Before giving it all up and training to be a “cobbler”, Rupert Sanderson was an advertising executive. This was seized upon by the press, singling Sanderson out from the far more familiar fashion narrative of the bright young thing who has been interested in clothes since birth.
Sanderson hates this pigeon-holing and when I meet him to discuss his expansion into handbags after 12 years of an eponymous shoe line he is keen to talk about other matters.
“That story has been told so many times. It’s slightly boring now, and it feels like ancient history. I left advertising in 1998 or so.”
Since enrolling on a two-year design course at London’s Cordwainers College, a footwear school whose alumni includes Jimmy Choo, Patrick Cox and Linda (LK) Bennett, Sanderson has been stepping out of the shadow of his earlier career. “I was 32 when I went to Cordwainers. “I was the oldest wrinkly in the class by some considerable margin... But I loved it. I had no hang-ups about why I was there, I just wanted to get on with making stuff.”
He travelled to Italy during his summer break and soon found himself working for Sergio Rossi and then Bruno Magli. In 2001, he left Magli to found his own shoe line – which has gone from strength to strength with standalone stores in London, Paris and Hong Kong and stockists across the globe.
After taking his career in the direction of design, Sanderson was surprised to find it heading on another track in July 2006 when the shoe factory in Bologna he had been working with since founding his company faced closure. Sanderson stepped in and now owns the factory outright. “I make enough shoes to justify it,” he says of his role as factory proprietor.
Still handmade in that factory in Italy, each of Sanderson’s designs is named after a daffodil. Worn by the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Naomi Watts and Jessica Chastain, each pair is given a final flourish of gold: “It ties in to the golden flower, to optimism, to spring.”
Now he is branching out into handbags with four styles all inspired by the music case that belonged to his recorder-playing, six-year-old self. “It’s not something I intended to do, and I want to do it well, instead of just barging in. It would be slightly reckless of me to storm the place and go ‘Louis who?’”