Hope Springs Eternal

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Emma Hope has been designing and crafting beautiful shoes for a long time. Like many of her generation who were interested in creating stunning footwear, she studied at London’s Cordwainers College, then recognised as the only place to study if you really wanted to learn how to do fantastic things with leather or heels. Unlike many of the other graduates, however, Emma’s unique talent was quickly recognised: Vogue tipped her as “one to watch” (along with John Galliano) upon graduation.

They weren’t wrong. Pretty much concurrent to designing shoes for Betty Jackson, Jean Muir and Laura Ashley, she set up her own shop. By the 1990’s, Emma’s modest shop in the off-the-beaten-fashion-track location of London’s Amwell Street became the unlikely destination for savvy fashion editors, rising film talent and, above all, well-heeled Sloane Rangers about to tie the knot. Indeed, long before she almost inevitably opened her shop in Sloane Square in 2002, Emma’s wedding pumps had become one of those essential things at any British society wedding.

It’s easy to understand why. There is something quintessentially English about her shoes in the same way that Georgian Neoclassicism is undeniably English, which probably explains why she was the natural choice to design Keira Knightly and Rosamund Pike’s shoes for the 2005 screen outing of ‘Pride and Prejudice’.

Part of what one constantly recognises in Emma’s designs, which often favour flat pumps and kitten heels over any excessive height or overtly sexualised form, is that English women are frequently at their sexiest and most alluring when they embrace – but not necessarily advocate– that stereotype of the prim English lady on the edge of being unleashed. Like some E. M. Forster character let loose in Tuscany, ripe for the plucking, English women often work their magic best with exactly the right combination of restrained classical style and discreet signals of the passionate potential that lies beneath.

In this sense, Emma’s designs are always on the money: that suggestive little kitten heel with a skinny sling-back strap that would have been decorous enough to work at the BBC in the 1960’s and still sexually voracious enough to be Coral Brown’s character in ‘The Killing of Sister George’. Although things have changed a lot, don’t underestimate that old neurotic obsession with class being any less effective at producing some very sexy possibilities. And, trust us, it’s not only a winning combination in the UK: from the colonial Old Guard mentality of even contemporary Hong Kong to the Mayflower Marys that litter New York’s publishing houses, restraint can be very sexual, in more way than one. We know: where do you think you got it from?

Fun, playful and sexy in a way that is so very complex, Emma Hope’s current offering features some fantastic re-visiting of the kitten heel, whether as jewel-encrusted sling-backs worthy of a Dusty Springfield big climax on Top of the Pops or sleek black courts as desirable as Angelica Houston at a mafia funeral. If, on the other hand, you couldn’t be bothered with sexy, there are some very nice raffia numbers that will keep you cool and at least elegant when the weather hots up.

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