There must be something in the water in Penang. Because the little Malaysian state has over the years birthed a disproportionate number of artisans and artists, including two of the world’s most renowned shoemakers: Jimmy Choo – and Rupert Sanderson.
While Choo’s roots are widely known, not many realise that Sanderson was born in Penang in 1966, when his father was in the army there. The 50-year-old later moved to Europe, where he trained under shoe greats Bruno Magli and Sergio Rossi.
Now based in London, Sanderson, who’s built a reputation for his elegant yet left-of-field designs since he launched his eponymous label in 2001, still looks fondly back at his years in Penang and attributes part of his design philosophy to his time there.
Ahead, we shoot him 10 questions on everything from whether his wife is a fan of his label, to how his shoes have evolved over the years.
1. Do you remember anything of Penang? Has it shaped your design philosophy in any way?
Being born on a tropical island like Penang, surrounded by such exoticness and nature, has allowed me to think freely and truly uplift the spirit of my designs. Thinking freely…perhaps it’s the essence of the place [since] Jimmy Choo was also born in Penang!
2. How have your shoes changed in the years since you launched your label?
Well, I started out designing two collections a year and now I design four as well as a bridal collection. Design techniques are constantly evolving, and I continue to work with new lasts, heel heights and the best quality materials.
We are always focused on perfecting the balance between line, volume and material, and this is always at the front of my mind when designing shoes. I work with a ‘less is more’ approach and my shoes 15 years ago and now remain true to this principle.
3. What is the most unexpected source of inspiration you’ve gotten for a design?
My inspiration can come at any moment, from walking down a street to looking at art in a gallery! Over 20 years ago, I found a pebble on a beach in Sri Lanka. I was mesmerised by its soft yet distinct shape, the perfect shape as an accessory for my shoes. It has been incorporated into my collections as part of a signature style. And the pebble has been sitting on my desk ever since – I even use it as a paperweight!
4. What were your biggest takeaways from your time at Sergio Rossi and Bruno Magli?
That was an incredible time of my life, I was very fortunate to be working with them, and back in the day they were family-run businesses. To a certain extent, that has shaped the way I run my own business. I am very involved in every aspect of it. I really watched the way their families operate – both lived and breathed the footwear industry.
5. What is the best thing someone can do with a pair of your shoes?
The best thing a woman can do with my shoes is to wear them because she feels great in them and they give her confidence. Shoes can be transformative.
6. And the worst?
Not take care of them!
7. Is there a particular woman you design for?
I suppose there isn’t a particular woman that I design for – every woman has her own story. I think the women who wear my shoes tend to have their own mindset and are confident enough to make their own choices. They aren’t necessarily governed by labels or trends and appreciate craftsmanship and quality. She could be a successful lawyer, someone who owns an art gallery or even an actress; someone who earns her own crust.
Sandra Bullock wearing custom-made Rupert Sanderson Minions heels for charity at the premiere of the Minions movie last year
8. What does your wife say about your shoes and bags?
I think I can say she’s a fan – she owns a lot of my shoes!
9. You entered China about two years ago. What have you learnt about that market and the Asia market in general?
The Asian woman we are speaking to is someone who appreciates European luxury brands and craftsmanship. Someone who has discerning tastes in luxury and a real sense of provenance. She looks for styles that have a brand signifier, but in a tasteful way that encapsulates the spirit of the brand. For her, we’ve created the Gold Line which is exclusive to Asia. The collection features gold heels and gold pebble accessories that have created a foundation for our business in the region.
10. Any exciting plans in the pipeline for this region?
We opened our first China flagship store in Shanghai at the IFC mall last year, so our focus is there at the moment. Singapore is also very cosmopolitan, a place we would certainly love to explore. There are also other cities across South-east Asia that we’re interested in, so watch this space.
Rupert Sanderson shoes are available in Singapore at Takashimaya Shoe Salon, Robinsons@The Heeren and Julie Nicole at Capitol Piazza.
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