The Peninsulist Meets Tracey Neuls

"Tracey Neuls has carved out a niche as a playful shoemaker of both style and comfort."

Since creating her first collection more than 15 years ago, Canada-born, London-dwelling designer Tracey Neuls has carved out a niche as a playful shoemaker of both style and comfort.

Her two shops in Marylebone and Shoreditch may be brimming with artistic flights of fancy (the Marylebone branch is kitted out with a king size bed, while previous concepts have included entirely knitted displays and a school classroom set-up), but her shoes are an equal blend of fashion and function.

If there’s one person who knows what busy feet need to keep them going all day, it’s Tracey. We caught up with her after Peninsula’s seasonal market, SAMPLE, to chat about her first pair of shoes, unusual childhood hobbies and why silence is golden.

Photograph: Uli Schade

What was the first pair of shoes you remember wearing?

I remember my Buster Browns – they were a Canadian brand with a logo of a kid and their dog – and they used to give me such bad blisters. The first time I realised I had something weird for shoes was when I was sat in my mum’s closet and I’d just try them all on; it was a little dark in there, but there was something nice about being around them. I think I put a lot of emotion into my shoes and I want people to have attachments to them too, like when I think back to that time.

Were you a creative child?

I used to make shoes out of toilet paper rolls and Kellogg’s cardboard boxes. I remember walking past people and thinking, “They didn’t even look! They think they’re real!”

From age eight or nine, I was making shoes all the time and wearing them about. It’s been ingrained in me from the beginning. Comfort or style? I don’t think you have to prioritise one or the other. It bugs me because our shoes are extremely comfortable but ‘comfort’ is such a dirty word. I think that as women who are empowered to work and to do everything, 365 days a year, we should demand that.

Do you have a muse?

In the fashion industry, I think Rei Kawakubo, founder of fashion label Comme des Garçons, is fantastic. I remember one collection where she had big tumours on her dresses and I thought, you know, it takes a bit of balls to do that. It wasn’t all about female sexuality, it’s sculpture and so many other things. She’s always been king in my mind.

Photograph: Uli Schade

What do you still want to improve about yourself?

At the moment there’s a lot going on, so it’s probably time management. Essentially I just need more time in the day, then it’ll be good.

If you could spend a day in someone else’s shoes, who would you choose?

I’d like to put myself in a kid’s pair of shoes. I love the innocence, and I’m not into the voyeuristic society that we have now. There’s something cool about kids where they see the world and say it how it is. It bugs me that I can’t remember before six years old.

What do you do to relax?

It probably looks like a glass of white wine. Wine’o’clock is definitely a thing. And at the moment, I’m absolutely into the series Stranger Things – it’s only getting better.

Recommend us a secret place in London that you love.

There’s a new restaurant called Ellory out East which is a really great place. There’s not so many tables and it serves very good British food.

Photograph: Uli Schade

If you were only going to eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes, with fresh basil and this garlic that my dad grows which is crazy good.They’re massive, almost like apples, and they’re so tender; that’s the thing that makes the Caprese salad. I’m always taking contraband back to London.

What’s on your stereo right now?

I’m kind of crap with music. My mind is so full that when I’m working I don’t like having anything on in the background. It’s this purity thing. I do like The National a lot though, and I’m of The Smiths’ generation, so I still like that.

Which season would you want to exist in full time?

Spring. After you’ve been indoors and it’s been so gloomy, to see the sunshine and these little crocuses come up is quite magical. I hate being super cold and I hate being hot, so spring and autumn are the best.

What generation would you want to go back in time to?

Personally, I love the ’50s. I love the cars and the clothes – I’d never want to be a ’50s housewife as I don’t think it was particularly great for women, but all the Dior and everything means it would have to be the ’50s.

Photograph: Uli Schade

What are your fondest memories of Canada where you grew up?

Ironically, it’s the things that I hated. It’s weird how that changes over time. I was one of four kids and we’d always have to go out into the wilderness and hike all day long. I just hated every second of it, which is why I’m in London. But when you think back on it, it’s pretty special to go out and not see any other people.

What do you still have left to achieve?

World domination, of course! But seriously, we want to expand our men’s collection and extend our bag collection next winter; where the demand is, we’ll go.

Discover more about SAMPLE, where you can see Tracy’s newest collection in March.