Real Style - - Contents - BY HEIDI HOFSTAD

Tabitha Sim­mons on shoes, moth­er­hood and life in the fash­ion lane.

“I first look at their eyes and then I might look down at the feet, but it’s def­i­nitely eyes first. My mother would kill me if I wasn’t like that,” laughs Tabitha Sim­mons when asked whether shoes are the first thing she no­tices on a woman. The shoe de­signer, fash­ion stylist, Vogue Con­tribut­ing Ed­i­tor and ex-model (yes, she won the ge­netic lot­tery too!) is look­ing ra­di­ant and chic when we catch up with her at Holt Ren­frew in Van­cou­ver to talk shoes. For the event, Sim­mons had paired her flo­ral-print, longsleeved, midi-length Dolce & Gab­bana dress with a chunky heel san­dal fea­tur­ing a flo­ral cutout pat­tern from her own line. “I started from the shoe and worked up, which is gen­er­ally what hap­pens,” re­veals the style-set­ter of how she put her look to­gether that morning.

Since launch­ing her epony­mous footwear line in 2009, Sim­mons’ achieve­ments in fash­ion have in­cluded win­ning the Emerg­ing Tal­ent Award for Ac­ces­sories at the 2011 Bri­tish Fash­ion Awards, the 2012 Coun­cil of Fash­ion De­sign­ers of Amer­ica (CFDA) Swarovski Award for Ac­ces­sory De­sign and the 2015 CFDA Fash­ion Awards Ac­ces­sory De­signer of the Year award. “When I re­leased my col­lec­tion, it was very tame,” says Sim­mons, re­flect­ing on the footwear creations of other de­sign­ers at the time, in­clud­ing Alexan­der McQueen’s wildly iconic ar­madillo boots. “I went in the op­po­site di­rec­tion and took on very time­less shoes. It has worked, be­cause peo­ple are still wear­ing those shoes and that seems like a good thing, where it wasn’t just for one sea­son,” she shares.

Sim­mons’ de­signs are known for their fem­i­nine de­tails, such as dec­o­ra­tive flo­ral prints (she vo­cally pro­fesses her love of flora), cutout de­tail­ing, eye­let em­broi­dery, or­nate em­bel­lish­ments, in­ter­est­ing sil­hou­ettes and a dash of what she calls “English quirk.” Their ap­pear­ance is also in­ten­tion­ally op­po­site the con­ser­va­tive, far-from-fancy feet styles she suc­cumbed to as a school­girl in Peter­bor­ough, Eng­land. “Be­cause I could only wear cer­tain shoes at school—it was ei­ther black or brown, and it had to be flat and lace-up—I had to re­ally work within that, and then af­ter­wards I was like, ‘Ah, okay, I now want to go…’”

So far the pos­si­bil­i­ties seem end­less. With her shoes hand­made in Italy by mas­ter cob­blers, Sim­mons knows this ar­ti­san ap­proach to con­struct­ing her de­signs won’t be around for­ever. “There are so many things that are dy­ing out in Italy be­cause they don’t have that gen­er­a­tion to learn about crafts­man­ship, so for me, I’m still hold­ing on to that,” she says of the un­stylish truth that tra­di­tional crafts­men are on the verge of ex­tinc­tion in a mod­ern world. “Some­times the hand makes a mis­take that gives the piece an ex­tra sort of beauty, whereas a ma­chine is so pre­cise that you miss out on that won­der­ful mis­take,” Sim­mons adds.

Bri­tish-born, Manhattan-based, Sim­mons grad­u­ated with hon­ours from Kingston Univer­sity with a de­gree in film and set de­sign. “From

there, I was dis­cov­ered to be a model—I was a ter­ri­ble model, but that’s how I found styling and thought ‘That’s ac­tu­ally a great job,’” Sim­mons re­calls. Her new­found ca­reer saw Sim­mons styling for glossies such as Dazed & Con­fused, An­Other Mag­a­zine and V Mag­a­zine, and land­ing cat­walk styling gigs with Alexan­der McQueen and Calvin Klein. Th­ese ex­pe­ri­ences would give her in­sight into the process of build­ing a col­lec­tion, from sketch to re­al­ity. “That’s when I got a re­ally big pas­sion for shoes, and set up my own shoe line. I still style for Amer­i­can Vogue and for Dolce & Gab­bana, where I do the women’s, men’s and the Alta Moda col­lec­tions. And I also con­sult on other brands like Tory Burch. But my main pas­sion is my shoe line,” she con­fesses.

