I’m talking shoes this week with my guest, the vivacious Chantal Pilon, whose shoe collection has been wonderfully inspired by architecture, movies and clothing; as well as being born and raised into the shoe industry, with 3 generations of shoe retailers in Canada…. welcome Chantal…
Hi! I’m Chantal Pilon aka Chanii B. Full of energy, I never stop. Slightly crazy too… you have to be – it’s part of being artistic and a designer. I need to be to keep the inspiration flowing!
You were born and raised into the shoe industry, with 3 generations of shoe retailers in Canada, having studied at Cordwainer’s College and having worked for over 11 years at Clarks, England and Kenneth Cole in New York; there’s a passion for shoes in your blood. However, as a young child did you have the same desire to enter the shoe industry or did you have other ambitions?
I always wanted to be a biologist or an archaeologist and studied towards this as I grew up, but my creative side was overwhelming; I wanted to create and invent something. I was working with my family in their shoe shops as a teen and tried hard to separate from the shoe business and explore other areas. Until one day I met another designer at a trade show and we talked about how I had a love for art and design and loved shoes. He told me I must go to London and study footwear design. It was like a light switched in my head and I’ve never looked back, I knew I would be able to fulfil my creative mind with something I knew and loved. So off I was as soon as possible to study at Cordwainers!
What do you like best about being a shoe designer?
Travelling around the world for inspiration then drawing what is in my head, then amending it, then seeing my final creation come to life. Every shoe, boot, handbag or accessory is a piece of my passion and love for what I do. All my passion and hard work goes into everything I make. I tell my customers every style I make has a story, so they are all close to me. Some styles I have worked on for 2 years until they were just right. So once I see them in the shop and sell them to my customer I am proud of the journey they took to make someone happy. I also love seeing my customers come look in awe and excitement when they see the collection… I bring smiles to people.
Where do you get your inspiration for your shoe collections?
Everywhere… I travel the world and see all kinds of architecture, furniture, clothes, people on the streets, vintage… I get a real buzz and can’t wait to put pen to paper to get the idea in motion.
When designing your shoe collections, do you go for on trend colours/styles; your favourite colours/designs; colours/designs requested or that have proved popular in the past with your clientele; or a bit of each?
It’s a bit of each; what trends are happening and what I feel would be really new- but I also think of a few customers that each have a fit or style I follow…so really I think they are my muse.
Not only do you sell your shoes online but you have a fab shoe shop in Bath where you showcase all your designs as well as having your shoes sold in over 35 shops worldwide. Which shoes are currently proving popular with customers visiting your shop in Bath? Your website?
Best shoes are the Tresor and Coco as they’re very iconic Chanii B. The pony handbags (called Deux Visione) are huge sellers as well as they are part of the limited editions, where only a very select amount are made.
As your shoes are stocked worldwide, is there a marked difference between what is popular in UK and what is popular with your worldwide stockists?
No the client is the same all over. The Chanii B customer, whether she is from the UK or overseas, wants to find something different but also likes the idea of buying something you will not find everywhere, and has a real person behind the brand. This is why I have customers emailing me from all over the world asking for shoes that are sold out in the shops where they are…
Personally, I love all your shoes but I have a soft spot for the Bebe heels in both fuchsia and royal blue ( I think it’s the stripy heel that first caught my attention!) And, being a boots addict, I couldn’t ignore the gorgeous zipp boot – I adore all 3 colours in that style too! Have you got a favourite out of all the shoes you’ve designed?
I have the Bebe in green and wear them a lot as they are really comfortable. I just introduced this season the royal blue which is amazing, teamed with all white and natural colours, and especially jeans. Plus I have the Zipp boot in grey, which are hot with all my new spring clothes. But my most favourite shoes as my customers know is my Coco pony hair shoes in fuchsia. The most comfortable shoe I have ever owned, with a heel! It is like wearing nothing on your feet. I have a regular customer that owns 8 pairs in different colours! I do have many other favourites though, as when I design them I get very excited and when they arrive, it’s as if I have given life to a new creation.
Your range also includes some delightful shoes ideal for weddings – I particularly adore the chablis shoe in ivory – it is so pretty and elegant and with a heel just the right size to elongate the leg but sturdy and comfortable to boot! Just what you need when you are on your feet all day and all night! What shoe style seems to be the most popular this season with your bridal clients?
The most popular is the Tresor for all weddings with the ruffle on the back; it is elegant and creative looking on the foot. You know you will not bump into anyone wearing this piece of art… with a comfortable heel height. The other best sellers are the Soliel t-strap, which is very vintage looking but has a flexible cork foot bed. I made them in many colours this year with weddings in mind. You could dance all night in them after a long day and still be comfortable.
Which famous lady would you like to see parading around in your designs?
Any woman with style and a sense of individuality of course! Like Katy Perry, Holly Willoughby, Patty Boyd, Lily Allen, Emma Bunting, Rachael Bilson…
You wanted to achieve a brand that expresses the individual in all of us by incorporating limited editions, wearable heights, colour and creative pieces of art – I think you’ve achieved that aim! So, what can we look forward to this summer and what have you got up your sleeve for autumn/winter too?
This spring was all about soft colours or monochrome. Mirror heels are very Italian and in vogue, so I have the highest quality Italian units with the mirror heels in shop. Like the Valour zebra pony hair wedges, Aloof snake print wedges, and the Voici low wedge in natural or white snake print. Very chic and very comfortable with a raised elevation while not being very high. But for dress wear I am really excited about the high platform rainbow unicorn heels – Mag, my limited editions for this season with only 18 pairs made globally. And I have a pair! My plan is to make a low flatter version of this pony as it is incredible and so individual. AW line is of course finished and I’m already looking forward to them coming in (but let’s not push summer away too soon!) I am feeling teal, red, and black with gold. I have some amazing flat boots with velvet trim and mini studs coming and I can’t wait to have a pair! Also coming in are my new cork foot bed dress shoes, which are cushioned foot beds with textured leather prints and mirror trims… fashionable and practical with comfort. Plus my new flat, up the knee boots in distressed suede and also in patent with mirror trims, will be arriving. These flew off shelves overseas as they were so unique from all other brands trending them for next season.
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
I love Custo Barcelona, well until it becomes too mainstream, I’m a fan. Shoes are always my fuchsia coco they are my favourite Chanii B. I’m also super excited to be the first to be showcase a new line of clothing made from 100% alpaca wool from local designer Lucy Cox in my shop in Milsom Place, Bath.
Do you have any favourite shops or online sites? (apart from your own!)
Custo, but I must go to the shop to try everything on… I am in heaven…online ASOS for that impulse buy, but with all my travels I prefer to buy in shop and be part of the moment and experience of being in a shop and feeling the product.
What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?
A colourful summer dress, I’m always in need of a new one. Plus the perfect leather jacket and maybe even a leather dress to wear in the fall!
Boots or shoes?
Hmm that’s hard… I love my dress shoes as I like to not lose the identity of being a woman. But boots are for when I need to throw some attitude around and not be so dressy and feminine. But being feminine is always important to my mantra!
Links you would like to share e.g. Website/facebook etc. So that my readers can learn more about Chanii b shoes
You’ve got a fabulous collection of shoes, Chantal, and I’m looking forward to seeing your Autumn collection too ! Thank you for stopping by for a chat and I expect many readers in the south west will be popping along to Bath and your shop to experience the shoe collection at first hand… if so, let me know what you buy !
Photo Credits: All photos have been published with kind permission of Chantal Pilon & Chanii B Shoes.