There’s an air of expectation that surrounds meeting Tabitha Simmons. Her impressive CV lists her as a one-time model (gorgeous), a fashion designer (accomplished), a stylist (stylish), and a contributing editor at American Vogue (knows Anna Wintour). But immediately upon shaking her hand, all of those anxieties are subdued as her effortless, English graces smooth over any preoccupations. It seems almost cliché to call an English woman lovely, but truly that is exactly what Simmons and her namesake footwear line are.
Sitting at Holt Renfrew in Vancouver, where the designer previewed her pre-fall and fall collections, she is understandably turned around, having flown in that morning—just days after attending the whirlwind that is the Met Gala. It took her a moment to get her bearings after arriving from her cross-country flight, admiring the Pacific view from her Four Seasons Hotel room. “I have a great view of the ocean and it almost looked like a lake, and I was so tired that actually thought that’s what I was looking at and I said, ‘Oh, I’ve got a great view of the lake!’” she laughs. But now, surrounded by her designs and sipping on coffee, Simmons seems perfectly adjusted. Her line, which launched in 2009, is an amalgamation of Simmons’s own eccentric but classic sophistication. Styles such as the Bonai bootie are quintessential of her work, mixing a Victorian silhouette with perforated leather. Simmons hurries over to the display to fetch one particular style with a garden print that invites closer inspection. “This was based around an English tapestry—a cross between needlepoint and English upholstery,” she says, pointing to the very tiny, intricate detail.
It was precisely this care for the small things that led Simmons to produce her own shoes. Her work as a stylist at houses such as Calvin Klein, and with the late, beloved Alexander McQueen, compelled her to seek out a project that she could see from beginning to end. “I really loved working with the small parts,” she says. “With shoes, it’s not like working with a jacket where it can be endless—this sort of proportion, this sort of cut. I really wanted to focus. And I wanted to do something that was really, really detailed.”
Her approach didn’t come without a learning curve, thanks in part to her background as an editor. “I used to approach it very editorially,” Simmons says in regards to each season starting anew. “I’d say, ‘No, next! Next!’” She now looks at the process differently, finding that repeating styles isn’t always a bad thing—especially when it comes to cornerstones of her line, such as the modestly-heeled Leticia sandal available in a wide range of materials, colour, and patterns. Choice is a girl’s best friend, and something Simmons keeps in mind each season. “I think that’s coming from me as a woman designer: sometimes you’re really busy and you don’t always want to wear a stiletto,” she says. “Maybe you want to wear it out at night, but you want something else during the day. I think it’s just really nice that you can have a range.”
Throughout all of the concurrent iterations of her career, Simmons maintains that categorization is key. “I try to keep two separate heads,” she says. “So I try to think of them differently. I mean, that’s how I try to work, but I’m sure that subconsciously the two cross.” With the practices so closely associated, each job lends a helping hand to another—subconsciously or not—and certainly, working with some of the greatest designers is no hindrance. Masters such as McQueen have had a visible influence on her work, apparent in some of Simmons’s more explorative designs. “I learned a lot from him in terms of not following trends and just doing what you feel; he would always do what he believed in that season,” Simmons. “I feel like that’s a good success of a brand—where they have that identity and they don’t really follow trends.” As for the identity of Tabitha Simmons? “I think mine is a very timeless collection, but it definitely has an English quirk,” she muses. “It’s whimsical and feminine and it has a lot of detail. It’s not a minimal shoe, but subtle.” A gentle hand and easy grace—what a familiar and lovely sentiment.
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