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Jane Winkworth

The French Sole founder and queen of the ballet pump tells Lucie Goulet how she has carved her niche in footwear

Why did you decide to only design flat shoes?

Some 25 years ago, I saw a gap in the market. I’ve worn ballet flats all my life but no one had focused on the ballet flat as a fashion staple before. I adored everything related to ballet so it seemed a good idea.

Does the simple ballet flat prove restricting in terms of design?

It is limiting but it hasn’t held me back. I’ve just done a big collection for autumn 10 which will include kitten heels. Like artists, I’m inspired by day-to-day life, films, magazines, archive photos, past designs and art. In terms of colours, we have fantastic leather suppliers and locate wonderful leather samples. I have an excellent eye and ability to put colours together.

Vertiginous heels have been popular for the past few seasons. How does that impact on French Sole, which specialises in flats?

It hasn’t affected us at all. We are known for having made luxury ballet flats a fashion staple and our sales are stronger than ever. French Sole has 400 stockists worldwide and we’d like to increase that to 600.

Why did French Sole introduce boots into its offer for the first time in autumn 09?

I created a range of wonderful flat boots, which instantly sold out. I had no idea how big the market was. The brand is expanding to accommodate the entire flat footwear market including sandals, so boots were a natural progression.

With your sub-brand Pirouette Shoes, you’ve also created a range for bigger sizes. Are you planning to expand in any other way?

We want to expand Pirouette Shoes alongside the French Sole brand. It mirrors what French Sole does best but in bigger sizes because there are many women who want delicate, stylish shoes but aren’t able to [find them] because of their shoe size. We own our factories, buy our own leather and employ all of the workers, so we are able to make the adjustments necessary to produce bigger sizes.

All your shoes have names. How do you choose them?

It varies. If I had dinner with friends the night before I might choose one of their names. I’m also inspired by celebrities. We have a huge celebrity client list, including Katie Holmes and Victoria Beckham. Also, if a style gets copied, I redesign the pair and name it with an anagram of whoever copied it.

What expansion plans do you have?

We currently have four shops in London - in Sloane Square, Mayfair, Marylebone Lane and King’s Road. We’re looking to open a further four in London including one in the City. Globally we are hoping to open 20 stores, notably in Hong Kong, Dubai, Paris, Tokyo and South Korea.

What can we expect to see from French Sole for autumn 10?

Lots of gorgeous flat boots. I’ll also introduce the Twenty One collection - my first with heels. There will be an amazing array of 1940s-inspired shoes.

Which other footwear designer do you most admire? Manolo Blahnik.

What is your favourite shoe? The Jennifer sandal by French Sole.

Do you ever wear heels? If so, from which brands? Yes, by Christian Louboutin.

What is your favourite shop? The French Sole shop on Brook Street in London.

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