The accessory designer on her fourth pregnancy, and how she built a global brand while raising a young family
There are six small boys tearing around Charlotte Dellal’s house when I arrive at her West London home. Actually, there could be seven or eight, but it’s hard to tell, as they rush past me in the entrance hall in a noisy, jostling group, up the stairs to the upper story. Charlotte comes down the stairs a few moments later, completely unfazed by the fact that there is a photo shoot happening amidst the pandemonium of a playdate. Then again, as a mother of three boys -Ray, Ike and Rio – with another baby shortly on the way, she is used to the inevitable chaos multiple children bring. Plus, “I grew up as one of four, so that beautiful craziness – I know no different!” she laughs.
The daughter of property tycoon Guy Dellal and model Andrea Dellal, Charlotte was born in Cape Town before living in London, then Paris and Rio, then moving back to London again. The eldest sibling, she describes herself as a typical “big bossy sister.” Her sense of ease amongst mayhem, could explain why she decided to launch her accessories label, Charlotte Olympia, while she was pregnant with her first son. She says it was always her dream to have a big family as well as to own her own brand, so she simply did both at once. She discovered her talent for shoe design while studying at the London College of Fashion and went on to graduate from Cordwainers before launching her own brand.
In the almost ten years since, Charlotte Olympia has become an internationally recognised label, with celebrity fans and stores all over the world. Drawing on her love of old Hollywood glamour, her signature playful aesthetic makes Charlotte’s designs instantly recognisable. In fact, the term ‘dressing from the feet up’ could have been coined for her shoes. Embellished with lobsters, fruit and spider’s webs, her witty creations are the talking point of an outfit rather than a mere finishing touch. “I don’t think it’s me setting out to be playful but it harps back to that time that I love,” she says of her tongue-in-cheek approach. “I like to own it today but it was relevant to those times – people wore amazing hats, walked around with extravagant handbags. I think it’s about that sense of fun, at the same time being luxurious. I don’t think it has to be so sober.”
Her shoes may have been worn by everyone from Beyoncé to Cara Delevingne, but she says she “felt more excited when I first saw an everyday woman walking around in my designs. Of course, it’s wonderful having these amazing women on the red carpet wearing your designs but when you see a client that has gone out and bought your shoes, that’s exciting.” I’m intrigued to know how many shoes she personally owns, especially as we are now ensconced in her dressing room. A fashion lover’s dream, it’s carpeted in leopard print with mirrored wardrobes and a clothing rail crammed with dresses, but the real feature of the room is the shoe closet – a wall of colourful heels and flats, displayed on long open shelves. “I don’t know how many shoes I own – too many!” she says. Can you really ever own too many? “I think at some point you can have too many. I’m in a less is more phase of my life, but I rotate. So, if I get a new pair, I get rid of the old, unless they’re special pieces, in which case I archive them.”
Footwear is obviously the focal point of her look, “I don’t want to sound like a cliché but shoes can change an outfit, and the way you feel.” Her devotion to vintage glamour filters through not just her brand, but her personal style too. Her hair is styled into classic forties waves reminiscent of Rita Hayworth and even her nails are polished with a half moon manicure. When it comes to clothing she has a definite idea of what she likes. “I have a uniform. I wear mainly dresses, skirts and knitwear. High-waisted trousers, blouses – if I find something I like, I buy it in every colour.” It’s a look she adheres to even when pregnant, preferring fitted pieces to floaty designs (although she did bend the rules for a dramatic pistachio-green Valentino dress on the shoot). Her style is so pulled-together I can’t imagine her wearing jeans. But then again, jeans are like the mother uniform. So, what does she wear on her days with her children? “Maybe cropped high-waisted pants and a little knitwear top would be what I wear with my boys. I mean I enjoy dressing up anyway, I dress up for me at the end of the day. But not jeans. It’s not my aesthetic,” she says firmly.
