JOURNALISM

Prestige | Runway | Interview | CHARLOTTE OLYMPIA | Spring/Summer 2012

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WEB OF INTRIGUE

CHARLOTTE OLYMPIA has dug her fabulous heels into the world of fashion with an eclectic range of alluring shoes. ALISON CATCHPOLE explores the luxury cobbler's vision over an espresso in her elegant Kensington home.

 

Given her major success and exotic family background, not to mention the demands of a young family, accessories designer Charlotte Olympia Dellal could be forgiven for being elusive — all the more since she is currently masterminding an expansion from London into New York. After a few approaches, I had thought we might end up meeting by telephone, so I was delighted to be welcomed to her house on a rainy January morning.

 

“When I was a bit younger,” she confesses in a slightly low, attractive voice, “I would spend money on the shoes, not the clothes. I always think the accessories can make an outfit stand out a bit more — or you can get away with wearing something less. On the high street, clothing has to look expensive, and right, but for me it’s all about coveting objects that I like as well.” Not clutter, but precision, detail and height permeate Charlotte Olympia’s creative world, reflected in the high ceilings and wooden floors of her home and her sophisticated outfit of leather shorts, cashmere sweater and her own Charlotte Olympia animal print flats.

 

The eldest of four children of London-based property tycoon Guy Dellal and his Brazilian supermodel wife Andrea, Charlotte has just returned from a month-long break in her “home away from home,” Brazil, and her flawless skin has a real glow. With her sister, Chanel model Alice, and brother, gallery owner Alex, Charlotte seems to have the creative scene in London pretty much covered. But it turns out she’s charmingly unaffected and easygoing, a lover of black-and-white movies, Hollywood femmes fatales and murder mysteries. Her autumn/winter 2011 collection, appropriately named To Die For, was inspired by Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun.

 

Dellal graduated from Cordwainers in 2004 and started selling her Charlotte Olympia shoe line in 2007. Through her innovative, wearable designs, she quickly made her way to the top of the field. In 2011 she was awarded British Accessory Designer of the Year against stiff competition including stylist Katie Hillier and revitalised leather goods and clothing company Mulberry. “I’ve got a little bit of the business girl about me, I suppose. My dad always asked me when I started, ‘Is it a hobby or is it a business?’ So that always stuck in my head. But at the same time I very much enjoy what I do.”

 

While she juggles family life with her growing business, a visit to Hong Kong is high on the agenda, with a pop-up shop scheduled in March at On Pedder. “I’ve never been, so I grabbed the opportunity to go,” she says, hazel eyes sparkling. “I want to deepen my relationship with my retailer and to get to meet the clients. I love meeting the clients. And you get to know your market a bit better as well.”

 

Dellal would appear to know her market pretty well already, with fans ranging from Gwyneth Paltrow through Sarah Jessica Parker and Emma Watson to Michelle Williams and UK fashion darling Alexa Chung. Of her ideal client, she notes, “I know it sounds a bit of a cliche — and I always say it — but it’s someone who likes to dress from the feet up in a way. The majority of women are mad for shoes. I think they’re objects that you can also admire when they’re off.” She designs for herself, too, taking care to test drive all her products, initially only in a 15cm heel with a signature “island” platform but now including more flats to accommodate her new life as a working mother of two small boys.

 

The Charlotte Olympia flagship Maddox Street store, in London’s Mayfair, channels her old-fashioned, feminine Hollywood glamour — “a jewellery box” as she calls it, for her nostalgic yet modern designs. Details on the shoe soles and throughout the shop showcase her emblem: a golden spider’s web taken from the EB White children’s novel C/Jarl0h‘e’s Web. Her own childhood copy is even displayed in a glass box. Coinciding with New York Fashion Week, on February 20 she opened a store on Madison Avenue, her first standalone shop outside the UK. “It’s a bit bigger than the one in London, but it has the same kind of aesthetic and sensibility. New York might have a bit more deco influence in it. Overall the feeling will still be quite personal.” She plans to expand her collections from the current two per year to five, including an additional cruise, a pre-autumn and a bridal collection.

 

Dellal may be tempted to diversify, but she remains strongly committed to her role as an accessories designer. She branched out into a small ready-to-wear collection last year to use on the models for her spring/summer 2012 collection, yet remains keen to stress her crafted approach and her focus. “I’ve started to do some clutch bags. There’s the Pandora clutch box, which we sell very, very well; the clear ones have inserts, the clasps change per
season, though the classic one is a spider. It started when I did the Carmen Miranda collection, where I did the Banana Bag just because I wanted one.” This, perhaps, is a key to her phenomenal drive and success: designing items she herself enjoys wearing, often themed around something exotic, imaginative and humorous. For spring/ summer 2012, the curved gold cage-like heels are inspired by garden furniture.

 

The wit, she suggests, comes from “the era that I like, when they had a bit more of a sense of humour and were more colourful and people accessorised more — hats, gloves, shoes, stockings, belts, whatever.” Some of her shoes are even sold with matching stockings, a typically feminine detail resonant of the glamour she so reveres.

 

Dellal has a strong vision for her company, recently recruiting ex-Halston and Jimmy Choo executive Bonnie Takhar to be chief commercial and merchandising officer. “The business is coming to a certain stage, and I could kind of sit and be comfortable and small, which is fine, but I have bigger ideas. And I think it was the right moment and she was available; she’s fantastic and she’ll do a lot to help. She’s got great expertise and she’s
worked with great companies. It’s at a stage where I want to take it to the next level. I say slowly, slowly...It’s only been a few years.”

 

Charlotte’s BlackBerry vibrates, a call from her mother, who is on active grandmother duty today, supervising the latest additions to the Dellal clan. “I’m very lucky,” she says, acknowledging another key part of her support network. This high-achieving self- confessed collector of whimsical objects, who thinks she might be a milliner if she weren’t designing shoes, is so unexpectedly down to earth. Lucky, I think — and, like the noir movies that inspire her, so intriguing.
 

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