Q&A with Designer Charlotte Olympia Dellal

VH-DSC_1487-24568Charlotte Olympia Dellal had a multimillion dollar idea to stitch a cat’s face on a gentlemen’s slipper and sell it to women. Today, her idea is a beloved fashion statement that belongs to its own brand, Charlotte Olympia, and has a celebrity following that includes Beyonce and Jennifer Lawrence. When we met up with the designer last week at Nordstrom in downtown Seattle she was wearing a hat with cat ears and holding a square plastic purse with a cat’s face on it. No doubt an item she designed. But the designer’s fame that came from mixing cats with fashion became especially interesting when we found out she doesn’t have any pet cats. In fact, she has a dog.  A really big dog. Read on to find out more.

LF: When you first designed the kitty flat, did you expect the overwhelming following that it’s had?

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CO: No I did not. It was one of the first flats that I designed actually because I started off designing everything in very high heels to establish an aesthetic as a young designer. I always wanted to have an aesthetic as a designer and for me it was all Hollywood glamour and high heels and I love designing high heels because of the silhouette. But then I decided to introduce flats when the moment felt right. It was the kitty flat which came out in my Fall ’11 collection, which was entitled “To Die For” which was inspired by Agatha Christie. So I was inspired by the traditional men’s smoking slipper that was typically worn in those days and decided to make it a bit more feminine …That was how it all started. People really liked it and I continued to make it. Now, the kitty comes back in several guises, this season for summer she’s got sunglasses on.

LF: You have some very high wedges, how do you decide how high is too high?

CO: I don’t design higher than [the wedge] and I wouldn’t set out to design higher than that. I think there’s a limit. I’m a woman who wears high heels myself, so I somewhat know a limit from firsthand experience. It’s not about designing the highest heel out there at all. It’s about designing a full aesthetic that’s really important to be functional. I try on all my shoes and I would like them to walk as well as look good. I guess that’s one of the advantages of being a female shoe designer because I definitely want my shoes to be walkable. So yes, there is a limit.

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LF: I know the story “Charlotte’s Web” is really important to you, what is it about that story that really speaks to you?

CO: I mean it’s a sweet story. It’s not necessarily just about the story it’s about, the story has my name in the title. I think when you’re little that kind of makes it more special to you. That said it is also a very beautiful story. I wouldn’t have associated myself with it had it not been so. But I set off trying to start a brand … For me I wanted to have a logo and that logo was the spiderweb because of “Charlotte’s Web.”  A million people don’t get it even though I think it’s pretty obvious but a lot of people do… The book aside I think spiderwebs are beautiful and feminine and universally recognizable as a spiderweb…. And I always thought it was funny that spiders have eight legs so they can wear more shoes.

LF: Do you have cats at home?

CO: No, I have a dog. I had cats when I was younger. The cat wedge is named after my childhood cat.

LF: What kind of dog do you have?

CO: A Rhodesian Ridgeback. So pretty big dog. He thinks he’s a cat I guess.

LF: Does he act like a cat?

CO: He’s very feline like. He’s very big but he is a dog. He’d love to sit on my lap and sunbath. They apparently have quite feline traits. But I’ve got a dog, no cats.

LF: I know you like to incorporate some humor into your line. Do you feel like the fashion industry tends to take itself too seriously?

CO: I’m not setting out to try to be funny, it’s just something that resonates within me. It’s nice to have a bit of a sense of humor with design. I think there’s a fine line. I never like to describe my work as kitsch. I think there’s a very fine line with that. Basically, I’m not trying to make people laugh out loud I’m trying to make them smile. I think also just my love for those eras, the ’30s, and the ’50s, I think a lot of that had that [humor] within their fashion. No one was really scared to wear an elaborate hat or carry a poodle bag. If you look back at that era they had a lot of accessories with a sense of humor. I don’t think it’s anything particularly new. That said, I don’t think you can have enough things that are fun.

LF: Why do you think shoes are so important to women?

CO: I think they’re important to men as well actually. I bet you, you know men that love shoes. Whether it’s even a collection of 100 trainers or sneakers.

LF: That’s true.

CO: I think many people actually have a fascination with shoes. I think one of my fascinations with shoes is the fact that they are three dimensional objects. That they already have their form and shape so they are an object that can basically be worn. They are good to look at when they’re off the foot. I like to design shoes that look good on and off the foot. Maybe that comes from my love of collection things. With a lot of my shoes I guess I do kind of have them a bit more ornate or having things on them or they’re decorated. Whether it be a lobster as a teapot or a poodle shaped heel, it’s about having a beautiful object and then being able to wear it.

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is the managing editor at 425 magazine. Email her.
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