What Does Birth Control have to do with Shoes? Ask Designer Martha Davis.

9 Aug

Credit: Paul Chinn

You may not know the name Martha Davis yet. But, you probably know her design.

Before making the leap into shoes, Davis, who studied sculpture as a grad student at the Rhode Island School of Design, spent the past twenty years making a name for herself in the industrial design world. She built an award-winning career working on design projects for clients like Coca Cola, Sony, and Alessi. Even though many women aren’t familiar with her name, they know her work; Davis is behind the innovative redesign of the Dialpak birth control packaging for Johnson and Johnson’s Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical. Ten years ago, Ortho had 11 oral contraceptives, but Davis was able to design one universal package for all the brands that is refillable and recyclable, saving billions of pounds of plastic and making birth control more accessible and easier to use for many women.

So, long story short, Davis had a successful career. But, something was missing. Shoes, to be specific. That’s right–in 2005, Davis realized she couldn’t find a pair of shoes that were both comfortable and beautiful anywhere. This frustration ultimately led her to enroll at Milan’s Ars Sutoria in 2007, where she spent a year mastering the art of Italian shoe-making. Immediately Davis realized that footwear was a perfect fit for her, as it combined the challenge of functionality with creative sculptural possibilities. She launched her own line of sculptural shoes and boot in 2008, and it has been generating buzz ever since.

These #23 strappy leather sandals with wooden heels, a signature piece in Davis' latest collection, are on sale for $235 at GimmeShoes (originally priced at $588).

I like the unexpected factor in Davis’ designs. Whether it’s proportions, structure, or materials, I find myself drawn to the part of her designs that are “off” in a good way. For example, the positioning of the wooden heels in Davis’ #23 strappy sandals (picture above) makes me think of the wooden legs of an armchair chair. With the zip up back these shoes have a very industrial meets organic feel.

These emerald green peep toe booties are also on sale for $223 at GimmeShoes.

The peep toe cut-outs in these booties are another example of how Davis likes to break the rules. While these cut-outs are very feminine, Davis’ indented wooden heel again evoke a more masculine, functional feeling of an armchair’s wooden legs.

Here’s another example of Davis playing with cutouts, as well as color blocking, to bring visual interest to sandals:

I like Davis’ color blocking strategy of using the bright green and purple straps around the ankle with the more neutral metallic shades around the toes. Having that pop of color around your ankle draws the eye up the leg to give you an extra boost of height beyond what the heel offers. You’ll benefit from the illusion of looking taller, and, theoretically, thinner (yes! that magic word).

The more you examine Davis’ design, the more you appreciate her interest in illusion. Besides working with indented heels, Davis likes to incorporate “hidden” heels into her design, like in these green wedges:
In these shoes, the platform of the wedge heel is hidden in the design. This small little detail adds a touch of mystery and strangeness to what might otherwise be a same-old, same-old wedge.

As Davis says, “The fun thing about shoes is that you can do something delightful with them that can completely change the product and how people feel about it.” We love her arrestingly fresh designs and hope she continues to do intriguing, rule-breaking things with shoes. We can’t wait to see what’s next!

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