5 Minutes With: French Sole Founder, Jane Winkworth

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This year is a rather special one for French Sole. The iconic purveyor of ballet flats is turning 25 and I’ve been lucky enough to score an interview with Jane Winkworth, the brand’s founder and the woman described by Vogue as being solely responsible for turning the humble pump into a true fashion classic. With her designs worn by everyone from Kate Moss to Kate Middleton and her own boutiques attracting customers like beautifully shod bees to honey in locations as diverse as London and Kuala Lumpur, I think it’s safe to say Winkworth has a lot to celebrate. A true sartorial innovator and business inspiration, it was an absolute privilege to quiz Jane on French Sole’s history, brand identity and plans for the future. Enjoy…

LPA: French Sole was born after a chance encounter with a shoe salesman from the French Hirica factory. Tell me a little about this and how it prompted you to start your own brand…

JW: I had already been selling ballet flats from other French factories for about two or three years before I met Philipe Cassalis . We met by chance when I was invited to look at the Hirigoyen Collection of footwear in a London hotel. Phillipe was their salesman and an extraordinary character, we became friends immediately. Although at least sixty years old, he was dressed head to toe in black leather biker’s clothes – zips, studs, the lot! He chain-smoked Gitanes and I adored him. He explained that Hirigoyen (later sold after going bankrupt and now trading under a new name of Hirica) had a small range of French ballerinas – I could have them made to my own designs and in my own materials! I was in heaven and have stayed loyal to this remarkable company for twenty-five years as they have stayed loyal to me.

LPA: In 25 years French Sole has gone from tabletop start up to global mega brand with stockists and devotees everywhere from Chelsea to Kuala Lumpar. Did you start out with a specific strategy? How did you develop your business to enable such enormous growth?

JW: When I first embarked on this incredible journey, it was purely to assist charities I was fond of and to supply not only myself but all of my friends with my lovely little ballet pumps. There was absolutely no strategy at all – I wish I had known twenty-five years ago what I know now, I would be living in the Bahamas! I was completely green, utterly naïve. I simply loved the shoes and wanted everyone else to love them too. I never had a strategy and still don’t have! Everything is instinctive – I know what women who wear my shoes want, I know what they don’t want. I have never been at all competitive or greedy. I know my limits and the limitations of French Sole. I know not to diversify or to stray too far away from the heritage of the brand.
The brand grew because I was the first person to develop the humble ballet flat into a fashion classic and everyone wanted the original and not the knock off copies that have since emerged.

LPA: Do you feel that your background in restoration and painting of fine porcelain has influenced the aesthetic of French Sole?

JW: I have a background of art and painting but also of ballet. I was a trained ballet dancer until I was fourteen and only someone who has danced themselves can truly design ballet flats. My art experience and creative background enables me to easily draw and design my shoes.

LPA: I quite literally can’t think of a woman I know who doesn’t own at least one pair of French Soles. What, in your opinion, it is that gives them such universal appeal?

JW: I am always asked this question – what is the special appeal of French Sole over other brands? It is the quality of the leather. Only the finest skins are used, always from Italy – all beautiful, soft real, delicious, sumptuous leathers. All of our shoes are made by hand and solely within the EU. The appeal is the quality, the heritage and the comfort, together with the reminder of life as a child, maybe a little ballerina or a schoolgirl going to a party – we all owned ballet pumps when we were young. We reminisce when we wear French Sole, we go back in time to our childhoods.

LPA: I find it fascinating that French Sole remains a privately owned, family company, something that’s pretty rare today. Is this something you feel is particularly important, both to the brand’s identity and you as its founder?

JW: Yes it is rare for the founder to still be in charge and even rarer to own the entire company privately. Together with my two sons we own 100% of the company. We have no investors, no angels, no private equity, no loans, no borrowing and no overdrafts – French Sole has always been funded by cash flow and personal family finance. It is important to the brand that I am always able to cast my designer’s eye over every aspect of the business but I have a great team around me who I am sure would cope very well if I dropped dead tomorrow!!

LPA: French Sole has legions of famous fans, ranging from the Duchess of Cambridge to Kate Moss. Is there anyone who you’d particularly love to see wearing your designs, but hasn’t yet?

JW: Who would I love to see wearing my shoes? The Queen obviously!

