make purposeful footwear: for travel, for experience, for going places and doing things,” begins the shoe designer Penelope Chilvers when we meet. Yeah, right, I think, applying my usual cynicism and substituting “travel” with “a business class flight to New York” and “experience” with “a fashion show”.
For when I think of Chilvers, I see Alexa Chung in her palm-treeemblazoned smoking slippers, looking picture-perfect while striding through customs at JFK. I recall Claudia Schiffer, Keira Knightley and Cate Blanchett, all of whom are fans of Chilvers’s neonaccented safari boots. None of these women, you will agree, is heavily associated with outdoor pursuits.
Forgive me. For it turns out that practicality – a moot point in fashion – is truly at the heart of Penelope Chilvers, the woman and the brand. It all started with a riding boot. And not just any riding boot: a traditional Spanish riding boot, made in a specialist Goodyear-weltedsole factory where all her riding, walking, and snow boots are still made. Like all good designs, it was born of genuine need.
“I didn’t make it with a mind to starting a business,” Chilvers recalls. “I wanted a pair of riding boots for myself. So I spent a day with the most amazing Spanish artisan, telling him how I wanted it to look.”
An artist by training – she studied painting at London’s Byam Shaw School of Art – and with a career in interior, commercial property and product design in Barcelona already established, Chilvers was very particular. She wanted the ankle elongated and the foot narrow; the Spanish saddle leather vegetabledyed to a chocolate brown; a knee-high cut; and a tassel.
I’ve seen the fuschia, and it works (below, from top): safari boot, £239, Penelope Chilvers (penelope chilvers. com); jacket, £48, Topshop (topshop. com); jungle boot, £199, Penelope Chilvers, as before