• Sun. Jul 21st, 2024

The Secret Weapon of Celebrity Stylists? Comfortable Shoes.


Jan 7, 2024


Helen Mirren declared herself to be “in love with them,” and Gabrielle Union said that “they might be the most comfortable shoes I have ever worn in my life.” Julia Roberts, Viola Davis and Drew Barrymore have worn them to Hollywood premieres. Queen Camilla owns 13 pairs and wears them at almost all of her public engagements.

Sole Bliss, which began in 2017 making shoes for style-conscious women afflicted by bunions and other foot conditions, is not a brand that conspicuously screams red carpet glamour. But in recent years the small British label has attracted a fan base among celebrities and royalty who are turning to its shoes for high-profile events that require them to be on their feet for hours on end.

Now, as awards season revs up — the Golden Globes air on Jan. 7 — Sole Bliss has taken a big step into new territory: collaborations. Its first is with Elizabeth Stewart, a longtime stylist for Ms. Roberts, Cate Blanchett and Jessica Chastain, among other Hollywood heavyweights. Ms. Stewart started offering the shoes in fittings as an experiment after coming across them online in 2020.

“Some of my clients are prepared to suffer for beauty, some aren’t,” Ms. Stewart said. “But when I started offering Sole Bliss as an option, it was notable how many were coming back and saying they really worked for them and that they were very comfortable.”

The shoes are now a key tool in Ms. Stewart’s tool kit. “It made sense to put my own stamp on some of the designs I was using the most and make them red-carpet ready,” she said. Which meant raising the razzle-dazzle with skyward heels, brighter shades and major sparkles.

Ms. Stewart designed two styles: Royalty, a sexy sky-high platform style in four colors with a block heel and straps that cross at the ankle and a glittering sole ($399); and Premiere, a patent leather sling-back with a pointed toe that comes in six colors and is more suited to daytime events ($349).

The footbed technology Sole Bliss employs involves three layers of foam, hidden stretch panels and wide toe boxes. Lisa Kay, the company’s founder, spent five years perfecting the design with podiatrists and testing it through market research. A veteran of the leather accessories industry, she started Sole Bliss after developing a painful bunion and finding few options available for women who still wanted to wear heels.

“It was madness to me that millions of women were being relegated to traditional comfort footwear with no fashionable alternatives,” she said. “I felt confident that there would be massive demand given the gap in the market and how many people suffer from foot problems.”

With the first lockdowns of the pandemic (when the company also started a line of sneakers), the Sole Bliss customer base expanded well beyond those with corns, bunions and hammer toes, Ms. Kay said. The shoes were embraced by those who prioritized comfort over glitzy brand names, including many celebrities. Queen Camilla has worn a solid and sensible style called the Ingrid, which costs $299 and is the company’s best-seller, more than 80 times and even recommended them to “The Great British Bake Off” star Dame Mary Berry, who is now a devotee.

Ms. Mirren wore the Pandora style for the opening night of the Cannes Film Festival this year, and after Gayle King, the television host, posted about the Rubys style she wore to a film premiere in July, “the phone rang off the hook,” Ms. Kay said. Younger fans include Amanda Seyfried, Jodie Comer and Rebel Wilson.

After hearing about Sole Bliss this writer (who generally prefers her feet flat to the floor) was prepared to test-drive a gold pair of the Ruby style at a festive holiday party that went into the early hours.

The 3.5-inch heels, which have a passing resemblance to Prada’s signature chunky platform sandals that sell for four times the price, were indeed comfortable. At 2 a.m., there was none of the inevitable throbbing ache in the balls of the feet, no pinched toes or aching heels.

Ms. Stewart has no qualms about bringing Sole Bliss more fully into the spotlight.

“There is no greater test of a high heel than a Hollywood awards ceremony,” she said. “Very few people get to wear the couture gowns seen on the red carpet, and this is an ordinary brand with shoes designed for regular women. I like to be the decision maker who gets to put them together when the eyes of the world are watching.”


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