LPA: Recent years have seen French Sole expanding beyond the iconic ballet flats for which they’re renowned to include smoking slippers, elegant leather boots and even sneakers. What motivated these additions? And how do you extend the French Sole aesthetic to more varied shoe styles?

JW: I always stay true to the classic French Sole colour and fabric combinations when we work on a new style and develop the range from there if it works. Our “Moocher” sneakers are under our London Sole label and they are fabulously fun!

LPA: Have you noticed that women from different countries or cities or even areas within cities tend to favour different styles?

JW: Different customers around the world are pretty universal in their choice of styles and colours but I find my Malaysian customers in particular like a little extra bling and the Australians love colour. In China where I opened last year in Galeries Lafayette – its all about black.

LPA: In celebration of French Sole’s 25th Anniversary this year you’ve re-released your iconic poodle design, something that I, for one, am thrilled about! What inspired the poodle in the first place?

JW: The French poodle was the natural inspiration for me when I started. Nobody had ever used a poodle before as a signature logo and what is more French?!

LPA: What advice would you give to someone hoping or planning to start their own brand?

The advice I would give to any new entrepreneur when starting out is get a really good trademark/copyright lawyer and don’t set foot out of doors without their advice. I would also advise never to give any “charity jobs” in your new company – out of work friends, the daughter or son of a neighbour, your oldest school friend – leave them alone and go to an agency for experienced, competent, professional staff. It rarely works out.

Love Ella. X

Posted on by Ella Catliff in Interviews 2 Comments

Introducing: Jonathan Simkhai

jonathan simkhai AW14 1

I think it’s fair to say that recent seasons have seen sexy put back on the sartorial menu. Blame Joseph Altuzarra maybe who’s intelligent take on haute seduction has had the fashion world in raptures. Or maybe Tom Ford, who’s intuitive understanding of what makes women look and feel hot is as relevant now as it was in his nineties heyday. But as this post title suggests, we’re not talking Altuzarra or Ford today, we’re talking about Jonathan Simkhai.

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Jonathan Simkhai AW14 (and above)

Currently part of the prestigious CFDA Incubator Programme, Simkhai is a seriously in demand commodity right now. And indeed, his aesthetic and the quality and thought it entails do just feel oh so right for now. Bringing together sporting influences, sveltely sculpted silhouettes, impossibly luxurious fabrics and razor sharp cuts, Jonathan Simkhai’s take on sexy is intelligent, meticulous and unequivocally modern. As you all know, I’m total sucker for all things pretty, patterned and eye poppingly bright but the depth behind this New York designer’s work is compelling in a whole different way. Drawing from masculine tailoring and sources as obscure as a cigar box covered in crocodile skin, Simkhai concocted an AW14 collection that combined androgyny and fearless femininity by way of wide leg, pinstriped trousers, second skin asymmetric skirting, sporty separated in dramatic hues and turtlenecks cut-away to expose unusual areas of flesh. It’s athleticism for anyone who abhors “sports luxe” and seduction for those who loathe bodycon.

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Jonathan Simkhai SS14

Considering last season’s – or this season’s depending on how you look at it – collection, you can see that Jonathan Simkhai is developing a clearly articulated aesthetic while at the same time, using diverse sources of inspiration in surprising and inventive ways. For SS14 he looked to the Battle of Brighton Beach in 1964, which saw hoards of mods and rockers hash out their rivalries on the pebbly shoreline. The idea of intersecting beach chairs led to intersecting lines and multi-width stripes which colour blocked their way across the leathers, linens and neoprenes of his mix n’ match co-ords, immaculate tailoring and flared hem dresses.

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Jonathan Simkhai SS14

Simkahi’s work is the kind of achingly cool, utterly contemporary fashion fodder that editors, tastemakers and badass Carine Roitfeld-a-likes are powerless to resist. At the same time and much like Altuzarra and Ford, you could imagine women outside the industry wearing it. Unsurprisingly, he’s now stocked by StyleBop.com, Net-a-Porter, MATCHESFASHION.COM and Selfridges to name but a few. Yep, four years after launching his label, Jonathan Simkhai is clearly more than ready to hit the big leagues and I, for one, look forward to watching and maybe even wearing it.

