Jane Winkworth is known internationally as the founder and designer behind the globally renowned brand, French Sole. Offering fashionable classic flat footwear for women of all ages, Jane is known as the Queen of the Ballet Flats. Her exquisite and unique range of traditional ballet flats in every conceivable shape, style and colour are instantly recognised as the only ballet shoe to be seen in. As the founder of ballet flats Jane Winkworth continues to delight with her fabulous collections year after year and the brand goes from strength to strength. I sat down for a quick coffee break with Jane to find out a little bit more about the woman behind the brand, what makes her tick and a few hometruths!
Can you tell us how French Sole came about?
French Sole was started back in 1989 when I bought some ballet flats to sell at a charity fair – I had bought the shoes from France when on holiday as they were not available at all here. It just grew from that and now we are a global company with twelve stores and the latest in Vancouver opening today with two more opening before Christmas.
Have you always been a shoe designer?
I started designing shoes when I was a teenager, I worked at Biba in London and was designing shoes for Gamba and was also having my own made bespoke by Anello and Davide to my own designs.
Where did you get the name French Sole?
French Sole is a fish dish favoured by my husband. When I was searching for a name back in 1989 it seemed a good idea as all the ballet flats in those days were manufactured in France – it started out as The French Sole – I also have a French side of my family – but later I dropped “The” and became just plain French Sole.
Can you tell us about a normal days work?
A normal day’s work does not exist for me – every day is different. I might be at our head office and warehouses down in Swallowfield near Reading in Berkshire working with my design team , or in London at any of my four central London stores, or I could be travelling to Spain to visit my factory and work with my pattern cutters or I could be lunching at Colbert or Claridges with one of my collaborative designers such as Barbara Hulanicki my wonderful friend with whom I am designing a range of shoes to be launched next year.
What part of your job do you love most?
The best part of the job for me is when I get a call from a customer just to tell me how much they love their shoes – that for me is what it is all about, keeping the customer satisfied!
What formal training do you have or if self taught, how did you learn to become an expert?
I spent a brief period at art school then went to work in fashion – after I started French Sole I went to work in our factory in Spain alongside all the shoe making craftsmen to learn the business right the way through . I am completely self taught but after twenty seven years in the business – I am pretty experienced.
What would you like to do next business wise if you could do anything you wanted?
If I was to start all over again or start a new business now I think I would choose something a lot less stressful and competitive – I would love to do something with children and as I adore ballet I think I would like to start a little ballet school for little girls (or boys) from poor and deprived backgrounds . Every little girl wants to be a ballerina but few have parents able to afford the classes . I would raise the money somehow and offer free classes and free tutus and shoes – I know it could be done and I would love to do it. Charity is a huge part of my life and this would be my ultimate challenge.
How would you describe your own interior style?
What do you love?I am currently running three homes – Surrey countryside, Portugal and Los Angeles. My style never varies and all my homes all look the same – traditional English , good pieces mixed with modern artwork, soft, comfortable, dogs and newspapers everywhere, big armchairs, lots of white – very old school.
How would you describe your home?
My look is typical English country House – my daughter Rebecca Sophie Leigh is an interiors stylist, she despairs of my style as she prefers a more modern “look” but she has done all my houses for me and is brilliant at translating exactly what I want. I don’t have time to do the interiors of my homes, she has done them all for me over the past ten years and she gets it right every time.
What is your favourite Danetti product and why?
What is your favourite shop?
My favourite shop has to be on-line NET-A-PORTER – I buy absolutely all my clothes on-line from this website and was one of their first customers. I have a personal on-line stylist who knows what I buy and alerts me to new arrivals before they go “live”.
Who is your favourite designer – dead or alive.. and why?
My favourite designer is my wonderful friend Barbara Hulanicki – she gets it right every time. My favourite interiors designer is my darling and wonderfully talented daughter Rebecca because she too gets it right every time.
The Quick Fire Round:
What is your favourite colour?
My favourite colour is lavender.
What is your favourite book?
My favourite book is Alice in Wonderland.
Where is your favourite holiday spot?
My favourite holiday spot is California.
What’s in your bag?
In my bag I have a Smythson diary, a Blackberry, an IPhone 6 , a silver pen from Tiffany, two lace edged hankies, an asthma inhaler, a huge wallet purse from my own eponymous leather collection containing all the usual credit cards, money, keys etc, Chanel lipstick , an Hermes Caleche perfume spray, a small sketch book and two pencils and a bag of Haribo strawberry sweets.
My all time favourite film, which I have watched at least twenty times is Withnail and I . I adore it, I almost know it all by heart – ” I am a trained actor” ……. I am in love with Richard E. Grant!
Favourite paint colour?
Favourite paint colour is called Maximillian Magenta and I bought it twenty years ago in Paris – it is an oil based paint I found in Montmartre which I still have in a dried up old tube in my box of paints.
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