Feats of Comfort

by Harry Sheff

Back in October (boy, does THAT seem like a long time ago) while at Moda Calzado, the footwear show in Madrid, one leading trend I kept seeing was footwear engineered for comfort. I thought perhaps I was being just a little sensitive to the idea since, after all, I was spending my days on my feet, walking a trade show! Yet, once I got back to New York and went on a few more market appointments, the first feature shoe companies pitched was comfort. It looks like Baby Boomers—practically raised in athletic shoes—and the sneaker culture so prevalent in the young men’s and contemporary markets are demanding more than just great looks from the shoe market.

I’ve recently seen three collections, each occupying, or about to occupy, its own comfortable niche in the market, yet all touting comfort as their number-one benefit.

Oliver Sweeney

Oliver Sweeney got his start in shoes literally from the ground up when, at the tender age of 16, he started sweeping floors for a bespoke shoe manufacturer. He has developed an “off-the-rack” shoe that gives the wearer the feeling of custom-made. The secret is in the last, which has been carefully carved to be the most “anatomically correct” shape for most men’s feet. In men’s shoes, from a certain point on the foot and backwards, shoes remain pretty much the same shape. The changes have to do primarily with the shape of the toe. So Sweeney combines his anatomical last, with English design and Italian manufacturing, to create a shoe that has refined style and cutting-edge comfort. The shoes retail for around $400 here in the United States. Click www.oliversweeney.com for more information.


I have to admit up-front that I was going to be a little prejudiced for a new shoe company called Skins, simply because an old F.I.T. buddy of mine, Frank Zambrelli, and his Banfi Zambrelli studio were involved with the project. What I didn’t anticipate was just how cool these shoes would turn out to be. Skins starts out with…well…Bones! Just like human architecture, the idea is to take a basic plastic piece, much like an orthotic, that is purchased to fit your foot exactly, and to provide the skeleton of the shoe. The consumer can then purchase a multitude of differently styled Skins which fit over the Bone in styles that range from sporty to sophisticated, and that retail for $150.00 to $350.00. For more information go to www.skinsfootwear.com.


Rider goes off in yet another direction. You might say that Rider’s aim is to perfect what has become the ubiquitous “flip-flop.” Even on the grimy streets of Manhattan, flip-flops have become de rigeur fashion for men and women alike during the summer. Rider takes the idea to a whole new level, with plastic flip-flops, sandals and slides–the brochure looks more like something for a high-tech automobile than a shoe. Made in Brazil, their basic slide style incorporates a simulated arch for support, and a layered platform construction that incorporates a mesh system for “hydronic cooling” and cushioning. (I had an opportunity to “test drive” these, and they were like walking on little springs—very comfortable.) A basic flip-flop style called the “3D” has the soothing bounce, yet also features an innovative wraparound printing process, so that the fun patterns on the shoe are not completely covered up by the wearer’s foot. Riders retail for, at the most, $50. See www.ridersandals.com for more information.

And there’s much more. Even the more conservative companies like Johnston & Murphy and Allen Edmonds are engineering athletic shoe comfort into high-end luxury styles. So what’s the moral of the story? Shoe retailers had better be prepared to “slip into something more comfortable,” all while maintaining some pretty high standards of fashion and style.