Charlotte Olympia Dellal – a Forties Fashionista
Meet Charlotte Olympia Dellal, the half-Brazilian, half-English designer behind the label Charlotte Olympia. Her designs are characterised by towering heels, bold colours, vivid animal prints and the glamour of the 1940s. The cordwainer graduate is looking like a classic noir femme fatale herself. With bright red lipstick and her hair laid in waves, she is an eye-catching image from that bygone era.
Born 1981 into a prominent family of London real-estate developers, Charlotte is the eldest of four children. Her siblings are also often featured in the press. Alice, her sister, is a style-setting model with a punk-rock image and Alex, her brother, owns an art gallery and dates Monégasque beauty Charlotte Casiraghi.
Charlotte Dellal has inherited the grace and beauty of her mother Andrea, a famous `70s Brazilian model. Last year, she not only got married to the father of her first son Ray, she also opened her first shop in London’s Mayfair.
Her designs were featured heavily on the catwalk at London Fashion Week and can be bought at well-known reatilers around the globe, like Bergdorf Goodman in New York and Selfridges in London among others.
Charlotte, who was supposed to join the opening party, had to cancel because of her second pregnancy. Nevertheless, she gave me a lovely and long telephone interview. I truly enjoyed talking to her.
First of all, let me thank you for taking the time to talk to me and congrats on your pregnancy and the fabulous collection. I am truly in love with your creations. I read once that you were already in love with shoes when you were a kid and were playing with your mom’s shoes. Is that true?
I don’t think obesessively not more than any other girl liked playing with shoes, not obsessed. Playing dress up.
When has your passion for shoes started? When have you realized that you have to make shoes, that you have such a talent for it?
I always loved shoes. I think most girls love shoes. I decided to make them when I was at college doing my foundation course. Before Cordwainers , I went to London College of Fashion. I originally didn’t think I would be a shoe designer, I wanted to do clothing. But during the course, I knew that I want to design shoes.
Will we see clothes one day?
I did some collaborations. I did dresses for S/S 2010 matching the shoes and gloves. It depends on the collection. It works well for the head to toe look, quite pin-upy…
I sold them in my store, but now they are all gone.
Do you like it matchy-matchy?
It depends on the fabric and on the feel of the collection. It varies…
Are you working in the London store sometimes? Can your fans see you there?
I love being in my store but obviously the majority of my time, I have to work in my studio. Especially in the beginning, I loved being in my store.
Where do you design mostly? In your studio or at home?
Like most designers, you can have your best ideas at a random place but otherwise I like being in my studio. It has got my materials, all my things, components etc..
I read once that you design with a television usually showing an old movie in the background? True?
In college I stayed up late, all night sometimes and I kind of liked working in silent noise. When deadlines came up, the television in the background was kind of inspiring, that silent noise was not so distracting and it tend to be movies I had watched anyway a thousand times before. Today, my studio doesn’t have a TV but I listen to music.
You are obviously very inspired by the decade of the fourties. Not only the designs of your shoes, you even wear your hair in that glamourous wavy style, you like red lips, gloves and berets. Where does that love for that era come from?
I like that era, it got that nostalgic feel to it. The accessories were so much more fun and had a certain humour to them. They were more a part of the outfit and the look.
When you look back to previous decades, like the fourties, fifties, thirties, they’d wear a fantastic hat, a funny little bag like the poodle bag for example. They had stockings to match their shoes. It was so much accessories-oriented, more fun. I love hats, I love shoes, I collect them. That’s why I like it so much.
Will we see other decades referenced in the future?
Definitely the fourties, it partures off to the fifties sometimes. A little bit of kitsch. But obviously not too kitschy. There is a thin line between.
But you work the retro vibe in a very modern way. How?
I try to get just the essence of it. The soul of it is maybe nostalgic. I don’t want to imitate. Things change, I think my shoes are classic with a modern silhouette with a feminine touch that probably only a woman can do.
This time, your F/W 2011 collection is based on the character of Arlena Stuart Marshall from the Agatha Christie mystery novel „Evil Under the Sun“. You even created a movie to present the collection. It is called „To die for“ and it is really to die for, full of 1940s and 50s glamour.
I love Agatha Christie movies. The director Jam was fantastic. I came up with the concept but she did it. It was a lot of fun, almost like a little film noir.
Who would be your favourite character of that time? Do you have a muse? Which one is your favourite movie ?
I love Rita Hayworth and her movie Gild. I died my hair red because of her. Last time that you saw me in London it was still red but now I cannot die it anymore because of my pregnancy.