Charlotte’s calm demeanour (even her sentences are measured and spoken in a slow, steady tone) could make it easy to underestimate her drive. Yet juggling the demands of a building a global brand with not one, but three young children, is no mean feat. “In the beginning, it’s a juggle and when you’re starting your own business it’s like you have another baby, you have to juggle like you said. It’s not like you let go of one or the other,” she explains. “And you know what, if I’m honest, you wake up sometimes and you think ‘What the hell am I doing?’ You can’t say that everything’s perfect. It takes a good day at work to make everything feel great, and it takes a great day at home to make everything feel great as well. You also have your off days, but those are definitely fewer than my good days – which is why I’m still doing it and why I’m still having babies!” She says it helps that she owns her own business. “You can somewhat make your own rules, for example my office is just there [pointing out the window] and if I worked for someone else I wouldn’t have the luxury of choosing where my office was located. And it’s about building a great team around you as not everything is done by yourself! Learning to delegate, which is something I’m not very good at but learning slowly, slowly – even though it’s been ten years!” She also has learnt to accept help. She never had a nanny with her first son “he went everywhere with me,” but having more children has meant she has had to rely on others. Her parents and in-laws are also both close by which she says, “makes a huge difference”.
Now nearing the end of her fourth pregnancy, she is looking forward to expanding her family again. “I love the idea of having a new baby, of growing a family. Every time it’s been new, it’s been adding one more. This pregnancy is the first time that the boys have all really been old enough to understand. The whole family’s excited, not just me.” The baby isn’t the only new addition. Along with a Rhodesian Ridgeback, she’s just become the owner of an adorable little pug cross. Boo, sits on her on her lap licking a chew toy while we chat. “Why not?! It’s all or nothing. If I’m going to change nappies I might as well pick up dog poo too.” she laughs. Cleaning up after household pets is not quite the topic of conversation I had envisaged discussing, yet strangely it is the perfect example of her refreshing, ‘just get on with it’ attitude that makes Charlotte so likeable. She may be stylish and successful, but she is also charming and down-to-earth. I think I might take her sage advice to “embrace the craziness” as my new motto for motherhood.
In Her Words
NINE LONG OR JOYOUS MONTHS?
Nine joyous months.
HYPERACTIVE OR CHILLED OUT DURING PREGNANCY?
I’m always running around, I do that pregnant or not. I never have time off, I like to keep busy always. Even without kids it’s not my personality to be – well I like to be on the move. I like lists and life’s too short to not be doing them.
WHAT DO YOU MISS MOST WHEN PREGNANT?
I’m not one to get cravings… I would say a cocktail but I haven’t been wanting any, so I guess I’m not missing them – so I suppose maybe just doing that bit more, for example certain gym things you can’t do. But nothing really. I take everything I can’t do as a plus. Like great, I’m not going to drink for a while or if I can’t do certain exercises at the gym, I use it as an excuse not to go!
WHAT ARE YOUR GO-TO LABELS FOR PREGNANCY?
The same as what I normally wear. Prada, Isa Arfen, The Vampire’s Wife, Alexandra Rich, Temperley… I don’t even have maternity leggings. I don’t have anything maternity!
SURPRISING PREGNANCY FACT...
I feel like I learn something every time or maybe it’s the same thing and I forget. I’ve had babies at different times of the year, so it always feels a bit different.
HIDE OR EMBRACE THE BUMP?
Embrace the bump.
YOUR TOP TIP FOR OTHER PREGNANT WOMEN?
The best thing I discovered, only after my third child, was the Medela industrial double breast pump. It doesn't sound glamorous, nor does it look particularly pleasant, but it was a life saver and you only need to rent it for as long as you need it; twice the milk in half the time! More glamorous advice would be that hold ups beat tights every time! No more problems with waist bands (and maternity tights aren't always the nicest), plus there's more choice.
BOY, GIRL OR WAITING TO FIND OUT?
I don’t see why you would find out the sex of the baby. There’s something wonderful about that moment, and you can’t choose in the first place, so I can wait to see if it’s another boy or a girl. I don’t know what I’d do with a girl… I have three doting sons. My mum always says there’s no space for another girl in my house! It’s probably true. I’d have to let go of my crown. I’m sure it would change the dynamic. Ironically, everyone thinks I’m a girl person. Either way, I would love it.
FAVOURITE THING TO DO WHEN PREGNANT?
Choosing names. I love doing it for my shoes - it’s the thing we talk about the most. I’ve named so many shoes people think I find it easy but I find it really hard! With my last son I chose Rio for a girl, because that’s where my mum’s from and it was her nickname when she was a model, but for a boy we were a bit stuck, so we just ended up calling him Rio. We should have saved Rio for last in case it’s a girl.
WOULD YOU LET YOUR PARTNER CARRY THE BABY?
I think I’d be a bit jealous. It’s something for us women to do and we’re lucky to be able to do that, so no, sorry!
Words by Amanda Woodward-Brown
Photographed by Vicki Adamson