Designer Tim Cooper on Oliver Sweeney
He may well admit to owning around 20 pairs of Japanese Onitsuka Tiger trainers, but Oliver Sweeney‘s cobbler-in-chief Tim Cooper is better known for his British brogues and his Italian loafers. The company itself can trace itself back to the day the 16-year-old Oliver Sweeney walked into bespoke shoemakers Alan McAfee, rising through the ranks until he became creative director, before the company was sold to Church’s. Sweeney launched his own line of shoes in 1989 on a £40 per week enterprise scheme, which – along with its contemporary, the Wannabe range by Patrick Cox – became the must-have shoes of the early Nineties.
Sweeney’s genius was to reinvent traditional British shoe shapes around an “anatomical” one of his own invention, that made sure men didn’t have to sacrifice comfort for style. Sweeney, unfortunately, suffered a stroke in 2006, so in 2009 Tim Cooper joined forces with other investors to buy out the company and ensure this British institution survived.
Today he is co-owner and managing director – as well as being cobbler-in-chief. “Shoes are in my blood,” explains Cooper. “Almost the whole of my family for the past three generations has been in the shoe industry and I started as a designer by making shoes in 1983 in a shoe factory in Alsace, France. To me, making shoes is like creating a sculpture. The design process starts with the last and it is intensely physical, a craft.”
He is determined to take Oliver Sweeney’s brand identity forward while remaining true to its heritage. “I always admired Oliver as he was a leader, not a follower. He designed classics with a unique and original British twist, and this is something we are committed to cherish. Having an eye for precise proportion is what makes all the difference for a successful shoe.”
There might, however, be more trainer-inspired footwear in the collection in future. “Every four years the Olympics influence global shoe trends,” he explains, “and the ripples from the London Games will extend through 2013.” But never fear, his favourite piece in the new collection is a classic double monk. “These are a reinterpretation of the shoes I wore on my wedding day,” admits Cooper. But if he ever loses the shoe bug, he thinks his future would be in food. “I am a passionate chef and I would run my own kitchen. If I didn’t spend time making shoes, I would invite more people in,” he says. Serving sole Véronique perhaps?