Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Cut Asks: Heels or Flats?

Amy Odell from NYMag's the Cut asked Joan and Melissa Rivers the CRUCIAL question:

Heels or flats?
Joan Rivers: Heels every day — that’s my generation.
Melissa Rivers: At work I’m a heel, in real life I’m a flat.

I personally think high heels should be called hell heels — high hells? — but I enjoy the debate because I really don't understand why women wear them. So I googled "Heels or Flats" and found a few fun links.

• At Blisstree.com, a great essay by Amber Matassa who regretfully stopped wearing heels after tripping over her heel and falling down stairs and cracking her head. She learned her Achilles tendon had become shortened after so much heel wearing, which leads right into ...

• A study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology (reported in the DailyMail.co.uk) that says women who wear high heels a lot (5 days a week for at least 2 years) have shortened and weakened their calf muscles. Changing to flats for these women will be painful. If these women don't stretch, the damage can be permanent. The article includes an awesome diagram.

• And finally, to end on a innovative note, thegloss.com reported in 2007 on 2 kinds of hybrid shoes that convert from heels to flats. Sheilas' Heels may not look sturdy but they do have a button somewhere that retracts the heel, collapsing into an easy-drivin' flat. They were designed by an insurance agency to address the safety of women driving in heels, but don't seem to be on the market anymore. The second brand, Camileon Heels, sells for about $300 and has a hinge in the heel that essentially folds in half, hiding in plain sight like a vestigial tail. Zappos lists them but doesn't have any models currently so I don't know if they are still on the market.

Sheila's Heels

Camileon Heels

Monday, December 20, 2010

Kenneth Cole’s “Keep Open” rate 3 blisters

My black patent wedge Mary Jane's by Kenneth Cole Reaction are not allowed back in my closet.

Their crime is 3 blisters after 4 hours at an Oktoberfest party. Their vamps, the topline, bit into the skin below my big toe knuckle, rubbing it raw in several places on both feet. Having a backup pair of old shoes helped me get home without more damage, but the next day I was hobbled and healing took 3 weeks.

Despite my caution and due diligence, I’d been deceived. The 1-1/2” wedge seemed perfect. The sueded scallop trim topline was cute. The nonskid rubber outsole was comfortable. The $39.95 price was right. I'd worn them up and down the aisles of Marshall’s before the purchase, and once at home, wore them regularly before the four week return policy was up.

Unfortunately, I believe the only way to truly know a shoe is to wear it out of the house for at least four hours. It wasn’t the wedge heel that did me in, which is what I was nervous about. It was the razor edge on the vamp, the topline, that tortured me.

Until I find a replacement, I will:

Wear these no longer than 3 hours.
Admit the brand’s nostalgic value, due to a much-loved pair of Kenneth Cole granny boots from my clubbing days.
Respect the brand’s personality. How can you not? They are pioneers of cause marketing: AIDS, homelessness, Haiti. They have awesome, punny copywriting. (“The average woman falls in love 7 times a year. Only 6 are with shoes.”) They have two fabulous books: Footnotes, 2003 (which I have), and Awearness, 2008.
Keep trying on Gentle Souls, the comfort shoe brand Kenneth Cole acquired in 2005 that uses flaxseed memory pillows (flaxseeds!) in the arch and the footbed.
Not give up on Kenneth Cole because I bought the “Keep Open” shoes BEFORE August 2009, which is when Kenneth Cole launched the 925 patented comfort technology, designed with Gentle Souls’ founder Wayne Finklestein, which is now in all women’s shoes (sheepskin linings, flaxseed pillow arches, cork cushioning & poron memory foam layers).

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fly London's?

There I was, back at Cuoio on Newbury Street to try on “my” Yaz Fly London’s again. The first time I tried them in black. This time, I was trying them in brown. I was worked up about the brand. Its fly logo is nifty and its tagline is catchy: Don’t walk. Fly. I was happy with the $160 price, considering that most shoes at Cuoio are over $200.

While the leather was thick and soft, the high lip rubbed against my ankle in a way that would give me blisters. The saleswoman, who’s name I will remember next time, is a pro and probably the real reason I like going there. She brought out a second pair in the same color and size, and presto, they fit! I walked back and forth, on the brink of buying, when I noticed the rubber sole was making my feet feel tired — a huge red flag in my book.

