Emily's Style Notes: Q&A With Designer Tabitha Simmons

The shoe designer chat's with FLARE's Emily Ramshaw about her fall collection, styling for Dolce & Gabbana and working with her husband


Photo by Steven Pan

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting Tabitha Simmons: shoe designer, stylist and brand consultant. Let’s just say she’s an all around superstar and my personal fashion idol (she also has killer style). Simmons launched her collection in 2009 and her whimsical footwear has since become Most Coveted by shoe-obsessed women everywhere. Meanwhile, Simmons continues to style runway collections for Dolce and Gabbana and Tory Burch as well as editorials—for Vogue no less. Her husband is major fashion photographer Craig McDean, whom she lives with in New York with their two sons.

I’m a recent Tabitha Simmons convert having bought my first pair of her Bailey style a month or so ago. I decided to wear the shoes to our meet-and-greet at The Room (after much hemming and hawing over whether or not she would think I was a try-hard). As it turned out she was wearing the identical style, updated with this fall’s ivy print. Following a quick Instagram to document our synchronicity, we sat down for a quick chat. Herein, my conversation with my new girl crush.

Emily: Tell me a little bit about fall.

Tabitha Simmons: “We really worked on single sole shoes. We did the Alexa, which is a flat point and something we really felt strongly for.”

E: Named after Alexa Chung?

TS: “Yes. She literally was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I love it.’ So I sent it to her one. So from that moment on, it was the Alexa. She’s now after these ones, which is the Heart.”

E: Was there overall inspiration for fall?

TS: “We worked a lot [with] ivy print. It was taken from my grandmother’s house. I always pull a lot [from my] English roots. And then we did a lot of iridescent—dragonflies around in the ivy. So we used a lot of holographic and we used a lot of iridescent mixed in with this ivy.”

E: You’re also a stylist. How long have you been doing that now?

TS: “Probably about ten years now, which is kind of like—God, it’s moving so quickly. I wish I could say, ‘Oh, two, three years,’ but no, it’s been a long time.”

E: So, why shoes?

TS: “I used to work with [Alexander] McQueen and Calvin [Klein], those were two designers that I would start the process of consulting. So, you wouldn’t just go in and edit the collection, but you would really go in from the very, very beginning of the sketch. And something like shoes, I just loved the process of it. And I felt like shoes could just give a different aspect: you could wear a very simple dress, but that really high platform Bailey shoe would be very, very different interpretation than a flat point. A platform would take on a whole n’other role in there. I loved the aspect of that. Shoes, for me as a stylist, would always finish the look or define the look so much more than I felt the clothing would.”

E: So what inspired you to finally do it?

TS: “It took a long time. I thought about it for several years. I was lucky that I could then make sure I had everything in place before I jumped into it. The design side, I wouldn’t say it’s the easiest side, but I just think the production and the deliveries and the price points, and all those other business [things] that I didn’t really think about too much—now I really understand that from a different perspective. And it’s funny, because now when I go into designers and consult on their [collections] you see it now from a very different point of view, because you realize what it actually takes to get it into store and finished.”

E: Where do you start a collection? How does it begin?

TS: “It can start can start with travel or a construction. You know, sometimes I feel like, okay, enough of platforms, we want single soles. Or it could be a reaction to that. Or it could be a reaction to a trip, like, I [went] to Peru. [Her trip to Peru inspired her resort collection.] Sometimes it goes into my English roots—I found a picture of my grandmother’s cottage and I’m like, ‘Oh wow, that ivy’s really amazing. Or the one with the bow at the back, with all the [crystals] going down it, that was from a chandelier at home. It kind of goes in different spurts.”


Clockwise from left: Early, black calf, $1195; Bailey, ivy print, $1245; Alexa, black suede, $975. All styles available at The Room at Hudson’s Bay, Queen Street and Vancouver Downtown

E: I think of your shoes as having a very particular look consistently. Do you think that’s important?

TS: “I think it’s important to have your own identity and say what you say. I think that’s very important for me to be who you are and have your instinct and not try to be like somebody else.”

E: So it’s personal for you. How would you define your aesthetic?

TS: “I think it’s feminine. I like to put it almost [as] timeless. People that still wear my shoes from the first season—they’re still wearing the winter boot that I did the first season. That, for me, feels like, ‘Oh my gosh. They bought that and they’re still wearing that two, three years down the line and they still really like it. That, for me, feels really good, to keep that timeless shoe.”

E: And you wear so many hats! You work with Dolce & Gabbana—do you style their runway?

TS: “Yes. I do the women’s and the men’s and Alta Moda [haute couture]. It’s amazing. To be honest, I’ve learned so much from them. They’re very, very smart. I’ve been very, very lucky in terms of the designers I’ve worked for: they’ve been very [sure] of what they’re doing. They’ve never been like, ‘Well, what’s the trend?’ They’ve been like, ‘This is what we’re doing. This is what we believe in. This is what we’re going to do.’ And they’ve been very true to their aesthetic and themselves—then you don’t get confused. I think that’s something that I’ve really taken home: ‘This is who we are. This is what we’re doing. And this is how the shoes are.’ And then hopefully things fall into place, rather than, ‘Okay, this is the next trend…’ Or you’re chasing things. Sometimes when you chase things you fly away.”

E: How does it work with Dolce & Gabbana?

TS: “I go in, because their collections are very, very big, and they have a lot of clothing. So I go in and work very closely with Domenico and Stefano and put the looks together. And then theirs always the ‘Nooo, I want that one in!’ We’re pushing and pulling. Every season there’s always a look somewhere [that we argued over].”

E: Are you working with any other designers now?

TS: “In New York I work with Tory Burch, but in Paris, I literally go and do shoes and that’s it. I switch hats in Paris. New York and Milan are my two shows… And then I still work for Vogue.”


Left to right: Fitzgerald, $1845; Heart, snake, $1245. Both styles available at The Room at Hudson’s Bay, Queen Street and Vancouver Downtown

E: Would you ever consider focusing on one thing?

TS: “I do consider that and it is a question that gets brought up quite a bit. But the thing is, I really love my job. And I love going into designers and I love going to do editorial. And I love doing shoots. So it gets very hard to say, you’ve got to give that up if you love it. It’s not like I don’t want to do [any of] it. It gets hard. I’m sure at one point I will have to make that decision, but at the moment I’ve trying to spin the wheels. I’m trying to spin them all and hope that it doesn’t fall!”

E: It’s not as though this is a small collection.

TS: “No. And it’s getting bigger. And I’ve been really lucky with a great team. It’s really important to have a good support system, and I have [that].”

E: Does your husband ever give his opinion?

TS: “Absolutely! Sometimes I don’t want his opinion, but he will definitely give it whether you like it or not. Like, he will pick up a shoe and go, ‘What is that?!’ He’s quite harsh.”

E: Do you listen?

TS: “Sometimes yes. Sometimes he’s got a very valid point. Sometimes no.”

E: But you work together when you’re styling. How does that dynamic work?

TS: “When you go home it’s like you switch heads almost. And then you go into work. Sometimes it’s hard, because [I’ll be asked], ‘Have you spoken to Craig about it?’ And you’re like, ‘Well, no…’ ‘But you live together.’ Sometimes when he’s working with another stylist, he’ll have a lunch with them and they’ll meet and talk about the idea, but it doesn’t enter our life like that.”


Photo from designer’s Instagram