The Guardian / Tracey Neuls / Alyson Walsh

November 27, 2014

“The days of running around in uncomfortable shoes are over,” declares footwear designer Tracey Neuls when we meet in her Marylebone shop. “I think it’s ridiculous. It impairs women and I don’t think there’s anything sexy about being in pain at work or while you’re walking around.” A YouGov poll from last week suggests she’s right. Surveying 2,000 women over 50, it confirmed that grown-up shoppers dress to please themselves and want to feel comfortable, and for the majority that doesn’t involve wearing high heels. I take the zero-tolerance approach to sore feet. As a comfy shoe obsessive, with the Pinterest board to prove it, I’m always on the look out for easy, run-around styles. I’m 51 and would rather wear Liberty print Nike Air Max (Burgundy Belmont) than Nan Shoes. To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw: “If a woman rebels against high-heeled shoes, she should take care to do so in a pair of fancy flats.” I stopped wearing heels around the time I stopped being a fashion editor on a glossy magazine. After a bout of Plantar Fasciitis (a painful foot condition common in women over-40) my longstanding love of trainers and shoes I could actually walk in was reignited. Women over 50 form the UK’s fastest growing consumer group, and I often wonder if the power of the grey pound will keep fabulous flats forever in vogue. “Maybe it’ll happen because there are more women in the work force,” continues 47-year-old Neuls, “Women with stuff to do and places to go, need footwear that works.” Fortunately, we are seeing the rise and rise of frump-free, statement styles; from Phoebe Philo’s Furkenstocks to Orla Kiely’s collaboration with Clarks (I’ve got my eye on the Orla Dorla loafer), shoes that are designed by women for women. And this makes me and my old lady feet very happy. “Longevity is really nice. People want something individual, something beautiful, that will last,” points out Neuls, “Customers grow old with our shoes, not bored with them”. What I like about the award-winning Cordwainers’ alumni is that she shuns catwalk trends in favour of doing her own thing. Using eye-catching fabrics such as rose pink ponyskin and calfskin leather with shimmering melted glass beads to pimp up a pair of practical shoes. “This is the way to go. It’s about feeling special, making an emotional connection. Adding a little sparkle or texture – we call it ‘Utilitarian Glamour’ – and it’s not too overtly bling, just quietly seductive.” I can definitely feel an emotional connection to the star detail leather ankle boots (Starlet, £350) and the zebra ponyskin loafers (Sing, £305). And Neuls’ sensitive approach to design is what makes her statement shoes popular among fellow creatives, such as Alison Goldfrapp and Tracey Emin. The Brit artist is a fan of the rubber soled, low-heeled cycling boot (Fern Bike Reflector, £250) a style nominated for the Design Museum’sDesign of the Year 2014. More product than fashion designer, Neuls moulds her new shapes in plasticine first and is fastidious about form and function: “I like to think about shape and sculpture and how beautiful the leg looks in motion. Now, to me, that is sexy.” Whether cycling, commuting or walking the dog, as we get older we need to keep moving. And to do that on a practical, everyday level requires comfy shoes. “If you feel comfortable you feel better about yourself, it’s simple,” says Neuls, “But comfy is such an ugly word. It’s synonymous with ugly shoes and footwear doesn’t have to be like that. I much prefer wearable.” Wearable shoes with wow factor, that’s what we want.




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