Straight to the point
They might be painful at times and terrible for navigating cobbled streets, but there's still nothing like a glamorous pair of heels to make a statement. Now a newcomer is giving the likes of Christian Louboutin and Guiseppe Zanotti a run for their money - British designer Charlotte Olympia Dellal.
'I always had a clear idea of what I wanted to do, which was super-high heels,' says Dellal, visiting Hong Kong for the first time this week to launch her spring-summer collection, which includes four exclusive styles for Hong Kong, at On Pedder. 'Now my customer base is broadening with flats, super highs and those in between.'
Dellal looks every bit the enigmatic glamour puss with her finger-waved locks and retro sunglasses. The Dellal sisters and heiresses, Charlotte and younger sibling Alice, have cut fine figures in the London scene for years. It was, after all, Dellal's 15cm stilettos that made her Charlotte Olympia brand famous. 'There is always the essence of the '40s and '50s that I love,' she says. 'I like the '30s as well, but those are my eras - and always part of the brand.'
Her shoes have mostly classical shapes, with the exception of some outrageous designs that have included gold art deco style strappy heels or lace-up leopard print wedges. Working with velvet, canvas and raffia rather than just leather, has given her a fresh aesthetic, as has her vintage fan detailing, vivid colours and prints. Each shoe is handcrafted in Italy and finished with the brand's gold spider web on the sole - a reference to Charlotte's Web.
'I am a woman designing for other women. I know what it feels like to wear a pair of these shoes, to love a pair of shoes and to want to die for a pair of shoes. I feelthat's very much one of my advantages,' Dellal says.
After graduating from London's Cordwainers Institute, she worked at Ungaro and Giambattista Valli before launching her eponymous label in late 2007, developing a style that was ultra-feminine and detail focused. Her 'island platform' lifts the shoes to dizzying heights, but Dellal claims that they aren't as uncomfortable as they look.
'I find it very important to be able to walk in high heels, and not necessarily suffer in them,' she says. 'I don't want just pretty shoes. I am not saying that you can run a marathon in them, obviously, but I do want them to be worn all night long and danced in.'
In only four years Dellal's label has made its name among the biggest industry players - with Anna Dello Russo, Alexa Chung, Beyonce and Rihanna among those photographed in her creations. She has launched an online shop and her shoes are already sold in Bergdorf Goodman, Harvey Nichols, Selfridges and Harrods. In Hong Kong, she is stocked in On Pedder, which hosted a VIP high tea session and in-store cocktail for the British designer this week. Fashionistas such as stylist Tina Leung and curator Diana D'Arenberg commented on how surprisingly comfortable Dellal's sky-high heels are.
Last year she opened her Mayfair, London flagship, a Georgian conversion that now houses hand-carved cabinets and relaid herringbone wooden floors to compliment the meticulous old world aesthetic Dellal admires.
'It's a small jewel box kind of store. I love that I can show my shoes in a space of my own aesthetic and a sense of the 'feeling' I'm trying to portray,' she says. 'You also get feedback from customers, which then organically feeds back into the design.'
Dellal is careful about expansion - she feels timing is important if her brand is to last. 'I want to build a business. As much as I love designing shoes it has to be sustainable otherwise it's just a very expensive hobby,' she says.
'Sometimes, people are too much about being 'in fashion' but I'd rather create beautiful things that I love. I like things to be more timeless and not too trend driven.'
That said, she hasn't had problems being on trend lately.
Her banana print autumn-winter 2011 shoes matched the season's famous Prada prints well; her seaside Miami look is pitch perfect for this spring-summer's nautical influences and even Versace's sea goddesses could do with a pair of Dellal's sea shell heels.
'I love accessories to have a sense of humour and I love colours,' she says, pointing to a pair of green and white leaf print curved heels - known as Avalon - that were inspired by old traditional garden furniture. Next to them is one of her favourite pairs of the season.
'These plastic heels with all the shells hanging off them - it looks like a great aunt's bathroom with all these kitsch things.
'Fashion has to be fun and you should never take it too seriously,' she adds. 'I like creating this vibe - I love doing my hair like this and wearing red lipstick.'
Her ultimate style icons are Rita Hayworth, and her grandmother who also had a penchant for glamorous accessories. And perhaps unsurprisingly, Dellal's favourite old master shoemaker is Salvatore Ferragamo. But despite looking to bygone eras, she doesn't want to be labelled as retro.
'I guess I'm a very nostalgic person about everything: shoes, the way I like clothes, furniture, but 'retro' sounds like a throwback, I still like things to be modern and fresh - it's not about replicating styles, but being reminiscent of them.'