Love Ella. X

Posted on by Ella Catliff in Fashion Leave a comment

Look Du Jour: Sugar Coated

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What: Coat & Dress by Kate Spade NY (both c/o), Necklace by Anne Bowes Jewellery, Shoes by Sophia Webster and Clutch by… It’s actually a travel wallet I bought aged about fourteen, sorry! However I have found similar ones here and here. I’m wearing MAC Candy Yum Yum Lipstick, available here.

Where: Fendi Flagship Store Launch, London.

As much as I like to consider myself “on it like a car bonnet” when it comes to all things of a sartorial nature, I’ve long suspected that’s not actually the truth. It took me over a season to realise that fashion sweatshirts are in fact a rare convergence of comfort and style, not just the lazy girl’s way of getting away with wearing loungewear out and about by emblazoning a tiger/bambi/tongue-in-cheek statement on her front… I know right. Something similar goes for including outerwear as part of my outfit. For years I saw coats mainly as weather protective outfit coverups, throwing them off the second I reached a heated spot to reveal the seasonally inappropriate fare below. I’m not saying I just owned one skanky old anorak, the like of which you wouldn’t let your dog sleep on. But until a couple of years ago I didn’t consider any outerwear that wasn’t a lightweight summer jacket, on par with the rest of my ensemble. It was an afterthought, a necessity of coping with living somewhere other than Los Angeles. Over the past couple of years a combination of fashion week-ing (street style photogs don’t take kindly to waiting while you remove umpteen layers of clothing) blogging (only so many times you can post that one navy number) and accepting after two decades that in London, the weather openly ignores traditional seasons made me reconsider this and fall in love with coats. From a financial perspective, this has been rather disastrous as it immediately takes you from owning one warm winter number, and possibly a transeasonal mac, to needing coats in all colours, fabrics, shapes, lengths and densities. No sooner had I accepted this than I became a coat hoarder. Duffels, peacoats, mannish cuts, classic tweeds, you name it, it’s in my wardrobe. Then this season I began to consider the spring coat. Having braved yet another London Fashion Week in tiny biker jackets layered over thermals layered over goose pimpled flesh I thought surely, surely there must be a better way. And there is. Late to the game I know but aren’t spring coats just freaking GENIUS!? In sunny season (lol) shades and picture pretty prints, they don’t depress you in the way that tugging on the same camel number you’ve already worn for six months on the trot does, yet still stop you developing hypothermia. Perfect for occasions – like the Fendi party a couple of weeks back – where you want to feel chic and maybe even a little bit fancy. I suspect by the time this post goes live it will be glorious again and the whole thing will seem a bit redundant but mark my words, it will turn nasty again and you’ll regret not investing in a spring coat. Unless of course you live somewhere not plagued by “inclement weather” in which case go forth and get your kit off… But no butt cheek exposing shorts or flip flops please, we’ve already discussed this.

Love Ella. X

Images by Holly McGlynn

Posted on by Ella Catliff in Look Du Jour 3 Comments

Miley Cyrus: Parental Advisory

Miley Cyrus Bangerz tour

This week I went to Miley Cyrus at the O2 and do you know what? It was hands down one of the best things I’ve seen in a very long time. Full disclosure, I’m a big Miley fan so had her performance been less than fantastic I would still have had a ball. But it was… oh it was. Miley emerged, sliding down a vast model of her own tongue – a witty response to the global reaction to her favourite facial expression – and proceeded to treat us to an immaculately executed display of vocal and physical gymnastics, endless extravagant costume changes, ingenious graphics and inevitable shock tactics. Yes she swore, a lot. And yes, there was crotch grabbing, gyrating, costumes so skimpy they no doubt had half the audience wondering who the hell does the girl’s waxing and of course, a whole lotta twerking. But, in my opinion, none of that detracted from the fact that ultimately, Miley Cyrus is an incredibly skilled and dedicated performer. The discipline, talent and drive that goes into perfecting a show like that, not to mention the imagination and attention to detail involved in perfecting everything else that goes along with it (I have it on good authority Miley is involved in E-V-E-R-Y aspect) is seriously bloody impressive. In short, it blew my mind and I had bloody brilliant evening.

miley cyrus bangerz

When I saw the Daily Mail’s unsurprisingly damning piece on the concert I was disappointed and actually a bit angry, albeit entirely unsurprised. They slated her “lewdness” (seriously, people still say “lewd”!?), her skimpy outfits, her references to sex and drugs which I admit, were about as veiled as your average Instagram humble brag. While they weren’t lying on most of those fronts and I didn’t exactly expect much else from the Mail, there were still a few things about the articles I read that particularly peeved me. Firstly, the fact that none of their pieces – and there are a few, although they all say much the same thing – even mention how good her performance was. Slate Miley Cyrus all you like, and I agree she’s a love or hate kinda popstar. But totally ignoring the fact that this 21 year old girl got up on stage in front of thousands and kept them spellbound for hours with a level of spectacle you’d expect from the likes of Beyonce, fresh from hospital no less, is some pretty unbalanced journalism to say the least.

