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Flatiron Hot! News | December 15, 2017

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La Charentaise TCHA USA Brings Iconic French Slippers to America

La Charentaise TCHA USA Brings Iconic French Slippers to America
Eric Shapiro

La Charentaise is not just a slipper; it’s living history. Jennifer Hessel, a marketing executive, discovered La Charentaise (or “TCHAS”) on one of her many trips to Paris while recovering from appendicitis. She quickly fell in love with the slippers and their rich history. “Someone has passed this beautiful piece of craftsmanship (over) from generation to generation,” she explains. “It is truly an artisan product from a different time.” Simple yet elegant, TCHAS come in a variety of colors, patterns and materials including pressed and woven wool felt, linen, lambskin and supple, hand-dyed leather. They are easily identifiable by their distinctive sewn-back, reverse stitching technique.

Jennifer Hessel

Jennifer Hessel

La Charentaise slippers date back to the 17th century during the reign of Louis XIV, where they were manufactured in the Charante region of France. Originally, servants wore them to silence their footsteps as they went about their work. The slippers would eventually transcend these humble origins, evolving into a worldwide luxury item in the early 20th century. The addition of brocades lent the nondescript slippers an air of sophistication that appealed to the middle and upper classes.

Taken by the “quality, refinement and beauty” of her discovery, Hessel and her colleagues resolved to bring back what she saw as a singular embodiment of French culture to the United States. The latest iteration of Charentaise are manufactured by La Charentaise TCHA, a company formed in 2006 that enlists acclaimed designers to put their own unique, modern spin on the classic slippers. “TCHA is a combination of the two French words Toujours (“always”) and CHArentaise, referencing the region where the slippers originated. Hessel contacted TCHAS’ general manager, Jean-Luc Bouriau, about bringing TCHA to the U.S. markets. This was no simple task; the French authorities are highly protective of the slippers due to their cultural and historical significance. “TCHAS are all made with the same machines that they converted over to from the 1950s. Only a handful of these German-made machines still exist in the world and only a handful of people actually know how to produce them.”

The ensuing company, La Charenteis TCHA USA, is a partnership between Hessel and spouses Antoine Bourgeois and Johanna Blakely. Bourgeois (the one who introduced Hessel to La Charentaise while she recovered from appendicitis) serves as the company’s main liaison with Bouriau. He is also a technical professional who built the website. Johanna, a lawyer, handles operational developments. Finally, Hessel is in charge of marketing and promotion.


The first shipment of La Charentaise, the product of painstaking work on the part of the three partners with the cooperation of Bouriau in France, arrived in the U.S on December 21st, 2013. Although they are currently available exclusively online, Hessel’s objective is to begin selling TCHAs in stores. She considers New York City the ideal starting point, praising its distinctive, open-minded attitude: “Manhattan and New York are always open to something new. New Yorkers welcome new style and are willing to give a new brand a chance without preconceived ideas. I feel that a product can find a niche in New York like we all do in our lives, like how we pick our neighborhoods.” TCHAs are all about capturing this flexibility, accommodating different lifestyles, ages and backgrounds. Unlike other footwear, TCHAs are gender neutral. “Women and men love them for the same reasons: the comfort, the ease and the style. You can’t say that about a lot of shoes today.” They are appropriate for both casual and formal wear, whether in the house, on the street or at a party. This “wide tent” quality applies to age, as well. Babies and toddlers need not be excluded. “Before you can walk, you wear your Charentaise,” Hessel quips. “Where do your Charentaise take you?” she asks rhetorically, suggesting that the slippers are as much an expression of individuality as they are pieces of history.

Reaching a wide range of demographics will depend upon finding the appropriate retailers for these distinctive slippers. Hessel has a simple approach. “It’s about the store and the style that the store represents. It doesn’t have to be the high end. It’s about quality.” TCHAs range from $150 to $275 and are currently available exclusively online. Moving forward, Hessel plans to expand distribution throughout New York City and into other locations.