Luxury shoe designer Rupert Sanderson may not have a major US presence yet–but this should definitely help: Not only will Barneys New York be carrying his line starting this fall, but he’s also collaborated with the retailer on an exclusive line of shoes.
Sanderson’s designs have graced the feet of celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Chastain, and earned him the British Fashion Council’s Accessory Designer of the Year award in 2008. But he has been slow in building his business stateside, which is why his Barneys debut–and four exclusive designs–is exciting news for his American fans.
We met up with Sanderson–who is polished and polite in the charming way that only the Brits have mastered–on Barneys’ amazing shoe floor to talk about collaborating with the retailer and what it’s like to see his shoes on the Duchess of Cambridge.
Fashionista: Tell me a little bit about your line and what you’re doing with Barneys.
Sanderson: The line is 12 years old and it’s out of London, but all made in our own factory in Italy. We’ve done some exclusives with Barneys, but I’ve enjoyed working with Barneys on getting the edit right so we’re representative of what the line stands for but also sympathetic to the Barneys customer.
What does it mean to you to be in Barneys?
My first appointments when I started the line were in New York, and it really was important to me that I get into Barneys. It takes time. It’s quite right that all the brands you see around have earned their fashion chops, so to speak. I love the idea of the Barneys woman. Barneys was somewhere I really imagined seeing the shoes on display and for sale, so it’s a thrill to be here and to be collaborating. It’s an arrival and a coming home at the same time.
It seems like your philosophy has been “slow and steady wins the race” in terms of building a brand–what has that process been like for you?
It has been slow and steady. I suppose because we’re not some mega corporation with great huge turnover aspirations and lots of money sloshing around to just accelerate growth, there’s a certain organic-ness and we’ve managed to control everything.
To be a luxury brand, you’ve got to be around for quite a long time, and I think people forget that. There’s a certain sense that you should arrive instantly, fully formed. It’s a complicated business–making shoes that are exciting and relevant and commercially viable for four collections a year. It takes time to mature into it. And I think the benefits of growing slowly, are that you’re here to stay rather than burning too brightly, too quickly, where the only way left is down.
As you mentioned, there are a lot of established brands on the sales floor. How do you make Rupert Sanderson shoes stand out?
Hopefully by working with Barneys, because they have a helicopter view of what’s working, what’s lacking, what they’re looking for, and we can shape the edit to fit in so there is a point of view there.
It’s a strange thing when you’re working with accessories; you spend an amount of time developing the collection in isolation, you don’t know what anyone else is doing. When you present the collection, there’s a real strong story that you’re championing. There’s a risk that it’s just not quite right with the ready-to-wear, so you do have to listen to the buyers about what the edit’s going to be. At the same time you have to be true to what you really believe is good design. You’re looking for that fine balance between pushing the boundaries and being recognized for something. That simplicity, the idea that less is more, is what I’ve been championing: achieve as much as you can with as little material as possible. It rings true to my aesthetic.
You’ve already developed a legion of famous fans, from Kate Middleton to Kate Moss. Who has been the most exciting for you?
I know in the States, there’s a sort of fascination with Kate Middleton, which is great. She’s going to be the most famous person in the world for god knows how many more years, and there’s a curiosity about her and everything that she does which is never going to go away. So of course it’s exciting, if she wears my shoes from time to time. But we don’t force it. She’s a fairly normal, grounded woman who wears my shoes, and that’s great.
On the completely other end of the spectrum there’s Victoria Beckham, someone who really knows how to work [fashion]. Having someone like that, and having someone like Middleton, who is more conservative, both wearing my shoes: That’s a nice balance. It’s also fantastic to have the actresses, the red carpet brigade, wear my shoes. I don’t follow it that closely, partly because I think it’s quite confusing if you’re trying to chase those people to wear your shoes–but it’s always flattering when they choose to wear my shoes to an event over someone else’s.
You’ve achieved so much already–you’re selling in Barneys now, you’ve collaborated with Karl Lagerfeld, and you’ve started to dip your toes into handbags. What’s next?
I think it’s a case of just doing what we do just a bit better every season. It’s a vast market, and, really, we’re just a tiny part of it, relatively speaking, so there’s a lot of work to do there.
Bags are a new category for me, because I’m a shoe designer–I’m not a ready to wear designer that has teams of designers. I do everything from designing the shoes to designing the bags. [The bags are] a single idea that I want to evolve subtly every season rather than always put out new ones–I think it’s mad that there’s so much turnover of product and design. I like the idea of a woman getting my bag and in 10 years time it’s still there. So for the time being, ‘stick to the knitting,’ [as the British say.] Just knit more.