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Diving Into The Fashion World, Feet First

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Let’s be real here. Fashion is a hypercompetitive industry full of people who can be witheringly (but often hilariously) critical of each other. So when it comes time for an awards gala, wherein the members of the fashion scene must play nice and hand out plaudits to their peers, most people cope by sighing into their free Champagne and mumbling that so-and-so was sorely overlooked…as usual. But every so often, an award is given out to a designer who is so self-evidently deserving that only the most vicious fashion misanthrope could protest. Such was the case recently at the Footwear News FN Awards, where Charlotte Dellal took home the Designer of the Year honor for her rapidly expanding five-year-old brand, Charlotte Olympia. This has been a threshold year for Dellal, one that saw her launch a range of bridal footwear, collaborate with Victoria Beckham, and open her first stateside store on New York’s Upper East Side. More generally, 2012 was the year that Charlotte Olympia firmly and finally established itself as a go-to brand for VIPs looking to rock a glam shoe on the red carpet. (Or anywhere else, for that matter.) Here, the cool and impeccably coiffed Dellal talks to Style.com about gilded platforms, her brand’s evolution, and the importance of having a sense of humor.


Congratulations! I guess this is as good a time as any to ask you that burning fashion question: What is the deal with women and shoes?
You mean, why do women love shoes? I always have a hard time with that one. They just do. I think, maybe, it has something to do with the fact that they’re objects—beautiful objects that you can wear. They look good on, and they look good off.

Did you always know you wanted to design shoes?
Actually, I wanted to do fashion design. Or so I thought. But when I did my foundation course, my tutor suggested I go into Cordwainers and train to make shoes. All my sketches of clothes were heavily accessorized. So I was accessory-focused from the beginning, I guess. And I do love accessories. I love how they personalize a look—you can be wearing the most sober outfit, and add an amazing shoe, a crazy bag, a hat, whatever, and make it something else entirely. It’s that old Hollywood, 1940s thing that I love so much; a way of not just finishing a look, but really elaborating it with your own sense of style.

You have a very distinctive, ’40s Hollywood-inflected personal style, and that’s reflected in Charlotte Olympia. When you design, are you designing for yourself?
Yes and no. I mean, as a designer, you create things that you love, don’t you? And as a female designer, it’s pretty inevitable that you create things that you love and want to wear. They go hand in hand. For me, anyway. So, of course, my sensibility is in the brand; it wouldn’t work otherwise. But my experiences as a woman also inform my sense of what’s missing in the market. Launching bridal—that came pretty directly out of my own experience of being a bride. I was looking around at the shoe options, and it was all, various shades of white and off-white. Like, peep-toe heels and things. And of course, I love color, I love pattern, and I just felt like, well, on your wedding of all days, you should be wearing a pair of shoes you really love, that represent who you are. I had on a huge dress, no one was going to see my shoes, but it made me happy knowing that I had on a pair of leopard-print pumps. And then, in the meantime, I did have women coming to the shop, and buying, like, red shoes to wear at their weddings. So I saw this niche.

How do you see your line as having evolved since you launched five years ago?
Well, this is obvious, but it’s gotten a lot bigger. My first few collections, I was only doing 140mm heels, with the recessed platform. That was about establishing an aesthetic, by the way; it wasn’t that I thought all women should wear super-high heels all the time. But I wanted to establish a silhouette, and a certain…I guess the only way to say it is a certain glamour. You know, as an aside, my true signature, initially, was the recessed gold platform. Some people saw that as really bling-y, but my thinking was, you know, it’s a recessed platform; when you wear the shoe, it’s under your foot, and so all that is is a little golden glow underfoot. A little magic, because—why not? Anyway. Sorry to digress, I just always felt like that gold platform was misunderstood. And of course now I design all sort of shoes—flats, sandals, the whole lot. Plus bags, now, too.

Are there other categories you’d like to explore?
There are lots of things I’d love to do, eventually. Like hats—I’m a big fan of hats, and I’ve been working with Piers Atkinson on some styles. I don’t need to do hats in-house; not right now. There are a lot of milliners I respect. Down the line, who knows? But anything that develops, it will develop organically. I like to joke that my accessories have accessories. Like, the bags started because I wanted a Perspex clutch to match the Perspex heels in a collection. And here we are, doing all these bags. And I love it. The novelty bags we make each season, they’re like the exclamation point at the end of the collection.

Do you have any shoe heroes?
Salvatore Ferragamo. The old Salvatore Ferragamo—the man. He used all this wonderful color and amazing materials. And of course, he was from the era that I love and made special shoes for the Hollywood actresses that have inspired me. And then, of course, when I was a child, my mother’s closet was full of Manolos. And when you’re a child, you’re always in your mother’s closet, trying on her shoes. Again, so many wonderful colors. And such a distinctive femininity—I still really appreciate that.

People tend to talk about your shoes being glamorous. It’s a word you use quite a bit yourself. But I feel like they rarely point out that your shoes are also kind of…funny. You know they’re funny, right?
Of course! I like to bring a sense of humor to my designs. A little silliness.What I really love to do is to play with the obvious—my collections are usually inspired by places, and I love doing things like, when we did the Paris collection, playing on all these Parisian super-clichés, like frou-fy poodles and the Eiffel Tower. I like to make the obvious more obvious. But it’s like I was saying, about the gold platform—why not? It’s so much easier to be bold or silly or over-the-top with your shoes than with pretty much any other part of your wardrobe. I can easily understand women who are shy about wearing some kind of crazy dress. But having fun with shoes? That never hurt anyone.

Photo: Julia Kennedy

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