De­signer of the Year

Her touch is golden for just about any­thing, whether it’s a mul­ti­fac­eted de­sign and styling ca­reer or a hand­ful of buzz-build­ing col­lab­o­ra­tions.

Footwear News - - CONTENTS - SHAN­NON AD­DUCCI

Tabitha Sim­mons

This year, a set of pho­to­graphs from 1917 Eng­land broke records at an auc­tion in Lon­don, fetch­ing 10 times more than the es­ti­mate. Known as the Cot­tin­g­ley Fairies, the por­traits were taken by two young sis­ters who used pa­per cutouts and hat­pins to por­tray them­selves with the myth­i­cal crea­tures, set­ting off a cen­tu­ry­long de­bate on the le­git­i­macy of the im­ages — and the ex­is­tence of fairies.

It was just the sort of thing that gave Tabitha Sim­mons in­spi­ra­tion, and the pho­tos served as a foun­da­tion for her fall ’18 col­lec­tion, which fea­tured del­i­cate fairy­like feath­ers on san­dals, Vic­to­ri­ana lace-up boots and flat mil­i­tary styles that read as both an­tique and mod­ern.

It has been al­most a decade since Sim­mons de­buted her brand — a move that earned her the 2009 Launch of the Year award from FN — but el­e­gance, fem­i­nin­ity, whimsy, a sense of his­tory and, yes, a few en­dear­ing ec­cen­tric­i­ties have re­mained stead­fast threads in her footwear de­signs through­out an in­evitable rise.

Her in­flu­ences of­ten veer to­ward Bri­tish tra­di­tions, and lately, they have be­come more spe­cific, such as with the Cot­tin­g­ley Fairies and through an on­go­ing part­ner­ship with a nearly 300-year-old English silk mill to de­velop ex­clu­sive spe­cialty fab­rics in del­i­cate flo­ral prints and jacquards. “I love Vic­to­rian, fem­i­nine things, Ed­war­dian things. I re­ally do pull a lot from my English roots,” said the de­signer as she sat down with FN over a cup of tea (milk, no su­gar) in her Up­per East Side apart­ment.

That per­sonal el­e­ment to her brand is widely rec­og­nized. “Tabitha is not only a gifted de­signer of shoes, she’s also a wife, mother, fash­ion ed­i­tor and busi­ness­woman,” said Anna Win­tour, ed­i­tor-in-chief of Vogue, where Sim­mons works as a con­tribut­ing ed­i­tor. “She el­e­vates ev­ery­thing she does — and not just be­cause she is in heels.”

Through­out her de­sign ca­reer, Sim­mons has had a mis­sion to cre­ate footwear that is as mod­ern, el­e­gant, ver­sa­tile and hard­work­ing as she needs them to be for her own life. “Women are get­ting busier,” said the mul­ti­tasker, who, in ad­di­tion to her brand and Vogue du­ties, con­tin­ues to style Dolce & Gab­bana’s run­way shows. “Like with me: [I have] a baby, two teenage boys; I’m styling and also run­ning a shoe com­pany. We want some­thing to wear dur­ing the day and carry on through to the night. I put my shoe on, wear it, and I’ll be in it un­til I come home.”

Sim­mons has al­ways had one ad­van­tage over her male coun­ter­parts in that she can per­son­ally test all of her shoes to pro­vide di­rect feed­back to her fac­tory near Florence, Italy. “I’m still a baby in the shoe in­dus­try, get­ting my iden­tity,” said Sim­mons. “I want to be able to say [to the cus­tomer]: ‘This is our shoe, and this is how it feels.’”

Lately, she and the brand’s CEO, No­rah At­ter­bury (a Gucci and Jimmy Choo alum who in Au­gust was pro­moted to the po­si­tion, from di­rec­tor of sales), have been putting more em­pha­sis on those tried-andtested col­lec­tions. They’ve shifted their strat­egy to car­ry­ing over more ev­er­green styles — like the pointy-toe Hermione flat or the hik­ing-in­spired Bex­ley boot — to keep loyal cus­tomers in their shoes sea­son af­ter sea­son. Case in point: The ma­jor­ity of Sim­mons’s 100 whole­sale partners now carry a ver­sion of the Hermione.

The brand has grown in re­cent sea­sons with ad­vice from Coach CEO and pres­i­dent Joshua Schul­man, who men­tored Sim­mons af­ter she won the CFDA’s Swarovski Award for Ac­ces­sory De­sign in 2012. “As an ed­i­tor, she was al­ways mov­ing fast from one sea­son’s trends to the next. I sug­gested she slow it down and tell an on­go­ing story where one sea­son builds on the next,” said Schul­man. “It’s re­ward­ing to see how the brand has evolved and gone from strength to strength.”

One of those strengths is a steady stream of col­lab­o­ra­tions that have proved suc­cess­ful in the In­sta­gram age. This year, Sim­mons con­tin­ued her on­go­ing part­ner­ship with Colom­bian de­signer Jo­hanna Or­tiz to cre­ate feath­ered mules and san­dals, mules and pumps for re­sort ’19. She also teamed with Laura Vas­sar and Kris Brock of the bur­geon­ing wom­enswear la­bel Brock Col­lec­tion to cre­ate ro­man­tic kicks for their spring ’19 line, and dur­ing Paris Fash­ion Week in Oc­to­ber, she feted a cap­sule col­lec­tion of footwear and ready-towear with Equip­ment.

“It took me a few years to start again on col­lab­o­ra­tions,” said Sim­mons, who first worked with J.Crew on a cap­sule of mod­er­ately priced shoes in 2012. “But if it feels right, then why not?”

In­deed, if the shoe fits, Sim­mons will wear — and de­sign — it.

WHEN IT COMES TO COL­LAB­O­RA­TIONS, SIM­MONS SAYS, “IF IT FEELS RIGHT, THEN WHY NOT?”

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