For Penelope Chilvers, travel — whether a long haul or a quick jaunt — is both a reprieve and creative necessity.
“I take inspiration from my trips, and it’s the highlight of working on a collection,” said the London-based footwear and accessories designer, who is putting the finishing touches on a dedicated bespoke area within her Ledbury Road flagship store, which opened last year.
Since launching in 2005 and quickly becoming a favorite of the Duchess of Cambridge and Alexa Chung, Chilvers’ brand has melded a worldly perspective with a local sensibility, built on the success of English signatures such as the smoking slipper and Chelsea boot. “For the winter collection, I shot our model in front of a backdrop made of old maps because the theme is all about travel. I found [the maps] in a Portobello Road market,” said Chilvers, whose label is stocked by upscale retailers including Harvey Nichols and Matches in the U.K., and Neiman Marcus and Shopbop.com in the U.S. “It is a great source for vintage pieces I might reference.”
When a stroll around her eclectic neighborhood won’t do, Chilvers hops a plane in pursuit of perfecting her designs. “My snow boots were inspired by Norway. I visited a few years ago to find the best place to make them — [Norwegians] are experts on snow. The result is our Incredible Boot. It is shearling lined and has cowhide fur on the outside, with a Norwegian-inspired trim.”
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Chilvers visits Spain every six weeks for both pleasure and production purposes. She lived in Barcelona for 10 years and began creating her first espadrilles there. Now, the majority of her products are made in the country.
When not on official duty, she summers on Girona’s Costa Brava. “I’ve been going there since I was a child. It’s a beautiful area. I spend my time swimming in the sea and eating delicious food,” the designer said, naming fideuà as a favorite Spanish dish. “It’s like a paella but with very thin noodles.”
A recent adventure in El Rocío in southern Spain sparked an idea for one of her latest styles. “I created a new hiking boot for fall ’14 after going on a 40-kilometer expedition with my husband. It was such good exercise. I wore [sneakers] because I didn’t have these boots yet.”
Increasingly, Chilvers said she feels Africa’s pull. Earlier this year, she visited Nairobi, Kenya, on a trip that inspired her to add zebra prints and a beaded moccasin to her offering. She also just returned from a safari in Cape Town, South Africa.
Despite her well-stamped passport, Chilvers still has a long list of places she hopes to explore.
“My dream trip would be to go to Mexico this year. I have a weakness for the colors and fabrics,” she said.
When traveling, Chilvers likes to wear her sneaker-inspired Jungle Boot and always totes her Trinity three-buckle bag and trusty Nikon Coolpix camera, which allows her to snap pictures and post directly to her site’s blog, “My Travel Journal.” She also brings apropos reading material, such as “Flamingo Feather” by Laurens van der Post or a British classic. “I’m currently enjoying Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles.’ I love that kind of descriptive writing. It’s all about journeys, isn’t it?” she said. “It could almost be classified as a travel book.”
Not all of Chilvers’ travels are far-flung or exotic, though. She still enjoys exploring the cultural surroundings closer to home. “This weekend, I’m heading to Bristol, [England], to attend a Scottish dance with friends.” Fittingly, she just designed a tartan-print boot.