Megan Bedford meets a woman whose love of shoes kick-started a career.
Illustrator Clare Grove creates her books for children, but there’s little doubt the fashion-mad grown-ups who read them enjoy them just as much. Her whimsical water colour renderings of modern-day accessories, such as Prada bags and Alexander McQueen and Jimmy Choo shoes, fit into her fairy tales as snugly as Cinderella’s glass slipper.
Grove’s two picture books, My Mummy Loves Shoes and the just-released My Mummy Loves Bags are based on the tongue-in-cheek premise that Mummy loves fashion almost – but not quite – as much as her darling little ones.
Given her accessory admiration, it’s hardly surprising the Aucklander’s home is a treasure trove of collectible fashion items, including about 200 pairs of shoes, many of which were the inspiration for her stories.
“I’ve loved shoes since I was very young,” Grove explains. “I was born in London and grew up in rural Kent, where there are quite a few jumble sales. My father would give me 50p and I’d buy the highest, most glamorous ones I could get my hands on. My mother used to get reports from her friends who’d seen me walking down the hill in them after I’d changed out of my sensible school shoes at the gate!”
Grove’s two-story villa in Auckland’s Herne Bay is an elegant and personality-filled home that celebrates her and her husband’s three charming and spirited children – Sienna, nine; Annabel, six; and-three year-old Ben – and their mother’s long-term passion for beautiful clothes and collectible shoes. Each item pictured in her books is here, from a velvet tufted dressing room chair to a pair of YSL Tribute sandals.
One wall of her bedroom is dedicated to an installation of beaded vintage purses. This acknowledges the influence that the former owners of many of the bags – her exceptionally well-dressed grandmothers – had on Grove’s considered, yet unpretentious style.
Nearby, a Japanese lacquered cabinet hosts a jumble of crystal, gold, silver and semi-precious costume jewellery. A Tiffany Elsa Peretti cuff shares a tray with vintage green glass drop earrings. A weighty Karen Walker crab necklace sits near a star-spangled Swarovski cocktail ring.
“My vintage pieces, and where my love of fashion first started, all came from my grannies, seeing the way they dressed and the amazing things in their cupboards. In the 40s and 50s they dressed so impeccably. “It was that real era of Hollywood glamour – they wore dresses, brooches and furs. They made a big thing of an event and I just love that.” And the shoe collection? “I do tend to save up to buy really special shoes for special occasions. I bought some amazing sparkly blue Louboutin Pigalles for my sister’s wedding last year.”
Grove must have lived a fabulous occasion-filled life, given the number of shoes she owns, but she admits that sometimes, no occasion at all is necessary. “It can just be just that feeling of seeing something that makes your heart beat a bit faster. If there is a 12-step programme for shoes, I should probably be on it!” She shops for her clothes locally, listing Karen Walker, Workshop, Andrea Moore and Kathryn Wilson as some of her favourites.
She also indulges in a little late evening online shopping as a luxury. “When I’ve put the kids to bed, and with glass of wine in hand, I’ll do my illustrating and then, sometimes, as a little treat after I’ve got my work done [I’ll go online].” “I think there’s a surge in traffic, isn’t there, at 9pm on Net-a-Porter? I so get that, that’s me.” She does not discriminate between heels and flats, labels and chain-store finds, and loves nothing more than sharing her treasure. When friends have special events, they regularly dip into her wardrobe full of keep-forever pieces.
In a guesthouse to the rear of the property stands a giant vintage armoire that fans of Grove’s My Mummy Loves Shoes will recognise. The opening page of the book has an image of it with its doors open, displaying the many colourful printed dresses inside. The illustration is just as it is in real life, bursting with sheer silks and a rainbow of shirts from French label Equipment. A pair of colourful Zara sandals nestle next to shoe boxes below.
Hanging on the back of the door, as it is in the book, is one of Grove’s all-time favourite pieces, a Kate Moss for Topshop dress the model based on an Art Deco-era design. Tucked away on top is a black and white striped box holding several whimsical hats and fascinators. The box is the inspiration for stationery packaging that celebrates her watercolour artworks, but it’s also a hint as to what she’s currently working on.
Grove’s next book, due for release next year, will be titled My Mummy Loves Hats.