Tabitha Simmons makes shoes for more than a season
By Booth Moore
Published: Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, 6:23 p.m.
Beyonce loves her striped Dolly espadrille lace-ups so much that she posted photos of them on Tumblr, while the Early moto boots are a go-to for Miranda Kerr.
In the four years since establishing her eccentrically English, namesake shoe line, Tabitha Simmons has earned quite a following.
Simmons, a model turned stylist and shoe designer, hails from Britain, where she actually got her start in the shoe business as a teenager, working Saturday afternoons at Oliver's Shoes. Now, she lives in New York City with her husband, fashion photographer Craig McDean, and their two sons.
In her adopted home, she has received much love from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, winning the 2012 Swarovski Award for Accessory Design and being named a runner-up for the 2012 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Award. Simmons, whose Tabitha Simmons Collection starts at about $395 and is available at Saks Fifth Avenue and other major department stores, recently teamed up with L.A.-based philanthropic brand Toms on styles incorporating her signature silks, which are available for $124 to $168 at Toms.com.
On the way home from this fall's showing of spring 2014 collections — during which Simmons styled the Tory Burch runway show in New York, the Dolce & Gabbana runway show in Milan and showed her own collection in Paris — she stopped in L.A. for an event at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills. There, she shared with customers her fall collection, inspired by English gardens, and her resort collection, which mixes preppy, shirt stripes and Peruvian color and print.
We chatted with Simmons about her inspirations, how many shoes she has in her closet and the story behind the shoe named after Alexa Chung.
Question: When you started your line, what were you not seeing out there that you wanted to see?
Answer: At the time, shoes had gotten really extreme. Platforms got higher and higher with as much as possible piled on them. Being a fashion stylist, I wanted shoes that were more timeless, a little quieter and seasonless. And I still see people wear shoes of mine from the first season, which to me says they are doing their job, standing the test of time.
Q: Do you think that it was the Alexander McQueen effect, shoes getting so extreme?
A: Maybe. His shoes were like pieces of art. I used to collect them.
Q: How many do you have?
A: About 20 or 30 pairs of McQueen. I have about 400 pairs of shoes total. But shoes always revitalize things. If I buy a new pair of shoes, my wardrobe all of a sudden becomes new again.
Q: Was it a big learning curve to learn how to make shoes?
A: We're coming up on four years since we started, and I still feel like I'm at the kids table.
Q: One of the styles you're known for is a Mary Jane in mixed menswear-inspired tie silks.
A: For me, in terms of personal style, I always like something that's a little menswear-inspired, a white shirt or a men's jacket with a very feminine dress, for example. I also always try to bring in English influences to my work, and all that tie silk is woven in England by a seventh-generation silk-weaving company called Stephen Walters & Sons.
Q: Your flat moto boots, the Early boots, are another style that carries over from season to season. They kind of look like Beatle boots.
A: Yes. And we've tried to make them airport-friendly, so they have snaps underneath the buckles. I also have a Victorian collage boot with elastic behind the buttons so they are easy to take off.
Q: Is comfort important?
A: It is the thing. Maybe it's being a woman designer. There have been many times where I've just had to take my shoes off and kick them under the table. I'm a mother and I style standing on set for 10-12 hours a day. But I still want fashion. If it's not comfortable, I'm back in the factory.
Booth Moore is a staff writer for Los Angeles Times.
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