Catching up with shoe designer Tabitha Simmons

Catching up with shoe designer Tabitha Simmons
Shoe designer Tabitha Simmons. Credit: Steven Pan. Shoes from her fall 2013 collection. Credit: Tabitha Simmons

In the four years since establishing her eccentrically-English, namesake shoe line, Tabitha Simmons has earned quite a following.

Beyonce loves her striped “Dolly” espadrille lace-ups so much she posted photos of them on Tumblr, while the “Early” moto boots are a go-to for Miranda Kerr.

A model-turned-stylist and shoe designer, Simmons 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, which also gave her the opportunity to create a capsule line of shoes with J. Crew. (Another high-low collaboration is in the pipeline, though it's too soon to talk about it, she says.)


On the way home from Spring 2014 fashion month, 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 caught up with Simmons to chat about the English influences on her work, how many shoes she has in her closet, and the story behind the Alexa Chung flat.

When you started your shoe line, what were you not seeing out there that you wanted to see?

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. So it was really a response. 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.

Do you think that it was the Alexander McQueen effect, shoes getting so extreme?

Maybe. His shoes were like pieces of art. I used to collect them.

How many do you have?

About 20 or 30 pairs of McQueen, including the ones from the robotic collection. I'd always be asking for the samples. 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.

Was it a big learning curve to learn how to make shoes?

We're coming up on four years since we started and I still feel like I'm at the kids table. It takes a long time to develop your lasts and your core, figuring out who you are and what you want to say.

One of the styles you're known for is a Mary Jane in mixed men's wear inspired tie silks.

For me, in terms of personal style, I always like something that's a little men's wear 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 and Sons.

Your flat moto boots, the "Early" boots, are another style that carries over from season to season. They kind of look like Beatle boots.

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 little buttons so they are easy to take off.

Is comfort important?

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.

The pointy-toed Alexa flat is something you've done several iterations of as well — in black-and-white leather, and now for fall, in red velvet. It's kind of the anti-ballet flat, right?

Well, I heard the call for flat shoes. But everyone had a ballet flat out there in the market already. So I thought, 'What can a little Tabitha say amidst all these ballet flats?' And that's when I went, 'OK, we'll do a flat point.' I was wearing them on a shoot with Alexa Chung, and she said she liked them, so I named them after her and I hope she doesn't mind!

You and your husband both work in fashion. Do you talk about work?

Not really. We get home, and we've got two boys demanding a lot of attention, so we don't have that much time to vent. People are quite surprised about that.

Do you think you'd ever do men's shoes?

Maybe eventually. I think my husband would love it. But bags would be something I would like to do first.

The Tabitha Simmons collection, which starts at $395, is available at Saks Fifth Avenue and other major department stores.