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
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