The footwear designer on her love of travel and favourite snakeskin boots
Launched in 2005, Penelope Chilvers’ eponymous footwear brand now has two London stores (Led bury Road in west London and Duke Street in Mayfair), and more than 60 stockists worldwide. A keen traveller, the designer shares a favourite celebrity encounter and her career advice.
What do you love most about your job?
The entire creative process and meeting interesting people within the business. My collections tend to be inspired by travel and adventure, and I have been fortunate enough to discover some of the world’s most fascinating places through work – I split my time between London and Spain, and have been visiting Africa frequently for different projects.
What do you dislike the most about your job?
The dreaded “W” word: weather. Sales in the footwear industry are weather dependent. I would like the industry to move back to “buy now, wear now” buying. (Penelope Chilvers footwear wholesales from £32 for sandals to £180 for summer boots)
What’s the most expensive item in your wardrobe?
I’ve just made myself some beautiful peacock green snakeskin pull-on boots with a blocky heel, which we’ve now produced as a luxury limited edition for our stores. I carried a cutting of the leather in my handbag for weeks while I dreamt about them coming to life. They will retail at £699.
What’s the most treasured item in your wardrobe?
I have a collection of vintage clothing that I buy for dual purposes: to wear and to design with. One piece is a silk Spanish shawl that has fed me many embroidery designs over the years.
Where are your favourite places to shop?
Around our own store in Ledbury Road, close to where I live and work. Liberty is one of London’s most iconic stores and offers an incredibly comfortable shopping experience. I also like multi-brand boutique Collen & Clare’s stores in Southwold, Suffolk, and Burnham Market, Norfolk.
What new brands have you got your eye on?
This season for London Fashion Week I’m collaborating with one of London’s most respected up-and-coming talents: Molly Goddard. I have created a special capsule collection for her show and really enjoyed working with her.
Who is the most stylish person in the industry?
I absolutely love the work and personal style of Lucinda Chambers, fashion director of British Vogue.
If you could only wear one pair of shoes for the rest of your life, what would they be?
I adore the simplicity and comfort of our flat leather espadrilles, made by a family-run factory I have worked with for more than 10 years now. I believe that to walk on natural jute is the most comfortable of natural materials.
Which do you prefer: heels or flats?
In the past I have been nicknamed “queen of flats” but I often design with heels and wedges too. Most importantly I want my customers to feel empowered.
Trousers or skirts?
Both! If I was taller, I would wear both at once.
What’s the biggest misconception about the fashion industry?
Many people think the fashion industry is a consumerist vanity of the western world. Although it can often come across that way, it is also an inspiring form of culture and art. Long live fashion!
What would we find you doing at the weekend?
Possibly making cushions out of leftover shoe fabrics.
Lots of famous faces have been spotted in your designs, from singer Rihanna to the Duchess of Cambridge. Tell us some celeb stories.
Cate Blanchett and her husband once tracked me down in my studio to buy a pair of boots. They stayed the afternoon, trying on everything and filling a suitcase of boots.
You travel a lot, where was your last trip?
Earlier this year me and my family [went] on a pilgrimage in Spain, known as La Romeria del Rocio.
How would you describe your personal style?
Colourist. I prefer brown to black. And brand ambassador – day in, day out, of course!
What has been your career highlight to date?
What I’ve most enjoyed recently is the return of wholesale back in house. We have a beautiful showroom at 69 Duke Street in Mayfair, where we show the collection in its own home.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
Be generous with ideas.
What would you say to people wanting to start their own brand?
You can’t jump the canyon in two steps. Prepare funds. Be committed. Stick to your beliefs and ethos, and a brand will emerge that you can nurture and protect.
What do you do to get inspired?
Travel has been a constant inspiration to me. Partly because, when you travel, your eyes open to new stimulus and the phone stops ringing.
Tell us something not many people know about you?
I have a minimalist attitude to kitchen gadgets. The fewer the better.