A fondness for midcentury patterns first drew Julia Little to Persephone Books on Lamb’s Conduit Street, London. The head of projects and events at shoe shop Grenson (located across the street) subsequently fell in love with the store after buying a diary containing the beautiful endpapers of books by 20th-century female authors. Back at her desk, Little came up with the idea of a small capsule collection marrying Persephone’s patterns with Grenson’s women’s shoes, and went to speak to her Lamb’s Conduit Street neighbour about a potential collaboration.
“All our books are plain on the outside but have patterned endpapers,” says Persephone’s general manager, Lydia Fellgett. “The endpapers are from the year the book was written and relate to its genre, so lighter florals will be used on a quick, light read, but if the endpapers are dark or spiky – well, sit down and prepare to weep.”
After agreeing to work together on a limited edition collection of just 100 pairs, Little and Fellgett had numerous conversations about which papers to use, before eventually deciding upon a bespoke pattern by Cambridge Imprint. “It’s a traditional design with a modern sensibility – very much inspired by our aesthetic and the colours we love,” adds Fellgett.
Initially, the aim was to use this decorative pattern on the interior of a plain leather Derby shoe, but Cambridge Imprint’s design was so striking that Grenson decided to put it on the exterior. The resulting Persephone shoe (£430, available from April 27 in Grenson’s Lamb’s Conduit Street and Soho stores, and from its website) comes in five different colourways – cornflower blue, dove grey, mustard, pale aqua and pastel pink – and is handmade in England.
Each pair took 12 weeks to make, six of which were given over to preparing the leather and to screenprinting, which was done by hand at a specialist fine art printers used by the likes of Damien Hirst, Harland Miller and Jeremy Deller. The materials are then sent back to a tannery in Rushden for sealing, before final production begins. “Putting a Persephone shoe together is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle for our cutters,” says Little. “The pattern has to match perfectly on every single shoe, at every single seam.”
Each pair comes in a unique box with a Persephone book; Fellgett believes the authors would be happy to have their work paired with these imaginative and eye-catching creations. “I’m sure they would be very proud to wear such a stylish shoe,” she says. “And we are very proud of our neighbourly community – plus I love that this collaboration has been created by three women.”