April 17 2011
As a girl who walks everywhere and lives in Converse, I have a love-hate relationship with heels. Occasionally, I fall in love with a pair, fork out a fortune, but then hate the fact that so many stilettos end up languishing at the back of my wardrobe. So I was thrilled to discover a shoe designer who fashions heels that can be taken out for a regular spin.
Tracey Neuls created her first footwear from toilet rolls as a nine-year-old, parading them around her native Vancouver Island. After graduating from Cordwainers, Neuls launched her eponymous label a decade ago and now has around 60 stockists worldwide. But her own store on London’s Marylebone Lane is as delightfully offbeat as her designs. There are no shelves. Two-tone brogues, peep toes with built-in bows, and ankle boots in neon, snakeskin and laser-cut leather dangle from strings, so that you can admire their sculptural shapes in 3-D. The music is always intriguing and the shop often smells of fresh bread, baked in the studio at the back. Even the packaging is out of the ordinary: a gold shoebox sealed with neon stickers and adhesive handles.
Neuls still designs all the shoes herself. She produces four collections a year, two in the more utilitarian TN 29 line. “Every once in a while we hit the trends, but not deliberately,” smiles Neuls, her bright blue eyes framed by ginger braids. The shoes are handmade in Veneto, and most styles come in half-sizes, ensuring a perfect fit. Many have rubber soles that put an extra spring in your step, but the distinctive, curved heels are never higher than 5.5cm.
Enthusiastic staff encourage customers to spend time touching and trying on different styles, but it took me two minutes flat to splash out on a pair of peep-toe crochet mesh heels from the spring/summer collection (second picture, £425). I wore them to a party that night and was still walking tall after hours on the dance floor. What’s the secret that makes these shoes so comfortable? “It’s kind of like buying a Mercedes; you’re paying for the hidden engineering,” says Neuls with an elusive smile. At last, sexy shoes that can take a pounding.