Apparently, one of the things that most etches lines on a woman’s face is ill-fitting shoes. I read that when I was a smooth-skinned 20-something and it made a deep impression on me. If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it.
What this has meant is that I am increasingly reluctant to climb into high heels, something I used to love. When did shoes get so uncomfortable? I used to live in the highest court shoes, but not any more. My last pair of heels was only worn for three hours before I kicked them off, never to be taken out of their box again. That worked out at £50 an hour. Painful for my wallet as well as my tootsies.
One size certainly doesn’t fit all, and it’s not only I who has been suffering: now that summer is here and feet are bared, the damage that badly fitting shoes have wreaked on the female population is all too clear to see.
I don’t want to wear sensible heels like the Queen, but at the same time I don’t want to increase the risk of bunions, corns and hammer toes. Christian Louboutin might be trying to eat his words over his recent gaffe, but he’s not the only designer who has forgotten that shoes should be functional as well as fashionable.
Now that summer is here and feet are bared, the damage that badly fitting shoes have wreaked on the female population is all too clear to see
In this age of technology, why isn’t there a website that lets you design your dream footwear and guarantees they’ll fit like a, well, shoe?
Surprise, surprise, there is. The business was started by two sisters, Julia Grinham and Katy Chandler – as many good enterprises are – out of frustration. Why oh why, they wondered, wasn’t there a British luxury shoe label that would be available all over the world, in a wide range of sizes so that nobody would feel excluded, of lasting quality and as individual and beautiful as the customer could imagine?
With Julia’s background in running online businesses, it was a logical step for the sisters to create a website on which customers can design and build the shoes of their dreams. And thus Upper Street was born.
How to design your shoe
It’s amazingly simple. You log on to the 3D design studio and follow seven easy steps. First you select your shoe style, which ranges from ballet pumps to round or pointed court shoes, with or without platforms, to peeptoe courts and sandals.
Next, you decide upon the upper shape. Do you want a full cut, for a classic shape that works well with or without straps, or elegant D’Orsay sides, which accentuate the curves of the shoe arch by leaving the side of the shoe bare?
You click on your selection, all of which is modified in the 3D image, and go on to the next of the seven steps (any of which you can undo if you don’t like what you see). Now you design the front section. This could be plain, with a toe cap, a buckle or a bow; there are eight choices. You can keep the back plain and simple or make it more fashionable by adding a counter back, with contrasting colours or materials.
In the fifth step you can add straps to your shoes, turning a pair of courts into Mary Janes, for example, or a D’Orsay-styled shoe into an elegant heeled sandal.
Now the fun really begins: the colouring and progress stage, where you can embrace your inner shoe designer. You colour every part of the shoe, from the insole to the heel, the front and the back, and choose your materials. These range from glossy leather to luxurious satin, suede, patent, animal skin and snakeskin. There’s an eye-boggling range of colours, from classic nudes to shocking pinks and zingy greens.
The temptation is to make every shoe a statement – why wouldn’t you, with so much to play with? – but it’s also satisfying to design an understated classic that you know will fit and last.
Some designs cry out for embellishment, which include studs and crystals on the front or straps. You can rotate the 3D image so that you can see what the shoe looks like from every angle and, if you like it, you can save it to your shoe collection and start another one. It brings out the Carrie Bradshaw in every woman.
The shoes come in a variety of heel sizes, which you select at the final stage.
Next, at checkout, you select your size (from a tiny 33 to a generous 43), width and heel height. If you’re between sizes, or have special requirements, there is a box to insert your instructions.
Stitched by shoe elves
The shoes are made by craftsmen with more than 30 years’ experience. The pattern is cut, stitched together and stretched over the upper, then heel and sole are attached. The process takes six weeks.
If the shoes need adjustments, this is part of the service, and Julia and Katy guarantee a full refund in the unlikely event you are not happy with the design.
Typical customers include women who want something for a special occasion, from a big birthday to a wedding; those who have discovered the pleasure and comfort of bespoke shoes; and shoe-a-holics who are bitten by the bug and return for repeat orders.
There are also men who have designed shoes as a surprise for their partners. Prices range from £195–£450.
I played around with the site for an afternoon, designing three pairs of shoes (see below). I was keen to get back into heels, and here was the perfect opportunity to design a pair that would give me pleasure to wear rather than etch more lines on my face.
My remit was simple: I wanted a pair of shoes that would take me from a day in the office right the way through to an evening out. That much-used phrase, classic with a twist, summed up what I was after.
All three pairs followed the same basic shape: a half-inch platform (I am tiny), a sturdier, block heel, and a round-toed court style. One pair was a classy, two-tone patent brogue; the next, a stylish blue suede with contrasting blue flashes in different leathers; the third, which won my final vote, a show-stopping brown and orange snakeskin number with a classy front buckle.
Six weeks later, I untied a shocking-pink ribbon and opened Upper Street’s trademark black box. Delving into a black velvet bag, I pulled out my shoes; elegant, classy, beautifully made, even more amazing than they looked as a 3D image on the website (above, right).
It was love at first sight. What’s more, my feet love them too.