Terry de Havilland 1938-2019
Terry de Havilland – the British shoe designer who created glamorous footwear for celebrities from the 1960s onwards – has died at the age of 81.
Born as Terrance Higgins, he learned the footwear trade by working for his cobbler father in Barking, east London. Young Terry decided to call himself ‘de Havilland’ (a name he apparently found in a telephone directory) to further his goal of becoming a movie star. This career path failed to develop, so in 1957 he returned to the family shoemaking business.
Fame arrived in 1964, when the fashion editor of Queen featured de Havilland’s work in the magazine after she saw a pair of his shoes being modelled in a photo shoot by his girlfriend. At the end of the sixties, he experimented with some of his father’s old 1940s lasts to make shoes with platform soles, stacked heels and wedge heels. A friend agreed to sell his snakeskin samples in Kensington Market, resulting in the company barely being able to cope with the demand. When de Havilland’s father died in 1970, he continued with the production of his designs, and became well-known for the ability to make a pair of eye-catching shoes overnight.
de Havilland opened a shop called ‘Cobblers to the World’ on Chelsea’s King’s Road in 1972, which soon attracted models, rock stars, their wives and other celebrities. Some of the famous people who wore his designs included Marc Bolan, David Bowie, Rudolf Nureyev and Jackie Onassis. He even produced outlandish footwear for Tim Curry to don in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Even after his shop closed, de Havilland’s imagination and skill were in demand by such stars as Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Angelina Jolie, Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Kate Moss, the Spice Girls and Amy Winehouse. However, it was not only the rich and famous who wanted to wear his shoes, with some 200,000 members of the public also buying his wedges during the seventies. The Punk era is said to have cost his business dearly, as adherents of this genre were reportedly more interested in store-bought footwear, resulting in the company going into liquidation in 1979. Interestingly, he disappeared so completely from the public consciousness that Cher assumed he was dead before tracking him down to place an order in 1995.
From 2003 onwards, de Havilland made and sold a new range of designs, both directly and through licensing agreements. Having become a member of the Cordwainers’ advisory panel and a visiting professor at the London College of Fashion, he was presented with a Drapers’ lifetime achievement award in 2010.
This article was originally published on page 12 of the January 2020 issue of SATRA Bulletin.