Boots of Spanish leather
“Everybody loved them so much that I started taking orders and making more.” She sold 100 pairs to The Cross boutique in Notting Hill, and then started developing styles. When she had six, she went to Paris, and lined them up like soldiers on a table at the Tranoï trade fair. “I thought, ‘God, what the hell am I doing here?’ But then people started buying them. Buying them like crazy!”
She took down orders on a scrap of paper and headed back to London. “I sat on the Eurostar thinking, ‘My goodness. This is a business.’” She now has two shops, one of which has just opened on London’s Duke Street, and while she won’t reveal turnover details, she proudly reports that retail sales doubled last year.
The range has expanded to include those wildly popular Kilim slippers in myriad patterns and fabrics, inspired by a picture she saw at a 2011 exhibition at the V& A. “I’ve always taken inspiration from men’s footwear, and I wanted to do a slipper. I saw this fantastic picture of Oscar Wilde in a donkey brown suit, with a grey silk lapel and frogging. And I made some slippers in that colour.”
Other hits include her Cubanheeled, Seventies-style velvet boots (Chung has them in three colours); crepe-soled snakeskin sandals; and neon ponyskin jungle boots. This season’s key shape is the suede wallaby shoe, with a neon stripe of microfoam rubber on the sole. “I had the Ivy League in my mind when I designed those,” Chilvers explains. “I was thinking of Americans in their needlepoint corduroys. And I added the neon because it makes you happy.”
That unexpected jolt of colour is something of a trademark, and elevates Chilvers’s designs from sensible to sassy. She sums up her aesthetic thus: “I ask myself if it’s a ‘goanywhere, do-anything’ pair of shoes. That means you feel empowered, you can dart out the door, run for a bus, feeling comfortable and confident every step of the way.”
Everything is still made in Spain. “My relationship with my makers is really key to me. You can’t just dream something up in footwear and make it – you have to know how to make it properly.” She pauses. “A couple of years ago I got quite a lot of advice to start producing further afield than Spain, and I’m really glad I stuck to my guns. Because the Spanish are passionate