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Lucire: Fashion

Rupert Sanderson Shoe designer Rupert Sander­son—whose work so impressed Karl Lagerfeld that his designs grace Chanel catwalks

A passion blossoms

Rupert Sanderson got out of the advertising business to find fortune and fame—collaborating with Karl Lagerfeld, among others—in the luxury shoe design business. He talks to Cassandra Murnieks


QUITTING the advertising business was the best decision that British shoe designer Rupert Sanderson made.

Throwing in his career as an advertising account executive, he went on to chase his true dream: to set up his own shoe label.

‘I wasn’t very happy in the shallow world of advertising,’ Sanderson said from London.

‘As those who work in advertising know, it’s a fairly unforgiving bubble world, so it’s probably good preparation for the fashion industry.’

The Rupert Sanderson brand is well known throughout the United Kingdom with his shoes regularly gracing magazine pages and earning him awards such as the British Fashion Council Accessory Designer of the Year and Elle Style Awards Accessory Designer of the Year.

His love affair with shoes started when he was eight years old.

‘It was a pair of desert boots which I slept in for a week,’ Sanderson said.

In his 20s, his interest in footwear really took hold.

He studied at the Cordwainers College in East London and during his summer break rode a motorbike to Italy to visit shoe factories and tanneries.

His passion with shoes and Italy continued as he worked with Italian masters of footwear Sergio Rossi and Bruno Magli.

‘It was very formative and shaped my approach to designing and making shoes in Italy,’ Sanderson said.

‘It was essential for me to work with these guys and has probably marked me out amongst my peers.’

The namesake brand was set up nine years ago and is now considered a major player alongside Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo in the luxury shoe market.

‘It’s flattering that the business is growing quickly, but we still have a long way to go,’ Sanderson said.

The British designer divides his time between London and Italy, where his shoes are produced. In 2006, he bought a controlling interest in the Bologna factory he had been working with from his first collection.

He oversees all control from the design through to the production and claims that ‘no stitch gets through without agreement.’

Sanderson has two stores in Mayfair and Knightsbridge and has recently opened stand-alone stores in Hong Kong and Paris.

The store in Hong Kong was opened in March and he chose the Asian hotspot as he believes it’s a brand capital of the world and the springboard to China.

Rupert’s store on the rue des Petits Champs in Paris has a more sentimental meaning.

‘Since the age of 19 when I slept off a spectacular and magical Paris night in one of the green chairs scattered around the fountain, I’ve always loved the Palais Royale,’ Rupert said.

‘Paris and the shop space we have found just feel perfect for us now. It’s a wonderfully “Parisian” space spread over two floors, sat on top of a restaurant overlooking the north end of the Palais Royale. I’m doing it for the best reasons—I fell in love with it and that’s that.’

In 2007, Sanderson announced a made to order shoe service, available at the luxury shoe boudoir at Harrod’s.

Glitter, one of Sanderson’s most popular shoes is crafted from Louisiana crocodile skin with a 10 cm heel. The shoe, which is signed by the designer and accompanied by a certificate of authenticity retails for A$5,800.

Winona, Olanda, Laura and Joyce are shoes in Rupert’s present collection. These aren’t just women’s names but also names of daffodils. He bought the Royal Horticultural book at a car boot sale for 15p and it proudly sits in one of his stores today. With over 18,000 names listed in the book, he matches the name of the daffodil to the style of the shoe.

In the world of fashion, celebrity endorsement can make or break a designer, but for Sanderson it’s not the end of the world if a celebrity isn’t walking the red carpet in his shoes.

‘It is undeniably a useful hook to help raise awareness but personally it isn’t important,’ Sanderson said.

‘Confident “women of substance” are my ideal customers and the women I design for.

‘One of my favourite women in the world is Cate Blanchett.’

The difference between his shoes and other brands is that they aren’t over the top, he doesn’t follow trends and they aren’t fussy. For the Brit, it’s more about simplicity, style and well made shoes that will last a lifetime.

Not only are well-heeled women applauding Sanderson’s shoes: Chanel’s fashion maestro Karl Lagerfeld is also a fan of the shoe designer.

Twenty ten marks the third year running of the collaboration between the two.

It began when Lagerfeld saw a woman walking through Chez Georges in Paris wearing Sanderson’s patent and PVC platform boots from his autumn–winter 2008 collection.

Lagerfeld thought that the boots would work brilliantly with his next collection and approached the designer.

Based on the simplicity of Sanderson’s shoes, Karl and Rupert worked together to give them a gothic, darker touch, with miniature axes attached to the heels and blood red piping on the soles.

The Chanel collection looked to the future and the clothes teamed with the shoes gave the models a ‘warrior-woman edge’.

Sanderson described the relationship with Lagerfeld as a ‘stellar fashion moment’ which will blossom again this season.

Recently, Sanderson also announced a collaboration with the Royal Opera on Verdi’s Aïda. Sanderson designed shoes for a cast of over 200. It isn’t the first time the shoe designer has been involved with the opera with him also working on The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other with the National Theatre.

With Sanderson’s brand evolving globally, he sees Australia has an important place for his brand.

‘Australia is an increasingly important market to me. They are great to do business with and have a real passion for shoes,’ Sanderson said.

‘I don’t know much about specific Australian trends but imagine they mirror what is going on in the wider world. There appears to be a growing interest in graceful, flattering and beautifully crafted shoes.’

His shoes are stocked in David Jones, Quincy and Off the Runway. •


The difference between his shoes and other brands is that they arenít over the top, he doesnít follow trends and they arenít fussy. For the Brit, itís more about simplicity, style and well made shoes that will last a lifetime


Rupert Sanderson





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