Inside the world's largest shoe store, Buro 24/7 Middle East spoke candidly to CFDA award-winning designer Tabitha Simmons during her first ever visit to Dubai. The British-born New York-based shoe designer, who is in the region to launch her latest collection exclusively at Level Shoe District discussed her impressive 600 (and counting) shoe collection, haute heels and the celebrities who have walked tall in her namesake brand...
From a model, then stylist to a shoe designer, how did that process evolve?
As a stylist I worked with Calvin Klein and Alexander McQueen and from there I discovered the process of shoe making. I experience everything from the last sketch to the heel, the mold. And not just shoes but the knitwear, and the handbags and the silhouette of collections. By then I was really fascinated by shoes. That was the thing that I absolutely loved.
A degree versus hands on experience is a constant discussion in the industry. Do you feel that a lack of a degree has hindered you in any way?
A lot of my friends have studied fashion design and they didn't actually end up in fashion. I studied film and TV set design and now I'm in fashion.
You stock exclusively with Level Shoe District in Dubai, are you looking to expand to the other Middle Eastern markets?
I mean I'd love to, but it's hard to say. It's my first time here and I find it really fascinating. The region is very open to new fashion, new labels and that's what I love about it here. Customers have brand loyalty but they're not afraid to go across the hall and say, "Oh I'll try this Tabitha Simmons shoe".
Tell us about the inspiration behind your latest collection?
We did a lot of glitter! It's almost like wearing a piece of jewellery on your foot. There's intricate beading too. Then there's lots of different colours as well as black intricate sexy shoes. There's a range from espadrilles to evening.
You've created a capsule collection and the Leticia sandal is based on our region. Tell us about that...
The Leticia is a very iconic shoe for us. It's done in many different ways and I really like that shoe because I think it's more of a modern silhouette but it's very, very feminine.
Women always complain about uncomfortable shoes, where do yours rank?
That's something that I really try to work on. I think being a female designer, you really try to make shoes comfortable because you have to wear them. I have to stand in my shoes all day and run around all day.
What makes Tabitha Simmons the brand different?
I really was very clear about I wanted. At the time I launched the label it was very much about platforms with lots of stuff on them. This was five-and-a-half to six years ago. I just wanted to do something that had a simple sole, which is very timeless. That's how I sort of started. I also didn't want on-trend shoes. I see people in my shoes that have worn them for a number of years and they're still wearing them. That makes me so happy because that was what I set out to do.
What's one thing people don't know about you?
I play tennis, I'm a mother... So obviously I'm an expert at building Lego. I can literally get a Star Wars spaceship built in a very, very short amount of time. I also do needle point.
Do you think we'll see any of that in your work?
I think so because it's starting to become an obsession.
Do you wear any other brands of shoes? If so, what are your favourite ones and why?
Yes, definitely! I used to collect a lot of McQueen shoes, Alaia and Dolce.
And speaking of your boys, what brands of shoes do you dress them in? Are you obsessed with their shoes because they're so little and cute?
I really like them to wear old school like Penny loafers. That's what they wear to school but they'll pick up the ugliest sneaker and think it's amazing and I'm always like "arghh". I took them to the shoe factory once to get them involved and to show them that this is where mummy goes to work and they were so disinterested (laughs).
How many pairs of shoes do you have in your wardrobe?
About 600. I'm like a hoarder.
Are you a walk-in-wardrobe kind of woman or do you prefer a minimalist approach?
I normally switch it because I have a basement of shoes downstairs. So I do a Summer/Winter wardrobe edit. I don't walk into a room full of shoes.
Carrie Bradshaw is partly responsible for making Manolo Blahnik famous. Which TV character would be the perfect ambassador for Tabitha Simmons?
I love Jennifer Connelly. I think she's amazing. But we've been really lucky to have had so many celebrities wearing our shoes. I mean we've had Gwyneth Paltrow, we've had Jennifer Aniston, Cara Delevingne, Gigi Hadid, Kendall, Sienna Miller, Julianne Moore, Keira Knightley, Kate Moss, Beyonce. Then we've had royalty from Kate Middleton to the Princess of Sweden.
Who were you most excited to work with?
I think Kate Middleton. She was someone that was kind of special. I kind of knew that it was coming but I'm always surprised when celebrities choose my shoes because coming from an editor's background, I know the process. So I never take that for granted because I know that there's hundreds and hundreds of shoes on the floor. Gwyneth Paltrow, or any celebrity, will come in and pick the dress and then for them to pick up my shoes and wear Tabitha Simmons, is phenomenal.
When it comes to designing a new collection, do you start from great research or do you just make quick sketches and then think about the idea?
My inspiration comes from everywhere! It can be from travel, a piece of furniture, a chandelier I loved, or something incredible like Victorian gates; that's where the black Aura (shoe) came from. I feel like inspiration comes from where I am at the time and what I'm doing. It never really comes from one place. I think being British I always pull on my British roots just because that's where I grew up.
You create very statement shows. Tell us about the design process...
My inspiration comes from everywhere! It can be from travel, a piece of furniture, a chandelier I loved, or Victorian gates; that's sort of where the black aura came from. I feel like inspiration comes from where I am at the time and what I'm doing and it never really comes from one place. I think being British I always pull on that British roots just because that's where I grew up.
Do you have any plans to expand your business beyond just shoes?
We've dabbled with clutches but I don't know. We want to expand but we'll have to see where we go.