My Tsubo’s have a very similar rubber wedge sole. But instead of Fly London-type ridges, their soles have shock-absorbing bubbles placed at various pressure points. Tsubo means pressure point and the brand has successfully integrated comfort into the designs of their shoes.

After checking out Fly London’s website and some customer reviews, I am skeptical about the brand’s commitment to comfort. Unfortunately, they are not a perfect fall version of my summery Tsubo wedges, and so I left empty handed.

Shoe art: boots

I came across this painting in the offices of Pour Le Corps, a day spa on Clarendon Street in Boston. Never you mind what I was doing there. This is not about that. This is about more spontaneous posts, about sharing inspiring shoe images that I come across on my daily travels.

It is also an accidental tribute to Open Studios, where artists open their studios or share their work at group sites, which happened the day after I saw this, in both my neighborhood of Jamaica Plain and the South End. The artist who painted these boots — Carmela Cattuti — showed at the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, 41 Berkley Street. She can be reached at Carmela@cattutidesigns.com.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lost shoe in JP

Last Thursday, I noticed this shoe on top of a transformer at the corner of Boylston and Lamartine. It was still there the next day. Putting on a brave front. I peeked at the label and wondered what its story was. I had the sense that it had been lost before. Call me the shoe whisperer.

Its owner — let's say her name is Trudy — is the scattered type, and frequently stuffs her work shoes and lunch into a too small tote bag. In this case, when the light changed at Lamartine, Trudy rushed across Boylston and into the Stonybrook T station. She was thrilled that she made it to the office a few mintues before nine, until she went to change out of her sneakers and into her BCBG peep toes. She cursed the subway that had rumbled into the station and made her hurry. She fumbled for her back-up pair of scuffed black pumps that she stashed under her desk, and fought off despair. She had hoped to wear her BCBGs through October and maybe even November. She feared she'd never see her right shoe again. Trudy didn't have the slightest idea where she'd lost it.

The peep toe is still there, dreaming of Trudy's crowded, warm closet and hoping Trudy will find it before it suffers the terrors of a fall rain or frost, or worse.

Monday, August 9, 2010

WWD Celebrity Shoe Closet

Tinsley Mortimer. Photo by John Aquino.

Tinsley Mortimer. fabsugar. May 25, 2010.

Celebrity shoe closet interviews are a guilty pleasure of mine. A perfect example? Today's WWD interview with Tinsley Mortimer, a New York socialite (related to Thomas Jefferson on her mother's side). She estimates her shoe collection is between 500 and 1,000 pairs. Among her responses to Marcie Young's questions, a few stand out.
Most comfortable: Converse, but fit isn’t much of a selling point for Mortimer. “I would never not wear an amazing shoe because it wasn’t comfortable. Even if my foot was going numb, I wouldn’t care. I’d still want to wear it.”

Best kick-around style: Converse. “It’s really a new thing for me, but I get a lot of wear out of my Converses. I probably have 10 pairs in a lot of different styles and colors: green, white, blue, patterned.”

One style you wouldn’t be caught wearing: Flats. “It’s not that I don’t think they’re cute on other people; I just can’t wear them. I don’t like the way they look on my legs, even if I’m wearing jeans. It’s just not me.”

Price range you stick to: $1,500 and below, “but it depends on the shoe.”

Best qualities in a salesperson: Mortimer said she’d rather have at it alone. “I don’t like them helping me. I know what I like, and I prefer them to just let me go. I’ll probably buy more if I don’t feel any pressure.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Salespeople: I totally agree!

Price range: I suppose it's good she has an upper limit, yes?

Comfort: How uncomfortable do shoes have to be before women won't wear them? What about if a certain part of the shoe is rubbing your skin raw, then gives you a blister, and if you keep going, it will pop? I've been there, and had to walk very slowly home, until I could take them off — and then give them away!

Flats: I am curious about women who say they can't wear flats. In Tinsley Mortimer's case, it sounds like an aesthetic choice. But are there women who physically can't wear flats? I understand if it's because the flat is uncomfortable, because most flats don't have any support. I also understand if it's because the flat falls off while you walk, because I have narrow feet and this happens on most flats I try on. But are there other reasons why women physically can't wear flats?

