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Stuart Weitzman on his legacy, lower heels and latex

Stuart Weitzman stands in front of his new Toronto store.

Fred Lum / The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum / The Globe and Mail

Though Brad Pitt gets the press, he isn't the only man that Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston have in common. Both actresses also share a conspicuous affection for footwear maestro Stuart Weitzman. And they aren't alone. A-listers such as Katie Holmes, Jessica Alba, Rachel McAdams, Beyoncé and Rihanna have all been known to favour Weitzman heels, on the red carpet and off. (Kate Hudson does the grocery shopping in hers.)

"It's because they're comfortable," explains the 70-year old New York designer, in Toronto recently to open his first standalone store in the city and celebrate his company's 25th anniversary. "There is no logical reason why a sexy shoe shouldn't feel good," says the married father of two adult daughters, one a reporter for The Daily News, the other a singer-songwriter with more pairs of Stuart Weitzman shoes than she has the closet space for. "I use the same technology used by the sneaker industry."

All of Weitzman's footwear contains an inner sole made of latex – even the soaring new limited-edition heel the company is releasing this fall to commemorate the anniversary: a three-inch-high double crisscross T-strap platform covered in cowhide made to look like iridescent python.

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It has been named Heritage because its retro look takes after a patented design that Weitzman's father first created in 1936 when he ran Seymour Shoes in Haverhill, Mass., a family business that Stuart, his youngest son, joined in the 1960s. In 1986, he took the company over and renamed it Stuart Weitzman, which today sells to 70 countries worldwide and in 2009 posted sales of $193-million (U.S.).

Holding the Heritage heel with both hands, Weitzman, who is all smiles, gives it a squeeze: "When your foot sits down on it, the latex bounces back," he explains. "It's got 100-per-cent memory. The last is also anatomically correct. The first thing I make sure of when designing a shoe is that the last confirms to the natural shape of the foot. Only after all that do I bring in the aesthetics."

Those aesthetics range widely, from pumps with Lucite heels to silk peep-toed bridal slingbacks covered in Swarovski crystals. On average, the company produces 400 styles a season or 900 styles a year, 300 of which are evening styles. The rest are intended for daywear and are made by hand at the Stuart Weitzman factory in Spain over a six-to-seven-week period. Among the new styles for this coming fall are knee-high, flat-heeled boots, predicted by Weitzman to be a top seller, as well as platform shoes and wedge heels.

The upcoming collection also showcases, for the first time in 20 years, kitten heels – shoes with a shorter and more slender heel than has recently been the fashion.

Lower heels, Weitzman says, are for women who are confident about their own beauty.

"Jacqueline Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn wore flats to the most elegant functions and always represented the height of fashion," he explains. "Heels are power tools. They make a statement. Do you remember the movie with Demi Moore and Michael Douglas, Disclosure, in which Demi Moore wore the highest of heels as a way of showing that she was the boss? Well, that's how heels operate, as symbols. But flats are different. The woman who wears them knows her own worth."

Lower heels also tell another story, continues Weitzman, an alumnus of the Wharton School.

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"When the mood of the public becomes less flamboyant, such as during an economic slowdown, styles become more conservative; when confidence drops, so do the heels, and right now people are feeling less inclined to throw it all out there. Heels are a great barometer of the times."

But that's real life. When it comes to an event like a film festival, caution is thrown to the wind.

The heels are already looking to be sky-high when the Toronto International Film Festival gets into full swing this week. And if the red-carpet walks turn out to be a slog, at least the Weitzman devotees won't have quite as much to worry about.

The $415 limited-edition Heritage shoe will be released later this month in all Stuart Weitzman stores, including seven Canadian standalones located in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal.

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About the Author

Deirdre Kelly is a features writer for The Globe and Mail. She is the author of the best-selling Paris Times Eight and Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection (Greystone Books). More

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