This article titled “Charlotte Dellal: ‘I named my bag collection after men, as I’d rather have a man on my arm’” was written by Alice Fisher, for theguardian.com on Sunday 9th November 2014 06.00 UTC
I’ve always loved glamour,” says Charlotte Dellal in her deep, slightly husky voice. “Glamour got me into fashion.” It’s hard to argue with this, having watched her pose with a leopard while surrounded by shoes that look like tigers and clutch bags shaped like Chinese lanterns. Dellal’s delight in the aesthetic of Old Hollywood glamour, the black and white films she watched with her mum as a kid, is everywhere in her Mayfair shop – from the elegant fittings to the designer’s hair. Dellal’s favourite film is Gilda, and every week her hair is set in Rita Hayworth-esque curls.
All this is the “ta-da!” of the finale, the visual dazzle of the Charlotte Olympia brand. But Dellal has a deeper understanding of glamour. That the swan pedals hard beneath the surface, that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards. That it is an illusion created by careful preparation, hard work and a keen sense of that fine line between camp, humour and beauty.
It is this that has seen Charlotte Olympia develop since its launch in 2008 from a sweet line of high heels – her signature “island platform” – to a distinctive international brand of shoes and clutch bags to the launch of this month’s leather handbags range. There are now six stand-alone shops. As well as the London store, there are shops in Hong Kong, Dubai and there are three in America. This year Charlotte Olympia is shortlisted again for the accessory designer prize at the British Fashion Awards, the biggest accolade in UK fashion.
Dellal went to the London College of Fashion to become a clothing designer. “Then my tutor pointed out I was designing accessories for every outfit. So I went to Cordwainers College [it specialises in leatherwork], and once I physically made my first shoe, I realised that was what I wanted to do. I also test the shoes myself. What kind of female shoe designer would I be if I made uncomfortable shoes you couldn’t walk in?”
It’s a promise you’re glad she’s made when you see her designs. Dellal happily acknowledges the influence of Ferragamo and Elsa Schiaparelli on her fanciful and elaborate footwear. The autumn/winter collection Shanghai Express has an oriental inspiration. So there’s the Imperial, held up on an improbable tower of Chinese beads. The Jasmine appears to be balanced on a platform made from a lacquered box. The heel of her Cheeky shoe is made from a woman’s legs and bottom.
“I like to accessorise my accessories,” she admits. “More is more for me. It’s easier to tone things down than dress them up. There is subtlety, though. My fan bag might have a novelty aspect, but it’s taken from a beautiful feminine object. I want to make beautiful objects wearable.”
While her love of heels is apparent, Dellal’s biggest hit to date has been the Kitty slipper – a smoking slipper decorated with a cat’s face – which has been worn by Alexa Chung, Beyoncé and Sarah Jessica Parker.
That Dellal’s flamboyant designs have celebrity fans is no surprise, but she has always had strong connections with the fashionable and the famous. If that Dellal name rings some bells, it’s because her mother is Andrea Dellal, a Brazilian model who was one of the biggest names of the 70s fashion scene working for Yves Saint Laurent and Valentino. Her sister is Alice Dellal, who has modelled for Chanel and Agent Provocateur and is drummer in the all-girl rock band Thrush Metal. When Charlotte holds a dinner to celebrate the launch of her handbags, Mario Testino (who, along with Mick Jagger, is godfather to Alice) and Naomi Campbell are on the guest list.
But Charlotte talks more of her father’s influence. Guy Dellal followed his father, the property tycoon and avid gambler “Black” Jack Dellal, into property development and has done very well. “When I told my dad I wanted to make shoes he asked if it was going to be a business or a hobby. I said: a business. So he taught me the importance of the business plan. From an early age, my dream has been to build a brand. I’ve grown the business slowly, adding products when it was appropriate. I’d love to open more shops, but that won’t happen until it works for the business.”
Charlotte Olympia’s branding is impressive, from the spider’s web logo (a reference to children’s book Charlotte’s Web) stamped on all products to the extra touches that build customer loyalty. One shoe collection came with matching-coloured stockings in the box. Her transparent lucite clutches come with three coloured pouches for women who don’t want to display the contents of their handbag. (“I don’t have many secrets, so I’m fine without them,” shrugs Charlotte as she shows me.)
Nowhere is this attention to detail more apparent than in the new leather handbag range. The Leading Lady collection has four styles – Astaire, Gable, Bogart and a big old fat tote bag called Brando. Each comes with elbow-length matching-coloured leather gloves, a gloves holder, an internal pouch bag and a beautiful comb that doubles as a make-up mirror. Thoughtful extras.
Why call the Leading Lady handbag collection after men, though? “Because I’d rather have a man on my arm,” says Dellal with a chuckle. “Who wouldn’t want Astaire on their arm? It’s fun. I like names – they enhance the design: the Great Wedge of China, or Tiger Tiger. The transparent clutches were the bags that ‘clearly’ go with everything. Then there’s the 9 Till 5 collection which are work shoes – and the heel heights are between 9cm and 5cm.”
I wonder if the wordplay comes from her being bilingual. “Actually I’m trilingual,” says Dellal. “I speak Portuguese as my mother is Brazilian, but I lived in France as a child. There should be an exclamation mark at the end of most of my designs.” She waves her arms around to take in the walls of shoes. “Look – I can’t be super-serious.”
She starts to gather up the shoes and bags she’s pulled off the shelves to show me the details. “I feel like I should end on a pun now,” she says. Personally, I think the shoes are enough.
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