Converse: Are you listening? You have a great brand ambassador here!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Arcopedicos at Nahas!

In the window: So I’m walking down Charles Street at the bottom of Beacon Hill, and I stop to windowshop at Nahas, when, omg, I spy cute red comfort flats. Are those Arcopedicos!?!

Secret wish: While I wait for the sometimes cantankerous owner to bring out the Arcopedico Nature Vitorias in black/red ($145), I hope that maybe they’ll be perfect and I will buy them and not be tempted to return them and finally end my quest for comfortable flats.
Another disappointment: I hustle out of the small store after a few quick pictures. The owner is like a lion, and if you browse too long, the store begins to feel like a cage. That rounded and rather large toe box is just too goofy looking, and they are too wide for my narrow feet. That red in Croc-embossed patent is killer, though, and I am excited at the direction Arcopedico is going.

Experience of the brand: The only place I’d seen the brand before was Cambridge Clogs (crazyclogs.com), where they had the classic line, a style with a woven nylon upper that looked like a slipper-like sock sewn onto a sole. (See bottom pic) Not stylish, unless maybe you thought of them as a type of espadrille.

Arcopedico facts: The Portuguese company was founded in 1966 by Prof. Elio Parodi when he patented the Classic (bottom pic), a long-running bestseller. He believed that supporting the foot arch was crucial to sustaining the spine at a more convenient angle.

Arcopedico technical jargon: In the production of each shoe, the volumetric density for correct blood circulation and total foot coverage is tested. (volumetric WHAT?) The anatomic insole in boar skin of fibrous toweling is formed to give metatarsal support and a specific stability for the heel. (uh, BOAR skin?) The patented anatomic sole, PVC injected material, has twin supports to maintain the correct angle of foot arch support. The twin supports are adjustable on each foot, trimming with a knife blade. (oh. that's kind of COOL.) In a normal shoe the total weight of the body rests on three points only. This often causes pressure to the arch of the foot, as well as the big toe curvature, causing blisters and calluses. With the "Arcopedico shoes" the foot rests on the whole surface area of the insole. Consequently, there is less tiring of the foot arch and the elimination of blisters and callouses. Furthermore, the "Arcopedico shoes" exercise the foot, strengthen the muscles, assist the circulation of the blood and ensure more comfort in walking. (sounds like CLAIMS lots of other shoes are making these days.)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Spanish shoe discovery: Art Shoes

Through the wonder of the internet, I stumbled across a new (to me) stylish and comfortable-looking shoe brand — Art shoes. A Spanish brand with an orange logo that looks like an asterisk. The first Art style that I saw (above) is called "Levels 0092," from the current season, with the three-part cork wedge heel. (All images are from the Art Shop site, unless otherwise noted.)

This shoe pushes the line between playful and edgy, ugly and cool. In my biased opinion, Art shoes are more interesting and unusual than the well known but larger Spanish brands of Camper or El Naturalista.

The Art Company's "Who we are" page describes their target consumers — young people (18-30) who enjoy city life, are young at heart, non-conformist, independent, discreetly alternative and daring... Consumers of fashion, new technology, and cultural activities (cinema, theatre, concerts).

I suppose that could be me. I suppose I am "discreetly alternative"!

Learning about the brand was NOT easy. First issue — the name. The brand's website can be found on Google, but only if you are persistent enough to search for "the Art Company" (and don't get distracted by all the other results — although the 80s Dutch pop group's song "Suzanna" is a gem). Then select the listing with hyphens in the name.

If the Art(r) brand was founded by the Art Company(r) in 1995, then why haven't I seen it anywhere?

Because of the next issue — distribution, plus some website listing confusion. They are not distributed in the US, although I finally realized that they ship to the US from their online store, The Art Shop. I almost missed it because in the Art Shop's pull-down menu, I was looking for "United States" (silly me) instead of "The United States," which is 2 down from "The Lebanon." (Really?)

The English version of their website says they sell 1 million pairs of shoes, primarily to Spain, France, and Germany, and are represented in 5 continents. I found several British distributors, some of which deliver to the US, including Raw Shoes, Ruby Shoes Day (great name!), Steptoes, and Amazon UK.

