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Designer to Watch: Marion Parke

Podiatric surgeon-turned-footwear designer Marion Parke is proving that pretty shoes can also be intelligently designed with her eponymous line of Italian-made footwear.

Made in the same factory as Jimmy Choo, Isabel Marant, Miu Miu and more, the line’s quality and attention to design is on par with the finest luxury labels in the market. However, Parke is transforming the way standard insoles are used in the category with her patent-pending four-part insole built to deliver better foot positioning and functionality.

Parke is following up her initial collection of strappy Mary Janes, cage heels adorned with fine mesh and silk tassels and ’70s platforms—due in stores this fall—with 20 new summer SKUs which will be on display during FFANY August 4-6.

Vamp caught up with Parke before the show to learn how her medical background and taste for rock ‘n’ roll style combine to make Marion Parke one unique and important brand to watch.

Vamp: How do you define comfort?
Parke: Comfort is such a relative term. It isn’t just a physical feeling. It’s psychological as well. A shoe that pinches your toes might be painful, but if a woman feels confident and beautiful in the shoe then she wears it. She is comfortable in her appearance and feels good. All of my shoes incorporate my patent-pending insole that contours to the foot and encourages better positioning, without being overt or affecting the delicacy of the shoe. I always pay close attention to the shoe’s volume, toe character and how the upper contacts the normal anatomy of the foot. I like to think that my design aesthetic combined with my medical knowledge results in a shoe that makes women feel simultaneously chic and empowered.

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Vamp: Describe your design process.
Parke: I’m inspired by so many things: nature, music, sculpture, apparel… I’m always inspired by the modern woman who wants to be polished and professional one day and then go to a rock concert and party the next. I love designing while in Italy. I can’t help but be inspired there. More often however, in the evenings, I find myself getting out of bed to quickly sketch something before I fall asleep.

Vamp: How do you know when a design is complete?
Parke: In my collection, a design is not complete until it is fit tested. It can look beautiful and perfect in my mind and on paper, but it’s a work in progress until a woman puts it on her foot and says, “I love it!” marion

Vamp: Since launching footwear, what is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Parke: It was from my husband, who is a surgeon and not in the footwear industry. He constantly reminds me to focus on making the best possible product and the rest will fall into place.

Vamp: What has surprised you the most about the footwear industry?
Parke: Before I started my brand, I attended a lecture given by The Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA) and learned that less than one percent of shoes imported into the US annually are made in Italy. I was surprised because of Italy’s strong reputation for exceptional footwear.

Vamp: What is your favorite style from the Spring ’16 collection?
Parke: I have so many favorites! The Anna platform is very special. It’s sweet, feminine and rock and roll all at once.

Vamp: What was the last pair of non-Marion Parke shoes you purchased?
Parke: I just bought a pair of navy blue Natives, the Jefferson style, for my son to go to the beach next week.

Vamp: Do you prefer to shop online, or in stores?
Parke: Historically, I haven’t had good luck with online shopping. I prefer to see things in person, inspect the quality, touch the fabric and try on multiple sizes and colors.

Vamp: Which fashion designers do you admire?
Parke: Donna Karan has been in the news a lot recently of course and I’ve subsequently learned a bit about her career and goals. I read somewhere that she wanted to solve women’s wardrobe problems. I feel the exact same way!

Vamp: Name three words you want people to think of when they hear the name Marion Parke.
Parke: Best. Shoes. Ever. Ha! No, in all seriousness I hope the brand will be seen as chic, intelligent and empowering.