“My collections nearly always come from travel,” Penelope Chilvers.
From Cate Blanchett to Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Middleton, British shoe designer Penelope Chilvers has many loyal fans – the Duchess of Cambridge has been famously wearing the same pair of Penelope Chilvers equestrian boots for 12 years. I say to them “Come in for a new pair of boots”, says Penelope, and they say “I love my old ones!”
“We try to make very authentic footwear, and all our ideas stem from either historic design traits or geographical traits,” Penelope tells me when we meet in her London Mayfair shop to talk about her trip to Argentina.
“Probably the most exciting thing for me was walking through that bog!”
“I am just so lucky,” Penelope says. “I just can’t believe it, when I think back to it, it’s like dreamland!”
“I felt I was enveloped by rainforest. It was wonderful” – Penelope, on staying at Awasi Iguazu.
Arriving in South America
Having spent a long time in Spain, this was her first trip to South America. “When Chris from cazenove+loyd mentioned Argentina, I jumped at the chance. We drove from the temples – which I found absolutely fascinating – to Awasi.
“The lodge is built on stilts and from my room all I could see was rainforest. I slept with all the windows open because the jungle noises were just incredible. I’ve never been anywhere so amazing as Awasi, it was incredible.”
What was the thing that most stood out for you?
“Our guide Fran was brilliant. He is a gem. He did something absolutely amazing for me: when I arrived back one day at reception, Fran had left a book for me. I thought it must be something from the hotel, so I took it back to my room and I fell fast asleep…
“Anyway, the next day he said “did you look at the book?” and I said “nooo I didn’t, I was too tired, I went fast asleep.” And he said “Oh it’s worth having a look at, it’s a book my father gave me as inspiration when I got this job.“
“It was one of his own books that he lent me, and it was one of the most inspiring books I’ve ever been given.”
“It was one of the Jesuit Priests from 1630 who had worked at San Ignacio Miní, and he’d done these drawings of the animals he had come across at the time. Beautiful pen and ink drawings with water colour of the Guarani riding through the area, hunting. I found the style just incredible.”
“I haven’t decided how I will use them yet, but I will. Anyway, that was all Fran, he’s a great guy.”
What did you think of Iguazu?
“I’ve never seen such a huge waterfall, and it was amazing… but it wasn’t the most interesting for me.”
Penelope’s great uncle spent a large amount of time in Argentina. She grew up hearing tales of his travels there. “We went to the pass my great uncle remembered by name 50 years later, and had the most enjoyable walk with Fran.”
“I’m a huge walker. I love it so much and pace is so important. It was a huge plus with one-on-one guides to be able to walk and explore at the speed you want.”
The group did a trek near the three borders, where Argentina meets Paraguay and Brazil. Rather than calling the 4×4 to collect from, they decided to finish the walk by wading through a bog. Sometimes the least expected things become the most memorable.
Chris wading through the much-loved bog.
You may be pleased to hear that Penelope’s safari shoes survived the soak. She is not the only designer to seek inspiration through travel – see Alexandra Khouri’s jewellery line inspired by her trip to Awasi Patagonia – and we very much hope she won’t be the last!