Their Press/Fairs page says they are attending the Magic Marketplace show in Las Vegas this August, where I can only hope they pick up some daring American distributors, because their product looks amazing and I want to see them in Boston stores.

I downloaded their iPhone app, even though I don't order shoes online if I haven't tried them on in person first. I know, I know. Call me a dinosaur. But I've done enough catalog ordering, and returning, to sour me for a lifetime. (Unless I change my mind. I might.) The iPhone app allowed me to scan their Winter 09 collection, and if I registered, to shop from their online Art Shop, which was not really functional. The buttons were so small that my clumsy fingers kept triggering new pages. The iPhone app also let me go to their online community called "Metropolitan Soul," but the content there was sparse and generic.

In summary, it was exciting to see that they had an online presence, although it did feel uneven. There was no face or place attached to the brand, no mention of being located near Bilbao!

But enough with the serious stuff. Let's browse! Here are a variety of styles to feast your eyes on.

Above, the Stylish 0119, in multic. red, from the current season. You get your clog-wedge heel combined with your strappy sandal. Pleasantly confusing. A bit rough and playful. Very different. Begging to be tried on.

Above, the red-white Sevilla 0046, from the current season. Check out the American nickel on the vamp, on the brown style, below.

The heels on these first few styles show the brand's focus on architectural shapes. The soles of other styles further down, like the Tokio 0912, show the brand's focus on "the plastic arts" (aka rubber soles).

Above, the Vitra 0840, in multicolor opti, from the current season (although the style name was somewhat obscured by a nav bar on the Women's Art Shop page).

Above, the awesome cage sandal Tokio 0912, in red, from the current season. Swoon. I love red. And even though that wedge heel looks higher than anything I own or would wear, I would totally try it on. Just to be sure. Because it's a rubber wedge sole, and I feel safer in rubber soles.

Above, the Stylish W760, wedge heel, in brown, past season. (Image from Scorpio Shoes, Durham, United Kingdom.) The ankle strap adds a nice twist to the current clog craze. Not really my thing, but I wanted to show some variety.

Above, the grey Oteiza 0620, from the current season. Not just a slingback. Not just a Mary Jane. But a little of both. (A Sling Jane?) It actually has a geometric sculpted heel. Let's get a better look.

And it's rubber. Cool? Or weird? Both?

Above, the Berlin 0744, in painted black, from the current season. With another rubber sole. Check it out, immediately below.

That Berlin 0744 sole looks like a stop light, right?

Above, the gladiator-like Valencia 0982, in black, from the current season (although the style name was somewhat obscured by a nav bar on the Women's Art Shop page). For women like myself who love flat rubber soles. 

Above, the Skyline 0644, in Tibet Red, from past season. (Image from Scorpio Shoes, Durham, United Kingdom.) I love the roughness of this rubber sole. It looks like a bright little tractor!

Above, the Air Alpine 0906, in Tartain/Ch.Carbo, from the current season. Sort of Dr. Martens-ish, no?

I'd love to hear from anyone who has these or any other Art shoe styles! Are they as comfortable as they look?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Flip-Flops, Part 2

As I mentioned in Flip-Flops, Part 1 (below), the APMA* has granted the Seal of Acceptance to 6 flip-flop brands (Chaco, Dansko, FitFlop, Orthaheel, Reebok, SOLE, Spenco, Wolky).

And that's when you say, What? Only six brands?

Seems crazy, right? There are MANY glaring omissions on that very small list. After a quick search, I found a few brands that seemed to meet APMA's criteria (anatomical footbeds and arch support): Birkenstock, El Naturalista, Merrell, Rogue (a new discovery for me!), and some Teva styles (not all). 

But the one that comes to mind first and foremost, let me say it in caps — KEEN. Yes, Keen, people (although again, not all styles)! I have two pairs. Let me tell you about them!

*American Podiatric Medical Association

KEEN FIRST PAIR (LOVE): I searched for a long time for flip-flops with a thong that didn’t hurt the area between my big toe and my second toe. Finally, I found the Keen Waimea H2. Although the toe thong is a little thick, the diagonal strap that extends into a toe cover was just enough extra reinforcement to take some stress off it. And I have to say the big toe cover (er, the "patented toe protection") gives you a little extra confidence against objects dropping on your toe. I love the light, quick-drying, polyester webbing straps.

