Meet the woman who knows what shoes you want to wear be­fore you do, and con­vinced a le­gend (or three) to star in her new cam­paign, says

Friday - - CONTENTS - Vic­to­ria Moss

Step up your shoe game with Re­becca Far­rar-Hock­ley’s tips – there’s noth­ing she doesn’t know about peo­ple’s shoe habits.

You’ve pos­si­bly never heard of Re­becca Far­rar-Hock­ley, the dinky, 47-year-old fire­cracker chief cre­ative of­fi­cer of Kurt Geiger, but she’s had more of an ef­fect on what you wear than you might re­alise. There’s noth­ing she doesn’t know about peo­ple’s shoe habits. Ev­ery other day she sits for at least an hour some­where pub­lic and watches. The cam­era roll on her phone is full of peo­ple’s feet (and shoes).

To my slight cha­grin she points out that the yel­low nail var­nish (a chipped relic from try­ing out a shade in the of­fice a week ago) on my thumb­nail matches the spots on my dress. It does. By com­plete ac­ci­dent. ‘I no­ticed it straight away,’ she says sin­cerely, ‘I’m a real peo­ple watcher, you see. I take ev­ery­thing in.’

The daugh­ter of two ‘quite avant-garde, big per­son­al­ity’ opera singers (she can carry a tune her­self, but ‘never did any­thing with it’) turned vicar and head­mistress, grew up in Hert­ford­shire in south­ern Eng­land.

Her first style icon was her grand­mother, who only wore pur­ple, and for whom the lo­cal bou­tique would put on fash­ion shows. ‘She wasn’t a wealthy woman at all, but she swapped the cur­tains round each sea­son.’ She de­scribes her­self as fiercely in­de­pen­dent from a young age. It shows. After grad­u­at­ing from the Uni­ver­sity of Es­sex with an English and phi­los­o­phy de­gree, she fol­lowed her then boyfriend (now hus­band, they have no chil­dren, ‘too busy work­ing’ – she gets up at 5 and is on her lap­top by 6 from her bal­cony) to Lon­don.

She queued up out­side Sel­fridges HR depart­ment and was given a job in de­signer fash­ion (‘which by to­day’s stan­dard was not de­signer,’ she says laugh­ing). She worked there for 10 years, dur­ing which time ‘they kept pro­mot­ing me’. She went from run­ning menswear to spear­head­ing the new ac­ces­sories depart­ment – tasked with ditch­ing the fusty, low-level brands and con­vinc­ing the likes of Louis Vuit­ton and Gucci to set up stall there.

She moved to Kurt Geiger in 2002, where she runs the de­sign stu­dio (for Kurt Geiger, Carvela, KG Kurt Geiger, Mini Miss KG brands), as well as over­see­ing the shoe de­part­ments for Har­rods, Lib­erty and Sel­fridges in the UK. ‘I run all the stuff which needs eyes,’ she ex­plains. The “sci­en­tists” do the rest. The eyes have it though. Last year the com­pany re­ported a full-year sale gain of 12 per cent to pounds 330 mil­lion, largely in­sti­gated by her in­stinct that fash­ion­able train­ers would take off.

She doesn’t give in­ter­views. How­ever, for Joan Collins – one of the faces of her new cam­paign – she’s come off the floor.

‘I was ner­vous when we met that all my fash­ion mo­ments would be ru­ined,’ she says of the Dame. We both con­fess to Dy­nasty ad­dic­tions and hav­ing taken sur­rep­ti­tious

pic­tures of her lun­cheon­ing (al­ways un­der her wide-brimmed hat and su­per-sun­nies) at Le Club 55 in St Tropez. ‘Of­ten,’ she muses ‘when you meet peo­ple you re­ally ad­mire, they’re a bit dis­ap­point­ing.’ Not with Joan. ‘I mean!’ she says se­ri­ously, ‘she has real star qual­ity. When you look at her on-screen, she opens her eyes and just owns it.’

Far­rar-Hock­ley is not en­tirely dis­sim­i­lar in the ef­fect she has. She’s wear­ing a long black silk skirt by Raey, a loose pink T-shirt by cult brand Off-White and bright yel­low (Kurt Geiger) train­ers. Sar­to­rial dopamine to match her bright per­son­al­ity. From her roomy white “Vi­o­let” tote bag, she en­thu­si­as­ti­cally pulls out a pair of white flat mules with crys­tal de­tail, and a pair of gold mesh ones to show me.

Mules, she af­firms, are ev­ery­thing now. ‘Right now, I can’t sell a plat­form for love or money. I used to say I’d never wear a mule, but I’ve grown to love them. I like to be able to shove shoes on and off, with­out crimp­ing down the back.’ The white daz­zlers she has stowed away in her bag are some­thing you can eas­ily pop on to add in­stant jazz hands to an out­fit, but not com­pro­mise your com­fort.

