Art of the Understatement: Oliver Sweeney


To coincide with the launch of the new Audi A8, we speak to Tim Cooper, Cobbler-in-Chief at British fashion brand Oliver Sweeney, who discusses his approach to shoemaking, the need to innovate and why he believes the boldest statements aren’t always the loudest.

Tim Cooper of Oliver Swweney

How does understated design play a role at Oliver Sweeney?

There are two distinct ends of the spectrum. One is branding so subtle that you don’t know what it is unless you’re in ‘the club’, then [on the other end], there’s the big unsubtle logo.

We’re somewhere in the middle; our wearers don’t like obvious branding, so we try to keep it unobtrusive. We do have styling cues though—like the hand-stitched ‘OS’, or the slightly curved heels—so that you can always tell a pair of shoes are Oliver Sweeney.

When you’re creating a new shoe, how do you know when a design is complete?

It’s [about] knowing when the proportion is correct. More often than not, we’ll mend that rather than anything else.

It’s difficult to know when to stop and when you’ve got it right, but that’s about eye and understanding.

How do you balance a respect for the age-old craft of cobbling with the need to innovate?

We’re modern and we understand what trends are, but we’re not about fashion. We’re about style. We innovate by understanding where the market is going.

There’s been a move towards casual products within footwear, so we launched an ultralight sneaker last season using a sole from China, our own moulds and a shoemaking technique called ‘Bologna’. The end product weighed as light as any marathon running shoe.

What do you think makes for great design?

I think great design is always a combination of form and function. With every pair of shoes, I know the guys who have cut the shoe, I know where the leather is from, I know the tannery...the provenance is key. All those lovely little secrets make it special.

When it comes to your own personal style, why do you opt for subtle over showy?

I don’t want people to think I’m following. I’m more interested in things that are well made. I want it to last, and feel great—there’s something about a well-made product that sells itself.

Who in popular culture do you take your design cues from?

We recently collaborated with an explorer called Levison Wood. He may not have shaved for a week, and he may have been walking the Nile, but he always looks brilliant. From a casual styling point, he’s clearly an influence.

What’s the one piece of style advice you often give people?

Quality shines through. It’s advice often heard, but if you spend less often, and spend slightly more when you do, you’ll get things that are beautiful, remain stylish, and last.