A perfect fit

Dana Davis, shown here in her Brentwood home, with some of her high-fashion orthotic shoes. Sarah McLachlan, Anne Hathaway and Vivica Fox are among the celebrities who have worn Davis' creations. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times / March 9, 2010)

From corsets to sky-high stilettos, women have been suffering in the name of fashion for years. Thanks to the Beverly Hills-based footwear line Dana Davis, named for its founder and chief executive, high-heeled- shoe lovers can breathe a sigh of relief. In its third season and selling well locally at Nordstrom South Coast Plaza and at danadavis.com, the label features chic styles with invisible comfort technology such as customized arch supports and strategic cushioning. Imagine heels that may actually be good for you.


FOR THE RECORD:
Dana Davis: An article in today's Image section about shoemaker Dana Davis identifies her mother as Nancy Davis. Her mother is Barbara Davis; Nancy Davis is her sister. —



With designs including embellished flat sandals, driving moccasins and the 41/2-inch platform heels she introduced for spring-summer 2010, Dana Davis just might be the brand to make a comfort shoe go mainstream in the fashion world. "These aren't two-hour shoes, they are eight- to 10-hour shoes," says Davis, 41, who resides in Brentwood with her Jack Russell terrier, Spike. "You can wear them to an event and still walk home."

Although companies such as Cole Haan and Kenneth Cole have comfort lines, Davis' is the first to feature built-in orthotics (developed with patent-pending technology) in a high-fashion shoe, particularly heels. Her styles, priced at about $275 to $450, are designed so that you can also easily put in your own orthotic if needed. "Previously, there was no dress shoe you could put an orthotic into, so this is a big step," says podiatric surgeon Dr. Robert K. Lee, who says his patients like to wear high-fashion shoes but can develop foot problems as a result. "Current styles tend to be far too narrow, which can lead to bunions, hammer toes or other foot conditions. As the heel gets higher, that's more load on the balls of your feet, which can lead to stress fractures or tendinitis."

He notes that the distribution of weight is key to preventing injury. Davis' shoes create a tripod between the first and fifth metatarsals — the long bones of the foot — and the heel to displace weight. Her heels feature platforms and cushions, whereas most lines have a single sole. There is not a single skinny stiletto heel in the group.

It's no surprise that Dana Davis shoes have ended up on the red carpet. Penelope Cruz, Sarah McLachlan, Carrie Ann Inaba and Anne Hathaway (who wore a pair when she danced across the stage with Hugh Jackman at 2009's Oscars) are all fans of the shoes. Vivica A. Fox wore them to this year's Academy Awards.

"I love the Primrose; it's a very evocative shoe style," says celebrity stylist Elizabeth Stewart, of the soft knotted peep-toe in satin and patent leather. "They remind me of dancers backstage in ‘30s-era cabaret shoes and make me want to wear back-seamed stockings at all times."

Many of Davis' customers don't realize that her shoes may have health benefits for the foot; they are simply attracted to the design. "There's such a negative connotation when you say the word ‘comfort,'" Davis notes. "I like to say that we are a fashion company that happens to be comfortable."

Davis' inspiration came from her own experience as both a socialite (she's the youngest daughter of the late mogul Marvin Davis and philanthropist Nancy Davis) and working woman. Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 7, she became an elementary school teacher after getting a master's degree in education from USC. Long hours on her feet combined with diabetes-related foot problems led to eight corrective foot surgeries; she eventually had to stop teaching.

"For 20 years, I destroyed my feet because I wanted to wear pretty shoes," Davis says. "I was supposed to wear these really unattractive shoes while still wearing a Chanel suit, and that just didn't work." Davis began to search for comfortable shoes that looked luxurious and chic but failed to find any she liked. Two years ago, she attended her first footwear trade show to start researching and networking. It took another year to find the right factories in Italy and to team up with podiatrists, pedorthists and foot and ankle surgeons to help engineer each style.

"Once we get the shoes on a woman's feet, that's all it takes," says Davis, who regularly travels around the country for trunk shows and industry events. "When the woman realizes she's comfortable and stable, she feels stronger and more stately." In other words, the wobble is gone. Davis says that shoe salespeople are some of the biggest fans because they see what regular high-fashion shoes have done to women's feet over the years.

"I was so terrified because you think, in fashion, people might be snobby or mean, but I have been fortunate to come across people who have really embraced me and been so supportive," Davis says. "I still get nervous, but I find that I have a classic sense of style with a little edge, and people are responding to it, so my confidence is growing. I can't imagine not doing this now; it's too fun."

Some may wonder if this is just another fleeting business from a famous name. "You would never start a shoe line for fun," she says with a laugh. "If I knew then what I know now, I probably wouldn't have done it, but now I can't imagine doing anything else."

The shoes range in price from about $260 to $450.

In addition to running her company of four employees, Davis sits on the board at Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA, the Nancy Davis Foundation for Multiple Sclerosis Center Without Walls and the Children's Diabetes Foundation. The latter, founded by her parents, has raised more than $75 million for diabetes research and care. Their Carousel of Hope biennial fundraiser (held in October) is one of L.A.'s most notable social events, and you can bet Davis will be wearing her own heels that night. "You want something attractive because nothing makes you feel worse than dumpy shoes," she says. "It's possible to make shoes much better for women, so why not?"

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