NEW YORK — Tara Subkoff is walking a little lighter, thanks to a new collaboration with Easy Spirit.

In an atypical maneuver, the Imitation of Christ designer has agreed to stamp her name on a collection for the company, which in turn is among the sponsors of her runway show today. Designing flats and sandals might seem primary on the surface, but like everything the designer does, it appears more complicated with a closer look.

Developing comfortable footwear is something Subkoff, who briefly modeled Bally shoes as a teenager, has been kicking around for a few years, but a recent article in WWD’s sister publication W motivated her to get in gear. The article detailed one woman’s account of foot surgery that saved her from wearing flats instead of stilettos. But it was one phrase in particular that caught Subkoff’s eye, “So rather than surrender to a lifetime of Easy Spirits…”

Even though she has a shoe fetish and has been known to have bought new kicks before paying the rent on at least one occasion, Subkoff was disturbed that women would go to such lengths to cram their toes into designer heels. She approached Easy Spirit through her agent Marc Beckman. Subkoff decided to try to offer a backup, or at the very least, shoes that can get the wearer to work or a party where they will slip into stilettos. Flip-flops don’t cut it in her eyes.

“We’re busy, strong, independent women. If we’re more concerned about wearing Manolo Blahniks than what we’re actually saying or doing, we’re in trouble,” Subkoff said. “It’s pretty much the same as Chinese foot binding.”

While some might snicker at her attempt to empower women with comfortable, stylish footwear, she insisted there is something to be said for giving women equal footing. At 5 feet, 2 inches, she often falls behind, when walking in heels alongside her male coworkers.

“So much of shoemaking has been about fashion and a look — and not about people having to wear them,” Subkoff said. “We’re using the technology that’s out there without compromising style.”

This story first appeared in the September 8, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

A month in the making, the Tara Subkoff for Easy Spirit collection consists of six to eight styles of flats, gladiator sandals and pumps. With retail prices starting at $160, the Brazilian-made line will be available at better specialty stores in February or March. At this point, Easy Spirit does not plan to distribute the collection in its 150 freestanding stores. This collaboration will give Easy Spirit, which is owned by the Jones Apparel Group, a step up in its distribution.

Subkoff’s designs were inspired in part by a July trip to the island of Hydra in Greece, where she showed her clothing as part of a Greek art exhibition, “PREMAculTURE.” India was another source of inspiration. What she came up with are sleek leather shoes with hints of the ancient, as in the Gladiator design, and the modern, as evidenced in the polyurethane in the sole. Determined not to offer the shoes in generic skin tones, Subkoff designed them in a variety of shades, ranging from soap stone to java.

Known for her fiercely independent approach to fashion, she said this commercial venture should enhance her work. “I’m really grateful that this allows me to continue working creatively,” she said. “Design wise, they allow me to do exactly what I want to do. I’m working organically with the technology available.”

Her wading in the mass market isn’t exactly a novel concept. “If Karl Lagerfeld can design a collection for H&M, I think I can definitely design a collection for Easy Spirit.” Subkoff said.

“We are in the future. It’s almost 2005. We really are designing for women who want very much to be comfortable, but they care about fashion and want to look good, too. They don’t want to compromise their integrity or their sense of style.”

— Rosemary Feitelberg