I think I can speak for many small businesses when I say the past 18 months have been challenging.
The impact on my business has been varied. Under usual circumstances I would have undertaken 3 trunk shows in the US and attended Haute Couture Paris during July 2020, January 2021 and again July 2021. The impact of not seeing my clients or pitching to new ones has an enormous EFFECT. Result - almost no new business.
However, the beauty and pleasure of bespoke work is the relationships we build, often over many years, with clients. If it were not for a number of wonderful, loyal clients with foresight, who swiftly placed orders at the beginning of the pandemic realising I would not be seeing clients in person for sometime, I am not sure what shape the business would be in. I am so grateful to those clients. You know who you are, Thank You!
The beauty of having proven personal lasts for each client meant I was able to undertake repeat orders. Where the commissions were not repeat work, the benefit of those lasts to evolve different last shapes for new work was invaluable. Unlike men’s work, most of my clients will build a library of lasts of different heel heights, toe shape etc that will cover bases for many styles of shoes and boots. So much of design consultation can be done remotely these days but nothing can replace the necessity for measuring the feet, observing the gait etc, quite apart from the personal interaction and trust that builds over a period of working with a client.
The one event that CG was able to take part in was Broadway Arts Festival. It gave us a date to look forward to and plan for.
My studios at Farncombe House made a fantastic backdrop to the exhibition we put on, Muse, Morph, Create.
I asked my long time friend and mentor, the inimitable John Burton of Natural Craft Taxidermy to exhibit with us. He allowed Lilly and I to choose from his most exotic and colourful pieces(all legal, ethically-sourced and CITES registered where necessary).
These exhibits along with examples of my most iconic shoes/ boots simply pinged with energy and exuberance against the high black walls of the studio. A little enhancement with lighting, projection etc and the result was stunning.
The exhibition was largely a retrospective of my work over many years with shoes being lent by those wonderful loyal clients. Other clients supported me in contributing towards other costs including the catering for a Private View and ticketed talk and a large scale illustration that amazing fashion illustrator, Jacqueline Bissett, painted directly onto one of the tall walls for the occasion! She also was in attendance at the P.V and did some fantastic illustrations of a number of guests.
In particular I must mention, Lady Anne Evans, who spoke about my work and service in glowing terms. Anne has been a client, a muse, an inspiration a teacher and friend for many years. She has opened my eyes to possibilities and encouraged, guided and challenged me to do my best. With out clients like Anne, I could not do what I do and importantly, would not know what I am capable of.
Dhani Harrison compiled a playlist for me which played throughout the 10 days of the exhibition, helping to further set the tone and bring another dynamic.Big thanks Dhani!!
New interest was generated in my work, preliminary talks around new commissions and very excitingly a commission to design and make a pair of highly stylised shoes as an art piece for the newly revamped interior of a Regency property. Watch this space!
I am no clothes horse, my focus is on my clients aesthetic and my work, however for the occasion of the exhibition it seemed important to make myself a pair of shoes. What did I choose? No competition, it had to be a pair of what I refer to as my ‘Betty Boops’, a classic inspired by the elegance of the 1940’s. There are many examples of the general style on my website, including Midnight, Gypsy Rose, Blue Milly etc. Mine I have just called Black Bettys. A classic high vamp, round toe platform shoe with a Boulevard heel. In this case as I needed a staple for my wardrobe I chose to make in black suede with a vintage deco buckle. My friend and colleague, Nazim Mustafaev , a serious collector/historian and world shoe authority said of them “Excellent choice of buckles!!!They add the sense of time, enabling and refining great shoes!”. Nazim also owns an incomparable private shoe museum in Moscow and his website www.shoe-icons.com is a resource I could not be without.
Finally , just to blow the trumpet a little more, Caroline Groves has been shortlisted in this year’s Drapers Footwear Awards. I have rarely entered for awards as my product/service does not comfortably fit into the various categories. However, I decided to enter my ‘Campaign’ shoe. Whilst I have no expectation of going further, it is satisfying that a shoe that is close to my heart and is an example of my passions, technique, leatherworking, needlepoint etc and not reinventing the wheel in design terms, has been shortlisted. The Awards will take place in London on 23rd September.
A glimplse into the Muse, Morphe, Create exhibition with Caroline