Talk about a silver shoe lining: It was a foot condition that led shoe designer Dana Davis to become a cobbler to the stars, with A-listers Anne Hathaway, Penelope Cruz, Carrie Underwood, Freida Pinto and Juliette Lewis regularly stepping out in the designer’s sleek and well-constructed assortment of footwear.
Davis — who has a master’s degree in education — had been teaching kindergarten for 15 years when her doctor told her she needed to work in a job that did not require standing. (Now 43, Davis had been diagnosed with diabetes at age eight, which resulted in the amputation of the big toe on her right foot).
Inspiration struck five years ago, and Davis teamed up with her podiatrist to design stylish, sexy shoes for women like herself who don’t want to be condemned to clodhoppers due to foot woes.
Even celebrities, she discovered, have wearied of the Torquemada tortures of high heels that cause and aggravate maladies from neuromas and plantar’s fasciitis to corns and cramps.
Davis’s creations (which, at $200 to $500, teeter on splurge territory) are known for their chic silhouettes, but in truth “we’re a comfort line. All our shoes have built in orthotics,” she explained.
The stealth comfort category is exploding as more designers seek to combine a forgiving feel with style.
The built-in orthotics in a Dana Davis shoe are built on tripods that shifts the balance to the heel and first and fifth metatarsals “so you’re not tip toeing around on your tippy toes,” she explained.
Davis is the daughter of Marvin Davis, the one-time owner of 20th Century Fox who was, according to one obituary, the 30th richest man in the U.S. when he died in 2004. “He definitely influenced me” by setting an example of how to have entrepreneurial guts and pluck, Davis said.
Her day-to-day operation, however, is anything but lavish. She works out of a self-described “tiny” office in her Beverly Hills home, communicating with offsite staff via email.
Business took off when she received a mention on Daily Candy in '09, causing traffic to her website – which now accounts for 10 to 15% of her business – to triple overnight.
And it didn’t hurt that her designs were embraced by Hollywood, making advertising almost unnecessary. “I’ve been lucky enough to have a celebrity following: That’s what gets my name out there and justifies the price point,” Davis said.
And she is grateful to have had the gumption to have followed her dream. “I thought fashion would be scary and the people would be mean, but shoes are totally different,” made by wonderful characters who are only too happy to help a new comer, said Davis.
So how, exactly, does she make a shoe fit while missing a big toe? By adapting and innovating a “toe stopper: I make it myself so my foot won’t slide around in the shoe,” out of a scrap of pantyhose she stuffs and then knots, she confided.
Even with her ingenious adaptation, “there are certain shoes that are better for me,” usually in the lower heel heights, she allowed.
Ironically enough, the queen of high heels can’t rock some of her own skyscraper tall designs.