Long before she became the Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine Middleton has been shopping for shoes at London designer Penelope Chilvers‘ Notting Hill boutique. And it’s no wonder. The designer’s Spanish-crafted styles are rooted in the classics and have a Fox & Hunt crowd sensibility. But with unexpected colors and materials (metallic stretch panels on Chelsea boots, iridescent python on high-tops or jewel-toned appliquéd clogs), her creative choices set her apart.
Ditto her practical approach to making shoes that have a real purpose, or often, place, behind them. “When I’m designing, I’m thinking of where these will be worn, and for what?” says Chilvers. “[I have] adventure and travel in mind. We make boots for experience; shearling lined snow boots for the mountains, sturdy Chelsea boots for country walks to the pub, Safari Attire that look just right in African bush, or a leather sandal to wear all summer long.”
Here, the designer, who is carried stateside at Forty Five Ten, Moda Operandi and Anthropologie, tells us more about her unique background and those buzzy boots fit for a royal.
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Catherine Middleton loves an eleven-year old pair of your boots from your first collection so much, she’s still wearing it. Do you have a favorite style?
“I don’t. I design over 300 styles a year, forming four collections. They are at their most precious to me at their conception, when they are still in my imagination and I am full of hope to create something beautiful. I am a colourist and often the palette and colour combinations I choose seem to identify them as ours. Many of them become “old friends”, and get better with age. A favourite new style for next season that I adore is the Pioneer boot in slate suede. It’s been picked up by our US stockists and in the UK.”
Your known for reworking and rethinking archetypal shoe styles such as riding boots, smoking slippers and hikers. What is the trickiest shoe style to get just right?
“There are three styles that I think are close to perfection; all proven as dependable, best sellers for a number of years, and therefore considered classics in the range. I redesign new colors and combinations of these two winners every winter season. They are both extremely comfortable, fit everyone and seem to make people feel good. One is the Safari boot, cut low at the ankle with an elastic insert, on a Goodyear welt construction and crepe sole. This is a lightweight little boot that people literally live in.
The other style that comes to mind is our Incredible boot; a natural shearling lined [style] on our specialist snow tread sole, ideal for walks in the snow and cold conditions. It’s one of our best sellers in the U.S market. The Long Tassel Boot ( Kate’s boots) has many refined measurements, as a long boot always should do, and I have not compromised on its beauty by making it’s measurements right for everyone. It’s a stylized, elongated silhouette with an elegant fit that turns heads. I have been making it since I started. The leather is vegetable dyed calfskin and comes from one of the oldest tanneries in Spain.”
How did you get into footwear?
“I’m Born and raised in England. I originally trained as a painter at the Byam Shaw School of Art in London, and was granted a scholarship from the Spanish Ministry of Culture, to complete an MA at Complutense University in Madrid. My love affair with Spain and local craftsmanship began long before. As a child I spent every school holiday in the province of Girona where I first came across rustic, handmade alpargatas (espadrilles) and Spanish leather.
Traditional craftsmanship became a passion of mine. I lived for a few years in the city of Barcelona, pursuing my career as a painter and designer and working with artisans. When I returned to live in London I [had] the idea of bringing the Spanish Riding boot to England, unearthing a small number of traditional artisans in the hills of Spain and commissioning them to make the perfect equestrian boot. I started selling to friends first, and then I took a small collection of six new styles to Paris Fashion week where the success I received literally changed my career overnight.”
Which style from fall ’16 could you most see on the Duchess of Cambridge?
“The Duchess of Cambridge has come to us for country boots, to be out in the weather, a walking boot essentially. The British do Country with a certain, studied look that follows the Not-too-new unspoken rule. It was a huge surprise to see her in our boots for the photo shoot in Bhutan; she has worn our Long Tassel boot style for over 10 years, and was shot in them for the first time, at the time of her engagement to Prince William.
Normally she would wear these boots for private times, I imagine, for walks in Norfolk and Scotland. I thought it was an ingenious and practical look for the trek, to choose boots that she knows so well, that would ensure comfortable feet for a three hour walk looking so stylish and chic in the very British, natural way. I’d love to see her in our natural leather espadrilles this summer, which are authentically made with hand stitched detail by Spanish artisans.”
Click through the gallery below to explore the entire collection.