DKNY Shoes: Adding ‘Style’ to ‘Sensible’

Eileen Shields has returned to the brand as vice president of footwear design to rejuvenate its shoe category.

A DKNY heel.

Twisted classics. Comfort technology. Stretch. The seven-hour shoe. Gloves for the feet. Sexy, witty, breathable.

This story first appeared in the October 29, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Those are some buzzwords footwear designer Eileen Shields uses to describe the next chapter for DKNY’s shoe category. Shields joined Donna Karan’s design team in 1992 to help launch footwear and remained there for more than a decade before leaving to start her own namesake line in 2004, as well as to open a store in Ireland. That line has since been discontinued, and Shields has returned to DKNY as vice president of footwear design.

“The company was looking to take the business in the next direction, and you know when the stars are just aligned?” Shields said. “DKNY is completely poised for the next big thing. I knew that I had to get  involved.”

The brand aims to rejuvenate the category with shoes that emphasize comfort and stretch — but without the appearance of traditional, sensible shoes. High-top sneakers will have zippers on the side, traditional tennis shoes boast hidden wedges and knee-high boots will have stretch lining down the inside of the boot.

“All those details that you might not see from outside but you feel, and you wanna wear them over and over again. People are trying on the samples and saying they feel different, softer. We have five-inch heels, and people are saying they’re so comfortable,” Shields said.

The company has sourced new biodegradable and recyclable materials from Germany — materials generally found in athletic shoes — and plans to expand its midheel and sneaker offerings.

“Platforms have become so popular. Everything’s been really sexy, and that’s really relevant,” Shields said. “But there’s a massive [lack of] midheels. Midheels need to be gorgeous and well-designed.”

Prices are consistent with current collections. Most shoes run from $225 to $325, while over-the-knee boots might go as high as $500 to $600. The spring collection will be the first under Shields’ creative direction, with initial deliveries hitting retailers in January and February.

“We want shoes to wear you, not you to wear the shoes. When you don’t feel shoes, you know they’re fitting right,” said Shields. “How long could you wear the shoe? Could you wear this all day? That’s our goal — that [the customer] feels and looks beautiful.”