Vanessa Gillingham and Charlotte Pilcher spent over a decade surrounded by beautiful shoes. They were fashion editors for British Vogue and British Glamour for ten years and as such, developed a love for beautifully-designed footwear. But despite being privy to the best of the best, the two friends and colleagues were never able to find the perfect pair of boots. Many that they’d shopped for were too trendy or too expensive, or they didn’t fit quite right or weren’t versatile enough.
After years of hunting for their dream boots, Gillingham and Pilcher decided to start crafting their own. Last year, their London-based label of Italian-made boots called Sweethearts of The Rodeo was born and last week, they became available in the U.S. The brand is direct-to-consumer and Gillingham and Pilcher offer an edited range of designs, including a black leather ankle boot with a studded cross strap and a Mod-esque style with a sleek, subtle buckle. All of the designs are handcrafted in a small, family-run factory in Northern Italy, made with materials like calfskin and lambskin leather.
When Gillingham and Pilcher were cultivating the aesthetic for their new label, they spent a lot of time looking at old photos of Keith Richards and Gram Parsons in their signature, effortless rock star attire from the late 1960s and early 1970s. In fact, the name Sweethearts of The Rodeo comes from the 1968 album of almost the same name, Sweetheart of The Rodeo, which country-rock legend Parsons recorded with the Byrds. “We love those great, chilled-out pictures of them (Richards and Parsons) creating music and Keith wearing a pair of fabulous snakeskin zipped ankle boots,” Pilcher says. Their designs are in fact inspired by men’s boots and the idea of seasonless, timeless footwear, almost, as Gillingham notes, “like borrowing your boyfriend’s boots.” She adds, “we wanted to achieve the feel of how men buy their shoes with a more considered long view. The main inspiration being exquisite, hand-crafted, luxurious boots for the connoisseur, with a sprinkling of rock-and-roll.”
Gillingham and Pilcher also felt that it was important to blend, as Gillingham says, “the luxury of Italian shoe manufacturing with London cool.” They “obsessed” over the small details during the design process as well, focusing on creating insoles that make the boots feel like walking around in comfortable slippers, as well as the exact size of the studs and the stitching of the cuff inside the boots so that you don’t see the lining. Outside of crafting a chic visual story around the seasonless, timeless designs, they aim to appeal to a customer who feels that shopping for fall and winter boots is an overwhelming experience and more often than not, a disappointing one.