Almost as loud as the sound of children moaning about going back to school, the sound of feet protesting as they go back into winter shoes signifies the end of the summer. And here in London, after a couple of encores, the summer is finally due to end. The sock drawer is firmly back in action and the shop windows are full of boots of all kinds—a sign of worse to come, weather-wise. But despite the promised return to women’s fashion of flat footwear, high heels refuse to disappear—a fact which should have osteopaths and chiropractors up and down the country rubbing their hands with glee. Because heels are definitely not what the doctor ordered.
A year ago in Intelligent Life I wrote about my quest for the perfect heeled boot. I was really trying to answer a question which had bugged me for most of my adult life, but was gaining an edge of urgency as I got older: is it possible for heels to be really comfortable, or does the structure of the human foot dictate otherwise? I approached the shoe designer Tracey Neuls, who agreed to let me be involved in and write about the design process as she attempted to create a super-comfortable boot with a heel. Her stated mission is to make footwear that is “individual, timeless and comfortable”. “I design from the inside out,” she told me. “I always start with the foot.” That sounded promising.
Because Neuls cares as much about feet themselves as what we put on them, she gave me fair warning about heels. “Something happens between 5cm and 7cm,” she said. “We’ve found that once you go beyond a certain height—about 5.5cm I’d say—the foot is always going to be less comfortable. But let’s see what we can do.” The result, after months of to-and-fro discussions and sample-making, was a striking ankle boot in sparkly leather that overflowed onto its 7.5cm heel. Neuls named the style (I blush to tell you) Beca. It had “all the bells and whistles we could think of to compensate for the fact it’s a heel”, as she put it. That included a section of rubber inserted into the leather sole for extra flex and a built-in silicone strip which cushioned the ball of the foot. To my mind—and more importantly, to my feet—they were as comfortable as a heel could possibly be.
As the mercury drops in the thermometer, one consolation is that this winter Neuls has done a limited edition of the Beca boot in plain black calf leather, instead of the shimmering, glass-beaded leather of a year ago. It may not have the actual sparkle of the previous version, but it still sparkles with character and style. When we first met, I told Neuls that the Intelligent Life boot, as well as being a limousine for the feet, needed to be stable, stylish, interesting and relatively fashion-proof. A year is a long time in fashion, but so far the Beca boot still ticks those boxes.
Beca boot £395, www.traceyneuls.com