January 16 2013
Some salons offering custom services are the
last word in luxury, but Penelope Chilvers’ looks like what it is – a working
studio. At the far end of Ladbroke Grove (so an appointment-only destination),
it is where she designs her idiosyncratic and distinctive range of footwear, from Chelsea boots with neon elastic to daily-wear espadrilles in rich shades
of velvet. All these are made in small, artisan factories that Chilvers has helped
to revive in a village not far from Barcelona. She has been selling customised
slippers online for a year, but renewed fashion interest in the slim-leg
knee boot has brought her true made-to-measure pieces into focus.
Chilvers says her studio is the “force of the business”. Clients who visit enjoy seeing designs and prototypes at various stages, so appointments can be leisurely and, she says, “the fridge is well stocked with champagne”. Her signature piece, the Long Tassel boot (pictured), is a favourite with some very famous legs. It is tall, slender and low-heeled with a pinked cockade top and tassel and contrast trim at the top, down the back and heel. There is a choice of four leathers and nine well-toned colours. Though many clients opt for the traditional, chestnut-brown, vegetable-dyed Spanish leather with a subtle trim, she is experimenting with accents in stingray- or crocodile-effect and patent.
The crucial point with such a finely cut item of footwear is fit, especially height. It must come at exactly the right point in relation to the knee, says Chilvers, to look good and feel comfortable. To ensure a close fit, the client is measured at calf, ankle and foot; some find commercial knee boots too broad in the leg and others need a little more calf room. The boots have a welt-stitched Goodyear sole, which Chilvers regards as the best and most comfortable. The finished items are ready after four to six weeks, cost from £675 and are, she says, “handcrafted in the same way as traditional Spanish riding boots” – even if the only estancias they will ever see are the property estates of Mayfair.