Not many women can pull off a matching leopard print dress and turban at 10am. Charlotte Olympia Dellal, founder and creative director of the luxury shoes and accessories brand Charlotte Olympia- which now boasts 10 stores worldwide - and mother of three rambunctious boys, is one such dame. ‘I dress up whether it’s a Monday morning or a Friday night. I like making an effort, I don’t see why you should save things for a something special,’ she explains sitting deep into a tufted pink chair at her London office.
Making an occasion of the everyday, Charlotte is the mastermind behind such design classics as the Kitty flat (a velvet smoking shoe with ears), the Dolly (a stacked pump so vertiginous as to make your legs resemble Gisele’s) and the Chinese takeaway evening bag (exactly as it sounds). Her Perspex Pandora clutch has fans in Sienna Miller and Olivia Palermo, and her Monroe single soled pump made it to the recent royal christening on the heels of Pippa Middleton.
A modern day pin-up, Charlotte’s take on old school Hollywood glamour certainly distinguishes her from the crowd of Céline-clad fashion types. It also makes her the perfect ambassador for her own wares. ‘I love the 1940s and 50s. I watched old black and white movies with my mother from a young age and I think that’s what got me into fashion. It was all about the glamour. To see those beautiful movie stars form the silver screen – Rita Hayworth and Lauren Bacall…I think everyone falls in love with a certain era.’
While her accessories are an ever-changing riot of playfulness—from a rainbow coloured piñata handbag to Carmen Miranda-ready pineapple embroidered heels—Charlotte insists her style is more straightforward than it seems. ‘Ultimately my wardrobe is a uniform of sorts. I’ve got a lot of the same dresses in different prints and colours. It’s high-waisted, wide leg pants, loads of blouses and shirts, quite a few pencil skirts and a helluva lotta leopard print. But it’s the accessories that change. I literally dress from the feet up.’
With a trilingual childhood spent between London, Rio de Janeiro (Charlotte’s mother is Brazilian) and Paris, Charlotte had early access to both the ways and trappings of glamour. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t know how to graft. ‘My parents raised us with a very strong work ethic. My father taught me the importance of a business plan and my parents have always encouraged me to be passionate about what I do.’
That passion was fostered with a degree in product development at London’s Cordwainers College, and soon after graduation in 2008 Charlotte launched her brand with the now iconic 145mm Dolly platform which is embossed with her signature gold spiderweb. ‘I never set out to create a sexy shoe. I don’t think the shoe or the dress makes a woman sexy. A sexy girl can look hot in a pair of jeans and t-shirt. It’s not the shoes or the dress.’ Certainly, many attractive women have since showcased the Dolly including Christina Hendricks, Blake Lively and Beyoncé to name but a fraction.
Charlotte’s favourite leading ladies however remain firmly in the past. Like her heroines Scarlett O’Hara and Gilda, Charlotte is a woman of complexity. While her collections come from dreams and fantasies about places she’s never visited like China, Mexico or the Wild West, she is resolutely grounded in reality and solid family values. Though she’s the image of old-school femininity, she maintains she’s ‘not the least bit girly'. And at the same time as being preoccupied with the razzle dazzle of glamour, it’s authenticity that she craves most. Both formidable and funny, discerning and open-minded, she enjoys these contradictions. ‘I think as with everything in my life, from my shoes to my marriage, there has to be a balance, and often it is between two extremes. But maybe that’s just because I’m a Gemini,’ she laughs.
When it comes to romance, Ms. Dellal jokes it’s about getting in there early – she first met her financier husband Maxim Crewe at the tender age of 14. ‘Really I think seduction is all about subtlety. It’s fine to make the first move, but I probably kept my husband running for a few years. I definitely don’t think I’m one to pounce.’ Her old school attitude also applies to potential suitors, ‘I like gentlemen,’ she explains, ‘I’m not saying that men should do some things and women others, but I appreciate chivalry. I also like a man to let you be who you are – so my man is happy for me to walk around with a turban on my head, no problem.’
She also suggests that when looking for a mate, it’s differences rather than opposites which attract. ‘I think its important to have something in common, but have enough that’s different to keep it exciting. I’m always late, my husband’s always on time. I never like to book in advance, he’s a reservations man. But ultimately we share the same ideas about most things and we compliment each other. You can meet half way but you can never change anybody.’
As for the future, things are looking decidedly rosy. Having hired ex-Jimmy Choo CCO Bonnie Takhar as her company’s President in 2011, Charlotte says she is learning to delegate. ‘To take things to the next level, you have to hire professionals. It’s such a challenge at the beginning when you have such a small team and everyone is wearing so many hats. But at the same time, that’s half the fun. Equally it’s been a joy to watch the business and the team grow. We’ve opened stores and entered new product categories [which now includes a children’s ‘Incy’ collection as well as leather goods, bridal and ‘Encore’, a line of signature classics], but everything has been at our own pace.’ Or more accurately, one 6-inch heeled step at a time.