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13 November 2014

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You are in: Berkshire > People > Your stories > No business like shoe business

Lilac shoes (C) Silvia Campbell

Lilac shoes (C) Silvia Campbell

No business like shoe business

A Finchampstead-based shoe designer would be a hit on Sex and the City. With much-valued work experience from the world-famous Jimmy Choo under her belt, her bespoke shoes recently wowed the fashionistas in New York.

Just back from showcasing her shoes at New York's couture fashion week, Silvia Campbell waits in BBC Berkshire's reception area. But immediately you can tell she is a shoe designer, because on her feet she wears a pair of shimmering coral and green shoes - made out of salmon skin.

Blue Shoes (C) Silvia Campbell

Blue Shoes (C) Silvia Campbell

I enquire how she rids the skin of its fishy smell, but she laughs as apparently the tanner does all that.

However she not only designs the shoes, but makes them as well. And it's her well-heeled talents that landed her a work experience placement with the man who the Sex And The City dames easily rank among one of their gods: Jimmy Choo.

"I was shaking!", says Slovakian-born Silvia of the moment she arrived at Choo's London studio.

"I was very nervous when I met him for the first time, but after about five minutes of meeting him I felt so good. He's very down-to-earth and a pleasure to be around."

Silvia Campbell

Silvia Campbell

Silvia had only been in the shoe trade since 2004, yet two years later she was under the tutelage of Choo.

"Fashion is a very difficult business to get into, it's easy if you know someone in fashion or you have a good connections, but I didn't have any of these, so I really had to prove myself," says the mother-of-one.

It was a tutor at her college, who knew Choo and who was also impressed with Silvia's handiwork, that set up the initial meeting.

After the first meeting and making it clear she wanted to be trained by him ("I even offered to clean for him, once you get your foot in the door it's hard to keep it out"), she had to wait six months before Choo's PA rang her to offer her a placement.

Python skin shoes (C) Silvia Campbell

Python skin shoes (C) Silvia Campbell

"On the second day of me being there he asked me to design 20 pairs of wedding shoes," recalls Silva. "Not all 20 would be turned into prototypes but you go through 20 designs and hope that he will like some - probably about one or two.

"He liked seven, so I think he really liked what I did."

Choo also liked that Silvia not only designed the shoe on paper but could also make a prototype. And clearly the pair got on well, as he's on her Christmas card list and he's even taken Silvia and her husband out to lunch with himself and his wife - a date that would be the envy of all shoe-lovers reading this.

Silvia now runs her own business, setting up in July 2008. Each commissioned pair of shoes takes up to three months to create, though one pair in particular took a lot longer.

"I beaded one pair of shoes with 30,000 beads, tiny little glass beads which are stitched," she says.

French lace shoes (C) Silvia Campbell

French lace shoes (C) Silvia Campbell

"It took me eight months to do just the one shoe, and they're worth about £10,000."

She adds: "I have also made quite a lot of snake skin shoes, python and ostrich, the more luxurious skins."

And it appears that Silvia can turn almost any material into a shoe.

"My grandma gave me a blouse which I knew I would never wear, and because I'm not going to throw it away, I made a pattern to  work around the blouse, cut the blouse apart and made shoes out of it."

Red spotty shoes (C) Silvia Campbell

Red spotty shoes (C) Silvia Campbell

After my puzzling look she adds: "You have to use a backer fabric material which you iron on to the fabric and then stitch on to the lining, which is leather and then turn them into a pair of shoes."

Silva makes it sound easy, but in fact she says there are around 300 painstaking steps to create one pair of shoes. From drawing the design on a masking-tape covered mould to creating the 'toe puffs', each has to be mathematically accurate.

Needless to say Silvia spends a lot of her time on her business.

"It's literally 24/7," she smiles, "all my time is: my son, my husband...and shoes!"

last updated: 16/06/2009 at 10:00
created: 19/02/2009

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