A Tribute to Joan Helpern

I read in the NY Times today that Joan Helpern, Creative Partner in the Company, Joan and David Shoes passed away at 89 years of age. Reading the headline was like reading about someone I had truly known. It causes me to take pause and reminisce about one of, if not my first, introductions to a true quality brand that represented fine craftsmanship and luxury from as far back as the early 80s.

Photo: New York Times 

Joan and David shoes and riding boots were the ultimate luxury item of the 80s for myself, Isabel, my sister and closest friends through high school, college and right through to the launch of our working careers. My first full time job required suits, lots of accessories, nylons, and shoes! My first paychecks went towards navy leather and black suede pumps. Note that I say went towards, they were an investment. I still have the black suede ones.

Boarding a flight with the New York Times,  and looking forward to reading it was not a common event, typically there emails to follow up on. Today, of all days, happened for a reason. Reading every word of Joan’s obituary, slowly, in awe, how I wish I had the opportunity to have met her. She was savvy, talented, a feminist, a pioneer, pursuing graduate studies at Harvard in the 60s, trained as a child psychologist, and designed programs for the NY City Board of Education. Having so many remarkable accomplishments under her belt, it is fascinating that once deciding to pursue her creative side, lands a design job as Boston based shoe company. From this role, she then decided to join her husband and launch the Joan and David brand and put it on the international map. 

Previous blogs convey my love of travel, but a constant struggle with what shoes to pack. Reading about Joan is incredibly moving and truly inspirational.  Imagine my dismay as I read the below lines and how there are so many parallels to the inspiration behind Divadend Footwear;

 "We had noticed that women were running through airports,” Ms. Helpern told The New York Times in 2012. “We decided to make shoes for women who run through airports,  and, 

'Despite the flashy styles, Ms. Helpern leaned toward classic designs, explaining, “I like to see the person rather than what they are wearing, so my shoes are understated,” or as shared in David’s obituary, 

“I was told women were married to high heels,” Mr. Helpern said in 1989. “I was told that soft, unstructured, lightweight shoes wouldn’t sell. People laughed. Especially the New England shoe manufacturers, who told me I’d be skinned alive.”He added: “We’ve simplified dressing. That’s the American idea.”  

Photo: AP

Picking up the paper today was such a gift. The flight home was filled with vibrant flashbacks, like watching a movie.  Ann Taylor was the store that carried Joan and David shoes and everything about both brands, had that high quality, boutique feel of luxury as a I was discovering fashion. Recollections of my very first pair of nude flats with a unique angle across the top of the foot, I loved them! Thoughts flashed about saving money for the next purchase, making sure my mother was going to let me have the car to organize a trip with a few friends and family to the Joan and David factory store, north of Boston. Full of excitement, we carefully made our choices, ensuring they fit with our wardrobes well,  in order to wear them often. I remember spending a long time at that particular store, marveling at the span of shoes, styles, quality and materials. It was like a school field trip. My favorites were Joan and David riding boots. I wore them hard, for more than a decade and each time I went to the cobbler to have the soles rebuilt, he commented on the quality, the leather, the stitching, the buckles. I loved hearing it and knowing he appreciated the same!  “ I have a made a dent in the fashion world’, she said "and a step forward of women.” Thank you Joan!