Tabitha Simmons on Inspiration, Style & Christmas Memories

This festive season, The Kairos Collective has teamed up with the Contemporary British Silversmiths to create two bespoke Christmas decorations in support of Great Ormond Street Hospital. These pieces were designed in collaboration with celebrated shoe designer Tabitha Simmons, interior designer Ashley Hicks and two master silversmiths, Angela Cork and Clive Burr. Here, we caught up with Tabitha, Angela and Clive to discuss the process of working together to create these beautiful decorations.

Tabitha Simmons at home.

Firstly, Tabitha, why did you choose the Lula shoe for this design?

T: The Lula’s are my favourite shoes. They’re a classic and are a great representation of my collection.

Absolutely. What was it that you liked about them, Angela?

A: The elegance of the high heel captures the beautiful lines that feature throughout Tabitha's collections and demonstrates perfectly how she pays attention to small details and works with the finest materials, which is absolutely in keeping with how I work.

Clive, what drew you to Ashley’s ‘seaweed scribble’?

C: It attracted me for its contemporary pattern and simplicity. I could tell immediately it would translate beautifully into silver and create a delightful play of light.

Tabitha and Angela's decoration, inspired by Simmons' iconic 'Lula' shoe design.

How did the design process work for you?

C: I always begin my design process by sketching ideas in pencil to get a feel for the type of piece I am going to make and write notes on potential techniques that might enhance it. After that I make a series of models by hand in either base metal or silver to check how the design translates in three dimensions. In this case, I created three models and with Ashley, refined the design to create the finished prototype in sterling silver.

Where do you like to look for design inspiration?

T: I look everywhere for inspiration. I am innately inspired by my British roots but then am constantly being influenced by my worldwide trips. I’ll go travelling around the world and find amazing inspiration. I’ll see a chandelier and think: 'That could be a great shoe.'

A: The places and ways that I source my inspiration are varied and when I’m working to a brief I may look at something specific, like with the Tabitha Simmons brand, but throughout I always adopt a set of design principles that give me an outcome that is very much mine.

C: The majority of the work I create is bespoke for individual clients and therefore the inspiration is usually sparked by that. My job is to make their dreams come true and create something that is personal to them and a future heirloom.

"I look everywhere for inspiration... I’ll see a chandelier and think: 'That could be a great shoe.'"
Tabitha Simmons

Ashley and Clive's decoration, inspired by elements of Hicks’ signature 'Scribble - Seaweed' textile design.

Tabitha, what do you love most about designing shoes?

T: I got into designing shoes when I was working as a stylist - I completely fell in love with the process. I love how my designs can influence someone’s personality; my Leo or Max Calf boots bring out the downtown, rocker in the woman I design for, whereas my Hermione flat brings out her ladylike side and then the Eve heel, the sexier side.

Clive, what has been your favourite design to date?

C: I am lucky that I design and make bespoke objects for royalty, celebrities and top companies across the globe and each item is handmade to the highest possible specifications. These can be objects of celebration, tableware, very personal items and also some very unusual pieces. Because of the nature of my clientele, discretion is a central tenet of my business but suffice to say, each commission brings with it its own excitement and design challenges and this is what keeps me a silversmith!

Angela Cork in her studio.

How has your personal sense of style evolved in your home?

T: I would describe my personal style as feminine, Gothic, Victorian, English and quirky. However over time, my style has become much cleaner. I love mixing designs, textures and colours, as well as a mix of old and new in both my home and my wardrobe.

A: My home is an eclectic mix of vintage and modern. I like that we have sentimental pieces of furniture and rooms full of family pieces and it’s a good place to relax after designing and making all day.

Which pieces in your home say the most about who you are?

T: My Galli table. It’s very feminine and it's from the 1930's which is a period that I love. It has been an inspiration in the past when I've been working on my shoes. I also adore my Sailors Valentine. It was the first item I bought, even before I purchased any furniture. I got it about 10 years ago.

A: I love the cast iron fireplace we have in our living room. It’s wonderful to have an open fire every winter.

Clive Burr in his workshop.

What are your favourite pieces on Kairos?

A: I remember seeing this light at the V&A many years ago and thinking this was the most interesting light I’ve ever seen. I love the stylisation of the artichoke and how the copper leaves of the pendant reflect sections of light.

Who are your favourite architects or interior designers?

T: Annabelle Selldorf is my favourite architect and Virginia Thompson is my favourite interior designer.

A: The Japanese architect Tadeo Ando, in particular his vision for the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. I love his simple use of materials and how he works with light.

C: Frank Lloyd Wright has interested me since I was young; I spend hours pouring over his beautiful drawings.

"Each commission brings with it its own excitement and design challenges... this is what keeps me a silversmith!"
Clive Burr

Tabitha's living room.

What is your favourite Christmas memory?

T: I have so many Christmas memories. My favourite has to be when the boys were really young and their excitement for the next morning and waiting for Santa to come was always really magical.

A: Mine is visiting my parents in Texas where they live and seeing lots of snow and foot long icicles hanging from the roof, trees and even the cars. It was a very cold winter and it seemed like the quintessential Christmas.

C: One Christmas when I was very small, my mother cooked Christmas dinner. She must have had around 20 guests round the table. I remember marvelling as my dad got out the table tennis table, covered it in a table cloth and it became our Christmas table!

Where do you like to spend Christmas?

T: With my family in England because it reminds me of my childhood and I love bringing my kids to where I grew up.

A: Also with family, often with siblings and occasionally in Texas where my parents live. Christmas isn’t Christmas unless you're with those close to you.

A few of Tabitha's ever-expanding shoe collection.

What’s your Christmas decorating style? Minimal or tinsel mania?

T: Tinsel mania is definitely my decorating style. I also love decorations that my boys have made. Anything homemade is in an instant favourite.

A: I like lots of colour, fairy lights and tinsel. I collect silver tree decorations and many of them are very special. Silver is a very enchanting material and when hung on a tree among the lights, it takes on a life of its own, creating a beautiful play of light and depth that is very magical.

C: I keep things very simple at Christmas. Naturally, a silver centrepiece and silver accessories really make a Christmas table. At that time of year, the material really comes into its own, reflecting all the lights and objects around it. It creates a beautiful table that one wants to sit round long after the food has gone.

What’s on your December playlist?

T: Definitely the Pogues.

A: Brian Setzer Orchestra, Christmas Rocks! Something to get the party started!

C: Jazz FM in the workshop.

The real Lula shoes.

What does 2019 hold for you?

T: 2018 has been a crazy year – I had a wedding, a baby girl and was awarded for my collection. In 2019, I want to concentrate on continuing to grow my shoe business and of course spending time with my family.

A: My workshop and team are being kept very busy! I have several private commissions to complete in the run up to Christmas and next year I am also developing some new accessible silver collections that will retail more widely.

C: My workshop gets busier and busier each year and I have a number of important commissions on the horizon for 2019. I think after so many years of mass consumerism, there is a return to a desire from people for single bespoke pieces that have real meaning so I am optimistic for the future of silversmithing.