Secondly, the idea that the endless array of shocked parents who had brought their nine year olds along had somehow been hoodwinked into letting Miley Cyrus corrupt their children is ridiculous. Miley’s every crotch grab has been grabbing umpteen times as many headlines for a fair while now, you’d have to be living under a rock sans WiFi to think that she’d be putting on any more Hannah Montana style hoe – no pun intended – downs.  I don’t think it’s so much Miley’s judgement we should question here but that of anyone who, having seen that VMA’s performance and read up on anything about her Bangerz tour so far seriously thought it was a good idea to take a nine year old to the show. Would you take a nine year old to a Snoop Dogg concert and expect him not to encourage “smok[ing] weed every day?” No, of course not. Admittedly the big D-O-double-G didn’t start his career with Disney but should taking a particular role as a pre teen mean that Miley has to either continue playing that role for the rest of her days or give up showbiz entirely? Miley Cyrus not a dinky Disney princess anymore and, as far as I can see, it’s her decision whether or not she wants to be – I’ve written before about the expectation on any female in the public eye to be a role model, you can read it here – From Britney to Bieber, we’ve all seen many a Mouseketeer go through similar – if infinitely less polished – processes of changing their image so why would anyone expect Miley to continue to conform to the Disney stereotype? Let alone when we’ve spend the past year watching her do the exact opposite. The notion that her current success is somehow riding on the back of the Hannah Montana days also seems pretty far fetched to me. Whether you find it impressive or abhorrent, I don’t think you can deny that Miley Cyrus has masterfully rebranded herself, taking full advantage of modern celebrity culture, the pervasive nature of social media and and the world’s fixation with scandal to become a money making, ticket selling, global phenomenon that appeals to a vast audience in a way that her Disney Channel fame never could.

I think what actually p*ssed me off the most about the coverage I read over a cup of coffee, by the end of which there was more steam coming out of my ears than off my latte, were their endless, openly disapproving references to Cyrus’ encouragement of “same sex kissing”. This was actually a part of the show I found quite moving. To recap, during a particular song Miley encouraged couples to kiss (N.B “same sex” was never specified) to get on camera. Fairly standard procedure at Baseball games where no one bats an eyelid. A few snogs in, a male couple appeared on the cam. The cheering erupted, more same sex couples joined in and Miley got on the mic to say what a beautiful thing it was that those two first brave guys took the plunge and then that others felt comfortable enough to do the same. I found it especially sad that the Daily Mail picked up on this particular aspect of the concert and presented, in several different pieces, as an example of Miley perpetuating depravity. Throughout the week Miley has praised the UK for being so much more open about sexuality than the States, perhaps that’s less true than many of us hope it is.

To quote Miley herself, it’s her life and she’ll do what she want to. Yes, her Bangerz tour has been one long twerking, flesh flashing, parental advisory bonanza that’s not to everyone’s tastes and I certainly wouldn’t recommend taking a child to. But we all knew full well it was going to be. Everyone has the right to their own opinion and to lampoon Miley Cyrus if they so wish but I don’t think you can simply ignore the fact that she’s smart as hell, a seriously talented performer and clearly has a level of commitment most 21 year olds don’t. And call me crazy if you will but when she talked about her love and gratitude for her fans and how much she adores being on stage, I found I really did believe her. It’s perhaps also worth noting that the very same day the Daily Mail laid into the “cynicism” of Miley’s London show, they published another piece encouraging readers to get the “fashion forward 21 year old’s” look by buying a camouflage tote bag.