For any­one run­ning in heels (with mul­ti­ple ca­reers, for that mat­ter), the ob­vi­ous ques­tion is how does she do it all? “I have to be ex­cep­tion­ally or­ga­nized and plan ahead, and luck­ily for shoes it’s a re­ally big turn­around. We have to work very far in ad­vance, so while I’m wait­ing for six weeks for the shoes, I can do other things.”

Reg­u­larly chan­nel­ing in­spi­ra­tion from her trav­els and English up­bring­ing, for fall/win­ter 2016 Sim­mons also had an­other muse. “I have an Art Nou­veau ta­ble at home that has great big drag­on­fly legs, and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this would be amaz­ing to make into a shoe be­cause it’s so fem­i­nine,’” she shares ex­cit­edly. This epiphany trans­lated into the col­lec­tion’s sig­na­ture, orig­i­nal print mo­tif of del­i­cate drag­on­flies sit­ting amid flow­ers. Over­all the look of the col­lec­tion is very Vic­to­rian: an open-toe bootie with cutout sides and laced up at the an­kle, a heeled loafer slide with tas­sel de­tail, and a round-toe slip­per with a block heel and an­kle strap, to name a few. “I test drive all of my shoes and you know, I’m busy—I’m a mother, I’m styling, I’m stand­ing on set for 12 or 13 hours [a day]—so for me, I want a com­fort­able shoe, but it still looks very fash­ion,” she says. Walk­ing in Sim­mons’ shoes means ma­jor mul­ti­task­ing, as she jug­gles each of her roles, in­clud­ing that of mum. Mar­ried to prom­i­nent fash­ion pho­tog­ra­pher Craig McDean, Sim­mons has two young sons, El­liott and Dylan, and seems to have found a bal­ance be­tween fash­ion and fam­ily. “I’m re­ally good at build­ing Lego. Star Wars star­ships are my spe­cialty,” Sim­mons says, laugh­ing as she shares a hid­den tal­ent. “I love my boys. How­ever, they don’t have any in­ter­est in fash­ion, so they tend to bring me back down to earth. For ex­am­ple, the other day, I took my son Dylan to a store to show him my shoe. He ended up ask­ing me if I had made the ta­ble!” There is, how­ever, no con­fus­ing Sim­mons’ pop­u­lar­ity among mod­els and celebri­ties look­ing well footed in her de­signs. Fa­mous fans in­clude Alexa Chung, Kar­lie Kloss, Ken­dall Jen­ner, Cara Delev­ingne, Ju­lianne Moore and Char­l­ize Theron. “We have very great girls wear­ing our shoes. It’s some­thing that I feel very lucky for,” says Sim­mons. “Be­cause I’m an ed­i­tor, I un­der­stand there are 200 pairs of shoes on the floor and for them to pick mine, it’s re­ally an honour.” In fact, Sim­mons named her pointed-toe Alexa flat af­ter Chung. “I was wear­ing the sam­ple on a shoot and she said, ‘Oh, I love that shoe. Where did you get that?’ And I was like, ‘It’s mine. I made it. I’m just test­ing it,’” Sim­mons re­calls. The de­signer then sent a pair of the flats to Chung, and since the style was yet un­named, the model’s moniker was a shoe-win. Of the process for nam­ing her other kids with heels, Sim­mons says, laugh­ing, “Each one is like a child. You sort of look at it and go, ‘Oh, that looks like a…” and voilà! But when it comes to nam­ing a shoe Tabitha (ju­nior), Sim­mons has too much love for ev­ery pair to be­stow that honour. “That is the big­gest ques­tion. I don’t know what it would look like. I need to come up with one, but I think they are all pretty much Tabitha shoes,” she con­cludes. What­ever the name, in a Sim­mons you’re sure to be step­ping out in style.

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