Afternoon Tea with Penelope
Penelope is the founder of our brand, as well as being chief designer and creative director, meaning she is still very much at the helm of the business she founded 18 years ago. We spoke to her about the journey she has been on to get here, the different lessons and ideas she has picked up along the way, and what she sees as the true value of artisanal workmanship.
What is Penelope Chilvers to you?
For me, it really is a way of life. I never went to business school or had any formal business training. I’m very creative. That means - I approach the business by taking the values and moments that inspire me and find a way to translate them into the end product!
What inspired you to start the business?
It was a matter of need - following 10 years of living, working, and raising a family in Spain, I had found myself back in London, with my 2 daughters and I needed to put food on the table! It was one of those moments in life when you think - right I need to create something here that can sustain us all. I sat down with a friend, and she started asking what did we have over in Spain that I loved and missed, and perhaps I could design and sell here, and suddenly there was that Eureka moment… my riding boots!
Every day on my lunch break in Barcelona I would ride in the forest above the city, wearing beautiful, custom made, artisan leather boots, unlike anything I had ever seen in England. So, the next day, I took out my sketchbook, and I started designing my first boot collection and PC was born.
You've just launched your summer 2021 collection, how did you start that process and what inspired you this season?
Designing is, like any artistic endeavour - exhilarating, inspiring and frustrating - all rolled into one! My process always starts with the unfinished work from a previous season, where I left off the year before. Going back to these can anchor the beginning of the huge and exciting task ahead and I feel ready to go back and refine my ideas more, the second time around.
The world around us also has a huge part to play. This last year has been marked by lockdown. I’ve had time to sit and watch the natural world around me slowly change. So my summer 2021 collection feels very ensconced in nature, in a way no collection ever has before. It’s a celebration of the natural world, the slow, and the unextraordinary life at home. And next season will be influenced by entirely different I suspect. It’s so rewarding when I see the new samples come through - I love my job!
What is a typical PC production journey?
Working with artisans means there is no typical production journey and I love that!
Everything is made by hand and the processes vary depending on their advice and our design coming together to make long lasting products to the very best of our ability. Some of our partners in Spain have been working with us since the beginning (18 years ago). This keeps our production processes very simple and natural, there are no middlemen or complications and we all trust each other implicitly.
You have 2 stores, as well as a large online presence - why is physical retail still so important and what differentiates the 2 spaces?
I think physical retail is actually becoming more important to all of us - we’ve seen so many people connecting with their neighbourhoods this year, and suddenly wanting to know, experience and absorb life from the spaces around them. I think this trend will continue, and we’ve always designed our stores with this in mind.
Notting Hill is a neighbourhood space, local people pop in to chat and browse, and it retains a really natural, village-esque atmosphere. Whilst, Duke Street, in central London, is our flagship store. It’s our ‘window on the world’, designed to be a slightly different experience. Our customers come from all over the world, and therefore the store is more focused on the idea of discovering and learning about the brand, and thus it’s more of a showcase than Ledbury.
You’ve built this business up, very successfully, over the last 18 years, what advice would you have for other entrepreneurs starting out?
I think it would be, ask for advice! And do it properly; really seek out people who will be able to give you time and bring thoughtful ideas to the table whilst you’re tackling problems that aren’t your forte.
And bring that philosophy to your team too - I’ve surrounded myself with a great group of people, whose strengths are also different from my own - and that’s the key. I choose people for their unbounded positivity, a key to success in anything, I believe.
What's your most treasured piece of footwear and why?
It’s impossible to choose! But 2 pieces have sprung to my mind, both collaborations with fellow designers I admire.
This year's favourite was a loafer we launched with Lucinda Chambers, of the Collagerie - who’s just the most brilliant stylist. Known as our pink penny loafer, it’s a shoe I’m immensely proud of, and one I’m glad to say is restocking soon....
And the second is a velvet embroidered slipper I designed with my dear friend, and interior designer William Yeoward, who is sadly no longer with us, for his charity Screw Cancer. We made over 500 pairs of these so they are rare! And I am always so touched whenever I see a pair out and about, it’s a special moment to remember him by and a beautiful shoe too!
Lastly - your motto is Go Anywhere, Do Anything. So where would you go if you could go anywhere right now?
I adore Africa. I love the space, the opportunity for adventure, and the sense of the wild. So I think as soon as it is safe, I would like to go back there, and explore some more.
And I’m also fascinated by the idea of a husky trip across to the North Pole, finding lots of beautiful snowscapes to sledge across, and keeping my toes warm in a pair of PCs!