Caroline Groves, Couture shoe and bag maker, or artist?

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Florica by Caroline Groves

Caroline Groves is a remarkable woman. She creates some of the most interesting and beautiful women’s shoes and bags to be found anywhere in the world and, at the same time, is profoundly knowledgeable about leathers, fabrics and bespoke construction.

When I visited her in her West London workshop in Great Western Studios it was full of the things one would expect to find in a couture shoemaker’s studio/atelier. Lasts, tools, leathers, exotic fabrics were all there. Caroline knows and understands – intimately – the process behind her creativity. This is unusual in women’s shoe and bag making. Normally, there’s a clear distinction between designers and leather- or fabric-workers and, whilst they need to have some knowledge of each other’s work, they are rarely able to do each other’s jobs.

I was fascinated by a pair of knee-length boots in the workshop. They are a prototype with a traditional leather toecap and heel counter but the rest was lace; boned, hand embroidered, wonderfully sculpted and clearly designed to fit perfectly. Caroline explained that the challenge was to make them look classically beautiful while using and combining/incorporating so many different materials with the leather. I’m afraid that I simply can’t do justice in prose to the beauty of these boots, not a stitch out of place and not an ounce of vulgarity. In a future post, I hope we can show you them so that you can see for yourselves what a triumph they are.

It is the comparison between Caroline’s creations and fine art that is particularly interesting. Men’s bespoke shoes can be beautiful, interesting and thought-provoking, but they are rarely art (for some wonderful exceptions have a look at the Foster & Son archive and at the current work of the bespoke team). Caroline’s designs transcend the utilitarian purpose of the overwhelming majority of shoes and, to me at any rate, are wonderfully inventive pieces of fine art. She also has the advantage of being able to challenge convention and take risks in ways that the big couture shoe houses cannot. This example “Parakeet shoe with solid walnut and solid silver elements”, could not have been made by anyone else.

Turquoise Parakeet

Turquoise Parakeet

Caroline has an interesting customer list. Lots of British clients have been coming to her for years for a mixture of reasons. Some have hard-to-fit feet, others have been bitten by the couture bug. These regular customers have been joined by new clients from elsewhere in the world, many from Eastern Europe.

Caroline works closely with her clients and the bespoke process takes at least three consultations. It is very similar to the men’s bespoke shoe process. Clients can be very particular, and the relationship between maker and client is very important. Indeed, Caroline has an intensity, a focus about her that I recognised from the bespoke team at Foster & Son and I suppose I was envious to meet someone who’d found her vocation.

All of Caroline’s shoes are bespoke i.e. made on a last crafted specifically for the individual and ‘bespoken’ (made to the client’s specification). Some are hand welted, some not. The difference comes with very high-heeled shoes that have super-thin soles. These cannot be made using welted soles but, given that they are unlikely to be walked-in very much, this doesn’t matter. All of Caroline’s ‘standard’ collection (this is a misnomer really, all of her shoes are extraordinary) are hand-welted and made in the same way as a man’s bespoke shoe.

Caroline has recently launched a handbag collection. As with her shoes her handbags are glorious. So clearly better made than anything you’ll see from anyone else. The personality of the client is clearly seen in her work. We will write more about Caroline’s handbags soon.

Dovers Bag

Dovers Bag

We asked Caroline about her favourite Foster & Son shoes. She said:

“My favourite Foster shoe has to come from the Bespoke range. I am torn between the Oxford Blue and the McAfee. I love the sweep of the lines of the McAfee but perhaps it is the combination of the materials and exquisite workmanship in the Oxford Blue that appeal to me most. Wonderful flat suede, quality calf and an archive style given a treatment that gives it a contemporary feel.”

Oxford Blue

Oxford Blue

Please visit Caroline’s website at http://www.carolinegroves.co.uk/.

Given that most readers of this blog are men, we challenge you to introduce the women in your life to Caroline’s work. They won’t be disappointed.

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