Com­fort, she says, has gone from be­ing a fusty old word as­so­ci­ated with dark edges of re­gional depart­ment stores to a fash­ion crit­i­cal. ‘It’s the main fac­tor in any­thing we do. Peo­ple weren’t used to be­ing com­fort­able, now we ex­pect it. Any­thing that is comfy sells.’

Train­ers, since their stealth re­brand over the past five years from sports­wear to luxe state­ment, now make up al­most half of her shoe sales. The big­gest change she’s seen in her ca­reer is that shift to re­lax­ation, and a less for­mal at­ti­tude to get­ting dressed. ‘We used to have a world where you’d have a glit­tery shoe for go­ing to oc­ca­sions like a wed­ding. For both men and women that’s gone. You don’t have ev­ery­day shoes and spe­cial oc­ca­sion shoes. The dis­tinc­tive­ness and per­son­al­ity of a shoe is key now, it’s not about look­ing good for that one day of the year.”’

Shoes need to be ‘prac­ti­cal, stylish and en­able you to run around in. I don’t see how you can feel or look good if you’re un­com­fort­able.’

This doesn’t mean that heels are off the agenda, merely that they’ve got eas­ier. Joan Collins chose to wear the Brit­ton stiletto in the shoot (each face chose their own out­fit and shoes). It’s a Kurt Geiger clas­sic. ‘An icon for an icon. It’s our long­est-sell­ing shoe.’ Over its 15ishyear his­tory, the de­sign has im­proved rad­i­cally. ‘No one would put up with the lack of com­fort now from back then,’ she laughs. ‘There is 4mm of mem­ory foam in all our heels, more than any­one else. I also have ex­tra flex tech­nol­ogy un­der the arch of your foot, so you’re not balanc­ing, you’re ac­tu­ally sup­ported.’

She at­tests her prow­ess to her 30-strong de­sign team, of which 90 per cent are women. ‘We try ev­ery shoe be­fore we man­u­fac­ture it. If they’re not com­fort­able and we can’t make it work, we don’t make them.’ The span­gly flat in her bag was born out of her ‘hor­ri­bly wide feet and bunions the size of my calf’. She wanted a glam­orous flat to wear with ripped jeans (“my sig­na­ture look”). It also ful­fils the rest of her cri­te­ria: ‘That I could get it on my foot and it wouldn’t weigh too much in my bag.’ Her bag (fit to burst) – was also rig­or­ously tested to en­sure it would hold the afore­men­tioned two pairs of shoes, lap­top, gi­ant make-up bag and rest of her daily ephemera. She shakes the han­dles – ‘these will never break’, she prom­ises.

Her shoe trivia is riv­et­ing. Red shoes will al­ways sell, she con­sid­ers them a neu­tral. The van­i­ties of In­sta­gram have killed off the North/ South di­vide. ‘Ten years ago you’d have said the fur­ther North you go, the higher the heel. That’s not true any­more. It’s not about the shoe, but how you wear it.’ This is the high-low mix of our fash­ion age – span­gly san­dals with jeans, train­ers with dresses... On the rise is the Meghan/Me­la­nia “pow­der puff” nude court. Rain­bow de­signs are fly­ing out cur­rently. Crys­tal em­bel­lish­ments are bed­ding in for the long haul. She can’t re­stock her satin mules with lob­ster em­broi­dered mo­tif fast enough. Gold sells more than sil­ver, but it ‘needs to be a soft gold, not a noisy one’.

Yet the big­gest truth she has learnt is that as­sump­tions are de­funct. At Sel­fridges, she saw that ‘the thing you de­signed in your head for a 35-year-old from Hamp­stead with a baby, isn’t the per­son that buys it’.

Ac­ces­sories are fash­ion’s great democ­racy. Which brings us neatly to the con­cept of her new cam­paign. ‘Our cus­tomers are look­ing for dis­tinc­tive shoes. The ones with the most per­son­al­ity. So the no­tion of cast­ing a pretty

‘We used to have a world where you’d have a glit­tery shoe for go­ing to oc­ca­sions like a wed­ding. For both men and women that’s gone’

21-year-old model felt wrong. I wanted a cast of char­ac­ters with per­son­al­i­ties. It’s lovely to be 21, but [life] isn’t only about [be­ing young] and style isn’t about age.’

The cam­paign will con­tinue through­out the year, next will come Kurt Geiger em­ploy­ees, then cus­tomers – found through In­sta­gram – and via the let­ters Far­rar-Hock­ley re­ceives weekly. One mis­sive re­cently came from an 80-year-old, who had writ­ten to say how much she loved her Eight­ies Kurt Geiger shoes. Far­rar-Hock­ley asked her PA to con­tact her to pick a new pair of shoes as a thank you. She made the point to not of­fer her “any­thing silly”. When the lady saw the op­tions she’d been sent, she re­torted: ‘Please don’t pa­tro­n­ise me. I like a proper heel.’

The trendy Brit­ton in black and nude. Dh999 each, avail­able in Kurt Geiger stores in the UAE

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