Speaking of time managment. You already have a little son, you got married last year, opened your first store, create all those amazing shoes. If you could advice other women, how do you balance all your different tasks?
I only have one kid at the moment and he is two, so that is easy. Obviously that is going to change soon. My studio is only 5 minutes away from my home. I try to go there at lunch time as I don’t like to be absent so much from his life. And I am my own boss which makes it much easier. For the first year, my son came to work with me the whole time. So I guess that helped a bit. But ask me again when I am having two…
Do you know already what you are going to have? Boy or girl?
I like surprises. I am always designing for the future. My feeling tells me that it is a boy again. To be honest, I would like to have one girl to wear my shoes. Wouldn’t it be an irony to only have boys?!
Your signature trademark on all your shoes is the spider web. Is it true that it associated with Charlotte’s web, the famous children’s book?
Yes. It is as simple as it is, it is related to the children’s book.
You got married in a stunning gown by Giambattista Valli. Why did you choose him and not an English designer for example?
We are friends. I used to intern for him when he was at Ungaro and afterwards when he started up his own business. I never did full internships because I was still in college but whenever I had a spare moment I would go to Paris and work for Giambattista, whether it was for a month or two weeks. And during that time, he became my friend. It was always clear that he would do the dress for my wedding. I didn’t have to do anything. He knows me and I gave him a free rein.
Giambattista does amazing dresses, I just love his designs. And I wore my own shoes in leopard print.
If you were the stylist for Kate Middleston’s dress, which designer would you choose for her?
Concerning the footwear, probably not my own shoes. She is a cool girl, my shoes are too high, she wouldn’t wear platforms.
Regarding the gown, I am intrigued. The dress is not confirmed. It could be McQueen. It will be a definitely an English designer and if Sarah Burton (McQueen’s designer) gets her right, she could come up with a great creation for her.
Do you only wear your own designs? If not, who would be another designer you will wear shoes from?
No, I only wear my shoes.
How many pairs of shoes do you own?
Too many, it is a tough question as I also sample in my size. If there is a pair of shoes that I didn’t order for myself, I still got the sample and I have pieces that I didn’t produce in the end. So let me say, I have got a lot of shoes.
I interviewed Nicholas Kirkwood last year. He went to Cordwainers like you. During our conversation, he said the following about you: “I love very much what Charlotte Olympia does. A wonderful girl, very beautiful. I think we sometimes have the same customer, it is a very close but friendly competition.”
Do you agree?
Lovely Nicholas! I fully agree. We have the same clients. But you cannot compare us so much, apart from the heel height. We do absolutely different things. It is a friendly competition. There are a lot of young and contemporary designers at the moment, there are so many fantastic shoes designers coming up. They always got their own signature which is important.
Do you have somebody in mind that you truly want to wear your shoes?
My grandmothers, especially the one from my father’s side, who recently passed away. I loved her very much, she was a big influence to me. Till the day she died, she dressed fabulous, had her hair fantastic. I kind of based my hair on her. She was an extremely chic and glamorous woman. There are less and less of those women who are bringing back that old-school glamour in a modern way. I’d like to reach out to my customer base and kind of have older women wearing my shoes.
You are born into a very prominent family. Everyone seems to be very independent and strong in what they are doing. How was your childhood?
My parents have always encouraged me to do what I wanted to do and encouraged me to work. My dad always asked me from the beginning, when I said that I wanted to do shoes, if it is a hobby or a business.
From the moment I left college, I never interned with any other footwear designer. I always wanted to set up my own business and it is very much a business for me. It is not just about designing shoes. I wanted it to be a growing business, make it work worldwide. So I tend to be very business-minded as well.
What was the moment when your business has become really succesful?
I think when I decided to open my own store. It is always a risk, but it felt right. I cannot really explain it. I was starting to get more character. At the same time, I always tried to grow slowly but surely. As much as I loved to be in many more stores, I try to choose stores where I can grow organically. Make the production. The key is not to want or do anything too quickly. I have established my esthetics which I think is extremely important and to have a signature style that makes people recognize.
Do you want to open more shops?
Hopefully, probably next year another one.
If you had to escape to an island and were allowed to bring three things, which ones would that be?
I am definitely not taking shoes on an island. I am not taking any shoes for once in my life. I prefer the sand on my feet. I am going to stick with people. I collect too many things. My husband, my child and my dog.
I hope that you have enjoyed reading the interview. Here you can find some of my favourite Charlotte Olympia pieces for this summer.