The new Waimea H2 styles (below, images from Piperlime) have a lighter sole, which could be nice, but I prefer mine (darker). Color below, first image, is Violet Quartz/Brindle. Color below, second image, is Rice Bag.

KEEN MARKETING SHORTCOMINGS (see? I'm being impartial here!): "Rice Bag"? Who on earth named a color "Rice Bag"? I'm sorry, but it sounds too much like "Douche Bag." There is a cool concept behind the name, also mentioned in connection with the Harvest MJ style, shown directly above, from Zappos, which comes in "Woven Rice Bag." Much better name. Amazing the difference one adjective makes. Made from reclaimed RICE BAGS.

Keen did not include this name explanation in the Waimea H2 description. I had to go offsite to Amazon, thank you. Until this second, I was all gung-ho about Keen's site, especially the Hybrid.ology page (under “Who we are” and "Hybrid Innovation"), which is devoted to their various shoe technologies and includes a demo of the awesome anatomically correct footbed, what they call a “metatomical footbed.”

I have to add that Keen's site seemed really slow, and I doubt it was on my end because it was repeatedly slower than many of the other sites I visited over the course of writing this post.

KEEN WEBSITE COOL FEATURE: Check out the "SEE WITH JEANS" button on the bottom right of the viewing window for any shoe style. Choose either a "dark" or "medium" wash jean, and boom, down lowers a jean leg over your chosen shoe style. Fun!

KEEN SECOND PAIR (REALLY LOVE!): Back to my story. At the end of a summer several years ago, I spotted a sale at the City Sports near BU (1035 Comm Ave) and bought my second pair of Keen’s at the irresistible price of $15 (75% off the original $60 price). The Keen St. Bart’s slide, shown above, was ten times more comfortable, without any toe thong to deal with. They essentially replaced my Waimea H2's, which are now for backup only.

The St. Bart's go on my feet first thing in the morning and first thing when I get home from work. And all weekend. Not too wide for my narrow feet. Not for long walks, as they could slip off, but OK for a two-block trek to the corner store. My summers would be nowhere without them.

The insole of both styles is covered in tiny grooves that give the bottom of your foot a non-stop massage. Hello! Heaven! (The only time this insole was a problem was when I had a pool-burn on my big toe, where a layer or two of skin got scraped off. If I’d had a band-aid to put on my toe at the time, the Keen's insole would have been fine.)

SURPRISE KEEN DISCOVERY: Did you know Keen made socks? I didn't. With all sorts of technical features, like "left and right specific fit" with cute little "L" and "R"s on them to tell which is which. In 3 different weights. And dig it: arch support! (What? How can you put arch support into a sock? I do not know. It is a mystery.)

TEMPTING KEEN STYLES: I'm going to have to keep away from City Sports end-of-summer sales, so I don't buy any of the similar but slightly different styles, like these cool leather Waimea's (below) in "vaporous grey/amaranth" (long enough color name, ya think?) on sale for $56 (from $70) at Zappos. Although leather straps don't appeal to me, despite the APMA's recommendation of leather flip-flops, to reduce blister potential.
However, if I see the St. Bart's, my favorite style, in leather (below, $70 at Zappos), with perky red accents (peppercorn/hollyberry), I might not be able to resist.

Or I could progress to the Bali (below, $59 at Zappos) in "pumice stone/baroque rose" (yes, that's a color) for a slide that's just slightly different than my St Bart's.

Or the Balboa, below, $80 at Zappos. Sorta like my St Bart's, but with an ankle strap.

Or the cute Madrid Ballerina, below, in Topaz (I love orange hues). On sale for $72 at Zappos, down from $80 (if ony I could ignore that drab flowery strip).

Or the Madrid Mary Jane, below, also in the cheery shade of Topaz. (Except now there's two flowery strips to ignore. Oh, the sacrifices we make!) On sale at Zappos for $72, down from $80.

Or, if I am ready for something a bit wacky, there's the Keen Yogui slip-on, "massage for your feet after you have done them wrong." Weighs only 7 ounces! (Newer styles 8.2 ounces.) The first one is in Camo Blue ($34.95, Sierra Trading Post). The second one is Yuki/Black ($34.95, Sierra Trading Post). These are much more interesting than Crocs!