Designer Interview

Celebrity-beloved designer Tabitha Simmons bewitches shoe hounds with new collection

Celebrity-beloved designer bewitches shoe hounds with new collection

Tabitha Simmons shoes May 2014 profile
Tabitha Simmons. Photo by © Steven Pan
Tabitha Simmons shoes May 2014 Dilly in black and flesh
Dilly in black and flesh. Photo courtesy of Tabitha Simmons
Tabitha Simmons shoes May 2014 Shadow
Shadow. Photo courtesy of Tabitha Simmons
Tabitha Simmons shoes May 2014 Calista
Calista. Photo courtesy of Tabitha Simmons
Tabita Simmons shoes Leticia in fondant
Leticia in fondant. Photo courtesy of Tabitha Simmons
Tabitha Simmons shoes May 2014 profile
Tabitha Simmons shoes May 2014 Dilly in black and flesh
Tabitha Simmons shoes May 2014 Shadow
Tabitha Simmons shoes May 2014 Calista
Tabita Simmons shoes Leticia in fondant

Jimmy Choo. Manolo Blahnik. Tory Burch. Tabitha Simmons? The 43-year-old Simmons, who was named for the character in the TV classic Bewitched, has burst on the scene as a prime candidate for the title of next great shoe designer.

Simmons has won the Council of Fashion Designers of America Swarovski Award for Accessory Design and was named a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist. Her stylish designs have attracted a hip celebrity following, including Julianne Moore, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, Keira Knightley, Kate Moss and Miranda Kerr.

It's a pretty heady time for the London-born, New York-based Vogue editor, who transitioned into footwear design when she debuted her first collection in 2009. Footwear News dubbed it the "launch of the year."

"My mother would only ever allow flat, sensible styles, so when I could wear what I wanted to, well, I went kind of crazy," she said. Now, however, Simmons balances some wild looks, such as a rocker boot with adjustable chain, with distinctive ballet flats that have become top sellers.

"As a fashion editor at Vogue, things turn over very quickly. I think it's really nice to do a shoe line that's a little more slowed down," Simmons said during a recent visit to Saks Fifth Avenue in Houston, her first Texas visit. (In Dallas, her line is available at Nordstrom NorthPark.)

"I'm a mother, and I wear all the shoes. I try to test all the shoes and what we're doing."

During her whirlwind Houston stop, Simmons talked to CultureMap about what she's learned about the shoe business, what sells and what's next for her.

CultureMap: What are your first impressions of the Texas customer?

Tabitha Simmons: Just walking through the [sales] floor and talking with the associates, I've found a very fashionable customer. They're very sophisticated. They do love fashion, and they're excited with color.

CM: How hard was it to transition from being an editor to being on the other side? What have you learned?

TS: I think I've learned more about the business side. From an editor's point of view, there's always, okay, what's new? The shoe season happens a little bit slower.

CM: What are your most popular styles?

TS: Our iconic flat goes season after season. We do very well with it. We did a lot of high heels to start out with; it was the stores who said, "We really need a flat ballerina."

CM: What are you excited about for fall?

TS: There's the Early boot with an adjustable chain that you can remove. [The collection] has a little bit more rock 'n' roll edge. Maybe it's a little bit tougher and sexier for winter. In summer, it's more whimsical.

We did a sparkly Mary Jane for fall. And leopard, with more of a '60s feeling. Leopard never goes out of style. And I like the chunkier heel, which we touched on in the summer. It's more comfortable and makes a fashion statement.

CM: How did you get your first name?

TS: I'm named for [the daughter in] Bewitched. Tabitha is not a common name in Britain. When I was thinking of naming my brand, I wondered, do we just call it Tabitha? Tab? I was trying to think of all these exotic names but decided to call it my [full] name and be done with it. 

CM: What was it like to win the CFDA Award as the best new shoe designer?

TS: It's scary when you're an editor and then go into something else. We can be a tough audience — fashion editors — we can dismiss things very quickly. The CFDA is voted on by your peers and for them to say, yes, what I've done is worthy of a vote, was amazing. I actually got quite emotional about it.

The morning of [the event] I had a shoe summit where I had to talk about being a woman shoe designer. I met Blake [Mycoskie] from TOMS, so that's how that collaboration came about. That night was the CFDA, and I didn't realize it is so huge. You have all these people here who have been your icons. I was so nervous.

CM: Do you have an icon?

TS: I generally don't. I love a customer who comes in and picks up a shoe and buys it. For me, that is the most amazing person, because she has so much choice.