Wardrobe Insider: Charlotte Pilcher and Vanessa Gillingham

Charlotte Pilcher and Vanessa Gillingham met as fashion editors at British Vogue in the ’90s, bonding in the fashion room in between styling shoots with Diana, Princess of Wales, Kate Moss and being on location with photographers Tim Walker and Arthur Elgort. Having struggled with their inability to find the perfect pair of boots; ones that would fit every part of their lives, were effortlessly stylish, and made to last–a–lifetime, they joined forces to launch the ultimate boot brand, Sweethearts of the Rodeo at the end of 2019.

From black, everyday and metallic gold ankle boots to chic navy knee-highs, their capsule range of seven styles are handcrafted by an artisanal, family-run shoemaker near Pisa. With their brand name appropriated from Gram Parsons and his 1968 album Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the rock-and-roll theme continues with inspiration for their collections taken from off-duty rock stars and the women they loved. 

With women in the know snapping up their boots, the focus is on a certain stealth fashion vibe and not trying too hard—a little bit like Charlotte and Vanessa themselves—always stylish, a little underground but always rock and roll. Here they talk to PAKT about style icons, fashion advice and dream collaborators. 

1) Describe your style in 3 words

Charlotte: Restrained, bohemian chic.

Vanessa: Easy and laid back, with a strong accent of French insouciance.

2) What’s the most precious item in your wardrobe and why? 

C: My beautiful, Victor Edelstein couture wedding dress. It was made out of the palest lilac Duchesse satin, silk faille. I think it was one of the last pieces Victor made before becoming a painter.

V: My wedding dress and my late mother’s vintage Chanel coat. My wedding dress was made by Marni from old gold lurex/brocade, it was the first wedding dress they had designed. 

3) Where do you love to shop? 

C: Los Angeles is a dream. The vintage stores, and particularly the Rosebowl Flea Market in Pasadena is a favourite.  For special French pieces, the lovely shop Aimé on Ledbury Road in Notting Hill Gate, and I love Sacai and Marco Zanini.

V: I’ve just renovated my house so it has been all about interiors shops recently.  8 Holland Street, TAT London, and Italian online auctions for furniture.

4) What’s your go-to outfit? 

C: A bold, mix print Duro Olowu dress with a pair of Sweethearts of the Rodeo Portobello boots.

V: J Brand large turn-up jeans with a men’s shirt in cream, worn with Sweethearts of the Rodeo Quaker shoes in bone, a Hermès trench and a vintage Rolex.

5) Favourite piece you bought recently and why? 

C: A crisp, white New Romantic, broderie anglaise blouse by Isabel Marant, just because I’m a sucker for white broderie anglaise tops. They go with everything from jeans, to shorts and they soften up tailoring and look great with jewellery.

V: A Sacai pleated, tartan skirt. It looks great with our Sweethearts of the Rodeo Rawshack boot.

6) What is the best fashion advice you have received? 

C: My late stepmother, Meredith Etherington-Smith  who was the former French Vogue Editor at Large, used to say to me “Dahling, think pink, but wear navy blue.”

V: “Always look in the mirror and take one thing off” from my late mother.

7) Who are your style icons? 

C: Michael Roberts, Camilla Lowther, Hamish Bowles and  Zoe Bedeaux.

V: Francoise Hardy. I love her unconsidered look, which is as relevant today as it was back in the ’60s—her classic jeans, thick fringe and shaggy coats and she could be wearing our Portobello ankle boots then.

Photo by David Cairns via Getty Images

8) What’s your personal style signifier?

C: A non-fashion, fashion look, that is very eclectic hippy luxe. So my mix of jewellery, notably by the brilliant artist and jewellery designer Taher Chermirik but I also wear and love Jessie Western’s jewellery from her shop in Portobello Road. 

Left: Taher Chermirik necklace
Right: Jessie Western necklace

V: Laid back, cool.

9) Less or more? 

C: Probably the needle gauge would lean towards ‘more is more’, though it depends on my mood. Former British Vogue Editor Alexandra Shulman would say I was ‘more is more’ as she reckoned I could get more accessories on a model in my Vogue editorials than anyone else!

British Vogue editorial styled by Charlotte Pilcher, photographed by Raymond Meier

V: Less, I don’t like an over considered look, it has to look effortless even though one has had to think about it.

10) What will we never find in your wardrobe? 

C: A mini skirt, a padded bra, or 5-inch heels.

V: Leather trousers.

11) If you could have anyone’s wardrobe whose would it be and why? 

C: The late Lucy Birley for her consummate style and taste. When she was Lucy Ferry and married to rock star Bryan, it was the way she wore a perfect vintage shepherd’s smock in the country to Lacroix in the city and all in the same weekend.

V: Betty Catroux, the French  muse to Yves Saint Laurent. She must have such a fabulous collection of YSL vintage pieces, and I love all the tailoring he did in his 70s collections.

12) What is your dream project? 

C & V: We are doing our dream project! Designing and making beautiful, handcrafted boots with a family-run factory in Northern Italy, using the best materials and with an exacting eye for detail and quality. Having met at British Vogue in the fashion department back in the ’90s—which was another dream job—this is another chapter.

13) Dream collaborator? 

C & V: Hermès.

14) If you were an item of clothing what would you be? 

C: A pair of  our Sweethearts of the Rodeo, Rawshack boots.

V: A pair of our Bordeaux Portobello boots.

15) What is a must-have clothing item everyone must own? 

C: Obviously a pair of our Sweethearts of the Rodeo boots!

V: A pair of Sweethearts of the Rodeo boots and a great trench coat.

16) Favourite fashion apps?  

C & V: WWD, Vogue Runway and Airmail.

17) If a museum asked you to donate one item from your wardrobe that represented you what would it be? 

C: A layered, pair of vintage 1970’s Walter Albini tiered, Provencal print, gypsy skirts.

V: A canary yellow, suedette shirt dress by Halston—it’s in storage so I don’t have any pictures!

18) What’s your number one fashion rule? 

C: It’s absolutely all about personal style and not being a slave to fashion. It is about decent accessories, a watch, some jewellery and mixing up old loved pieces with new. It is never a total head-to-toe look, ever. And spend money on investment pieces, decent tailoring, and accessories.

V: Don’t overthink your look. Style isn’t about wearing labels or the latest look, it’s how you wear it.

19) Top 3 accounts to follow on social media 

C: Duro Olowu @duroolowu, Cosmo Wellings @cosmowellings, Seymour’s Hats @seymours_hats

V: Tarquin Bilgen @tarquinbilgen, HENI Talks @henitalks, Marc Costa @m.a.r.c.c.o.s.t.a, Architectural Digest @archdigest

20) Where were the last three places you travelled to and what are the can’t miss shops? 

C: Before lockdown, I travelled with my husband around Indonesia and Bali and before that to our factory in Italy, where the tempting designer discounted outlet stores are near.

V: I went to New York in February with my 14 year old son, it was his first time in NYC. He is into skate brands like Palace, so I didn’t get to shop much…but when I’m in New York I always go to Rachel Comeys store on Lafayette. You can’t buy her brand in the UK, and she does the best denim.  I have a great white denim zip up boiler suit and white denim cut-off jeans from her.