Charlotte Olympia Looks to Travel and Africa for Spring 2016

It was a precarious theme culturally, though it led to some very whimsical shoes and handbags.
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It was a precarious theme culturally, though it led to some very whimsical shoes and handbags.
A piece from Charlotte Olympia's spring 2016 collection. Photo: Charlotte Olympia

A piece from Charlotte Olympia's spring 2016 collection. Photo: Charlotte Olympia

In a way, Charlotte Olympia Dellal may be the Jeremy Scott of footwear. While she's perhaps a bit more thoughtful and subtle than he is, she does tend to pick a cultural theme each season, and then interprets it very literally through her shoes, lending them the quirky charm her brand, Charlotte Olympia, has become known for.

For spring 2016, the theme was travel and adventure in a bygone era. Dellal named the collection "I Married Adventure," after a memoir she found with the same name written by Osa Johnson, a woman who traveled the world with her photographer husband in a propeller plane in the 1910's, '20s and '30s. In her Milan showroom, she even erected a sizable gold globe, around which a train bearing the name of the collection moved continuously. [Side note: What is it with Milan and functioning machinery this season?]

While Dellal, who was born in South Africa, says she didn't only have Africa in mind when designing the collection, she admitted the continent came through the strongest, thanks to lots of zebra and leopard prints. While no exotic skins were used (save for one non-endangered breed of snake used for a bag), some leather pieces were stamped to resemble crocodile and ostrich.

Dellal avoided controversy there, but her decision to interpret Africa during a time when it was being colonized by Europeans in many less-than-diplomatic ways could be seen as insensitive — especially given her own privileged South African background. Thankfully, most pieces steered clear of referencing anything too specific from that time and place. But there was a $1,395 "magazine clutch" — which she does every season featuring a different pin-up woman with made-up copy surrounding her image — with a black woman next to the headline "Visit Africa" that felt a tad out of touch.

Many designs that didn't reference animals or Africa specifically suggested travel: a boxy lucite clutch that comes with travel stickers customers can use to decorate it, shoes and bags covered in maps, a purse shaped like an old camera and a handbag shaped like a sun hat ideal for going on safari.

"It happens naturally," she said of her ability to come up with such a fully realized theme season after season. "Sometimes I bank them in my head and save it. It might not be right for the season — you wait for the right moment."

Still, she's running a growing business, and not everyone wants to buy a shoe covered in animals. So, she offers a number of classic, less whimsical styles as well, often putting leopard print inside the sole so that it fits with the season's theme (and only the wearer knows it's there).

One animal her customers are still buying is cats — the "Kitty" style she's been doing for years now is back for spring 2016 in a flat espadrille. Dellal said that when she designed it early on in the brand's development, she "never knew" that it would become a recurring signature. "People were asking for it and it continues reemerging with different constructions. Now we do them pointy, but it always has to feel right," she explained, admitting, cheekily, "I don't want to kill its nine lives anytime soon."

She's also evolving past that signature style with a number of collaborations on the horizon, most notably with flip flop brand Havaianas, and MAC, for which she's conceived over 20 cosmetic SKUs and some very cute packaging. We can't show you that just yet, but the below images of her spring 2016 main collection should tide you over for now.