On the 5th of December Fox & Squirrel’s Penelope Sacorafou will be interviewing bespoke shoe maker Caroline Groves over an afternoon tea at Belgraves Hotel in Chelsea. Tickets to the event will include aside the talk, a Marie-Antoinette themed afternoon tea and tickets to the fabulous exhibition Shoes: Pleasure and Pain.
In preparation to the event Penelope met with Caroline to discuss all things shoes!
Bette Middler infamously said ‘Give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world’. Do you agree? And, what impact do you hope your shoes have on you clients?
CG: For a girl to conquer the world her shoes need to give her confidence and not let her down. So, stunning design, great support and balance are paramount. And, then she can stride out with great presence. I hope that my shoes provide some of that, confidence if everything and very sexy.
Your creations often include antique elements. Why? Are you the antique fan or are your clients?
CG: I don’t like cheap trinkety or mass manufactured pieces. Antique findings more often have quality, interest and soul.
Lets focus a little more on your designs. Aside from this antique element that you incorporate, your creations demonstrate an extremely high level of craftsmanship, be it in the leatherwork or silversmith skills how are you able to incorporate such diverse skills in one such small item such as a shoe?
Leather and it’s inherent qualities have always been my passion. To me the shoe is the absolute expression of these characteristics. Bringing together the essential internal strength and shape of the shoe and soles with oak bark tanned, wet moulded leathers along with some of the most finely coloured and finished upper leathers. This sort of craftsmanship deserves to be complimented by craftsman made fittings such as solid silver buckles etc.
So do you consider yourself more a designer or a craftswoman?
CG: Craftsmanship comes first for me and if good design follows as a result of understanding of construction, techniques and materials, then I am happy.
Of course shoes, prior to the industrial revolution were initially produced entirely by hand by the local cobbler. They were an incredibly expensive item to purchase. It seems the story of hand made shoes has come full circle with more and more designers offering a completely bespoke option. Why do you think that is?
CG: Historically only the wealthiest could commission shoes or boots to be made by the local shoemaker or cordonnier (higher class). In fact, very often the resulting shoes were such poor fit (last making was a relatively new and only recently more perfected art) that they would be required to be worn by a servant until ‘broken in’. When discarded by the owner these would be passed down to the lower classes and be kept in wearable condition by the cobbler, cobbling together. (simple turn shoes would be made in corse leathers for the masses and some would also make at home. But fit would never be critical, infact it was an unknown concept.). Bespoke as we understand it today, implying an individual shoemaking service involving the measurements of the individual client along with a conversation regarding specifics such as heel height and toe shape along with a design consultation I believe has only existed for the past 150 years. The word bespoke has been hi jacked in many trades and as offered by designer brands, usually only means a colour or a heel choice or a slight adjustment of fit, not the whole shebang!
You are featured in the V & A exhibition Shoes: Pleasure and Pain alongside the likes of Manolo Blahnik. Your first introduction into the world of shoes was with orthopaedics, suggesting you dealt with quite a bit of people’s pain. When did you move away from orthopaedics into couture shoes, shifting your attention to the pleasure that shoes can offer?
CG:Following around 15 years in orthopaedic making (a great learning ground) I felt compelled to move into an area where I could concentrate on craftsmanship and finish and colours and shape and heels etc etc and established my own business in London’s West End in 2013.
Where do you think you will be shifting your focus on to next?
Bespoke shoemaking is all about the relationship with the client and difficult to scale. I have begun to move into bag making, currently bespoke, but see a future where I will truly be able to express myself with leather and that will be in a range of bags with occasional one off. This way I hope to develop my brand whilst also satisfying my creative being. I hope eventually to bring the construction and sculptural leather working within a shoe to the bag form.
And, finally, your favourite walking spot and walking shoes?
I love to walk in the North Cotswolds, at the highest points. It has been said that my work is all about curves and I often think this must have been influenced by the rolling countryside of my home area. In fact I have named several of my bags after favourite Cotswold hills. A good pair of brogue Derbys are an essential for walking !
For the opportunity to meet Caroline Groves over afternoon tea and to visit the V & A exhibition Shoes: Pleasure and Pain please follow the link to the event by clicking here
Tickets to the event include the afternoon tea worth £35/head, and access to the V&A exhibition Shoes: Pleasure and Pain, which are valid daily 10.00-16.30 (20.30 Fridays) until 17 January 2016.