These are just my opinions and I’m sure a lot of you won’t agree! Tell me what you think in the comments, we all love a good debate…

Love Ella. X

Posted on by Ella Catliff in Fashion 2 Comments

Fendi Hits Bond Street

Fendi

Fendi was never going to arrive on Bond Street quietly. Recent years have seen Fendi doing very little quietly, something that I for one am extremely happy about. Between the megawatt advertising campaigns, “it” crowd fans and sell out bag bug charms adorning the arm candy of every fashion girl worth her sartorial salt, the Italian purveyor of all things luxurious is undeniably having a moment. Admittedly, Fendi has been periodically having “moments” for decades. The Baguette bag, the Spring/Summer 2008 show on the Great Wall of China, Vogue’s declaration in 1983 that “when you think the Fendis have taken fur as far as it can go… think again!” The brand has long had an element of unconventionality that no doubt accounts for its meteoric growth from small Roman leather goods shop and furrier in 1925 to global fashion empire coveted by dowagers, oligarchs and twenty something celebutantes alike. Add to that the fact that Fendi is still run by the 5 namesake sisters, with Karl Lagerfeld the honorary sixth Fendi having joined the label in 1965, there is undeniably something special about it. Then of course, there are the clothes and accessories themselves which continue to combine high luxury, traditional craftsmanship and contemporary irreverence so exquisitely it’s no surprise that Bont Street store launch was the hottest ticket it town on that drizzly Thursday evening.

Fendi Flagship Store Launch, New Bond Street, London 1/5/2014

Moi

Decked out in head to toe pink, I braved the rain and attracted a fair few bemused commuter stairs clattering along Piccadilly. The treats inside were certainly worth the journey. Seriously, I would sell my soul for one of those furs! Hell, even just for a furry Fendi key ring. Despite arriving a mere twenty minutes after the official kick off time, the place was already packed and would only get more so as the evening continued. After pausing to pose for the photographers while simultaneously trying to disguise the fact I appeared to have been dragged through a hedge backwards, grabbing a glass of champagne and locating Nik, it was time to explore the store. And what a store it is! There are a lot of fabulous fashion emporiums in this part of the world but Fendi’s flagship takes the proverbial cake. Sleek, modern and insanely spacious while still highlighting the time tested traditional techniques behind the brand’s creations and providing plenty of tucked away spaces for customers craving privacy. An hour or so later, Karl Lagerfeld would take up residence in one of these, that closest to the mind boggling fur room. Fendi’s Bond Street flagship does exactly what such a store should do; transports you far, far away from the chaos of central London and into the brand’s own world, a of unimaginable luxury, boundless creativity and quirky, old school charm.

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Arizona Muse

Fendi Flagship Store Launch, New Bond Street, London 1/5/2014

Evangeline, Tanya & Bip Ling

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Suki Waterhouse with Cara & Poppy Delevingne

Naturally there was more than just the store to ogle. There were the guests themselves! Think Lily Allen, Cara Delevingne, Naomi Campbell, Suki Waterhouse, David Gandy, Elisa Sednaoui and Tinie Tempah to name but a handful. I caught up with Whinnie Williams and Zara Martin as well as Brazilian beauties Victoria Ceridono – Beauty Editor for Vogue Brazil with an instagram feed to die for – and designer-to-know Barbara Casasola.

Fendi Flagship Store Launch, New Bond Street, London 1/5/2014

Lily Allen & Charlotte Stockdale

Fendi Flagship Store Launch, New Bond Street, London 1/5/2014

Naomi Campbell

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Aluna Francis

Aside from being a prime opportunity for people watching and store exploring, this soirée was also a celebration of Fendi’s latest charitable endeavour, the Peekaboo Project. I don’t need to explain what a Peekaboo is to you. Since Silvia Venturini Fendi concocted the bag style back in 2009, it has become an obsession among women (and men) across the world. This project sees Fendi enlist a selection of powerful, iconic females to personalise their own Peekaboo with the results displayed in store throughout May. The creations of artist Tracey Emin, actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Naomie Harris, models Cara Delevingne, Jerry Hall and Georgia-May Jagger, architect Zaha Hadid, fashion illustrator Tanya Ling, singer Adele and journalist Kate Adie will also be auctioned online (here) throughout the month with all proceeds going to Kids Company. So if you needed an excuse to drop mega bucks on a one of a kind handbag, now is your moment my friends!

Love Ella. X

Posted on by Ella Catliff in Parties 1 Comment