanship.
Frye has become more of a ‘fashion’ brand in the past few years. What have you done specifically to change this message?
Nothing. People have started to recognize the quality and time and effort that go into designing our product. It has started to resonate with the customer. If you spend a few hundred dollars, you’re going to get a lifetime of use out of it. It’s more about the consumer coming around to what the brand offers and what the relevance of the brand is, rather than us changing what the model of the brand looks like.
In what ways has the collection evolved the most?
Probably the biggest shift is that we started out as a primarily a men’s brand in the 1800s and now we are driven by women’s footwear and accessories. The split is 60-40 women’s to men’s vs. when we started with 90-10 men’s to women’s.
How would you describe your core customer?
Downtown. Cool. Bad Ass. Our core customer appreciates quality, they tend to style themselves in such a way that when you see our product, you say “Yeah, that’s Frye,” whether it’s a biker look with our Engineer styles or a bohemian look with our Harness styles.
What state do they live in?
Every state and of every gender and background. Everyone can style this brand in the way they like. People wear it in many different ways, and that’s what Frye is all about; it’s a unique property.
What have been the most significant changes in advertising since the company was founded?
The biggest change is the existence of the Internet, which allows us to tell our story in a succinct manner, 24-7, 365.
Having worked for companies such as Prada and Ralph Lauren, did you find you needed to adjust your focus tremendously? How do these markets overlap most? In what we are they most different?
I don’t feel that I’ve had to adjust my focus at all. There is a common theme between all of them; they are design driven brands that make high quality products. It wasn’t difficult to slide into Frye and use the things I’ve learned at all the other brands I’ve worked at.
What’s the best advice you can offer to someone starting out in the shoe business?
“Work hard in silence, let your success be your noise.” – Ritu Ghatourey