Faculty Q&A: Professor Howard Davis
Professor Howard Davis has worked for more than 40 years in the footwear business. Davis began his career at Bergdorf Goodman, before working for Roger Vivier. He founded the 8-Track Shoe Corporation to create innovative technology to move the footwear business forward in 1979. Clients include manufacturers such as Ferragamo, Perry Ellis, Pony, Converse, and even Michael Jackson. In 1989, Davis decided to give back to the footwear industry by becoming a Professor of Footwear Design at Parsons School of Design. It was an honor to correspond with him…
Can you tell me about why you began a business working in the shoe industry?
I started my business because I felt there was a need for external R&D (Research and Development). My feeling was that internal R&D becomes blinded by the same day-in and day-out surroundings, and can not look outside the arena they are in. I have always been in the shoe business since I was brought to New York in the late 50′s by the Delman shoe company.
How come you decided to be a shoe designer?
I became a shoe designer because I have always been fascinated and bewitched by the shoe, especially women’s shoes. Whether it be the smell of the leather or the shape of the heel.
Who is your inspiration when you design shoes?
My inspiration when designing shoes has been Roger Vivier, Salvatore Ferregamo, Perugia, Jourdan, and Beth Levine, to name a few.
How do you know what kind of shoes women want?
To know what kind of shoes women want you must stay in touch with what is happening in the world of fashion by reading the fashion magazines, WWD, know what is happening in the world geographically, understand where she lives and what her life style is.
You’ve worked for famous shoe designers such as Salavatore Ferragamo and Roger Vivier. How was it when you met them? It must be an honor to work for them.
When I was working for Delman, Vivier was the designer and he would come from Paris twice a year to work on designs here in New York. At that time there were about 36 shoe factories in New York– hard to believe, huh? I was a sample chaser at Delman. When Vivier came to the Delman factory to develop his line, it was my job to see to his shoe designs from the pattern room to each department in every stage at the factory, whether cutting, fitting, lasting, or finishing. This gave me the opportunity to see how the shoe was made, which was a wonderful experience. Then I was sent to the pattern department where I was taught by the highly skilled pattern makers how to make the pattern for a shoe. I loved every minute of it . Because I worked for Ferragamo temporarily as a freelance designer in the New York office I never got the opportunity to the Ferragamos.
How many shoes do you own, and how many shoes do we need? What would you recommend? I guess women need more shoes than men?
I have about 17 pair. The number of pairs needed depends on life style. I am in the fashion business so I am very social and invited to various events and always want to look my best and fashionable. Women buy more shoes than men because their reasons for buying are different than that of men. They might buy for various reasons, necessity, impulse, vanity, to be in fashion, a discount price, etc. Men generally buy because of necessity.
I read that you designed for Michael Jackson. How was it when you met him? Can you tell me about him? You must have been shocked when he passed away.
I designed shoes for Michael Jackson for his Victory Tour in 1984. I never got the opportunity to meet Michael as I anxiously wanted to because everything was done through his team. However, I do have the sketches of the shoes with his handwriting for corrections and detail. One design he named “Thriller.”
How many shoes should we pack for travel? I hear this is always an issue; most women cannot decide what to pack.
The pairs of shoes that should be packed for travel depends on the length of time you plan to stay. Overpacking, especially today, can be a problem, with what you have to go through in airports. I’d suggest to pack a pair of casual shoes for to and from airports, maybe two pair of dress comfortable shoes and two pair of torture shoes for the party and night on the town.
Why did you begin teaching?
I wanted to teach because it’s my way of giving back, especially to the young. There is nothing more rewarding than that student coming to you who has never made a shoe before, and watching them create a shoe. The look on their face when they see their finished shoe–words can not express the feeling I have.
What is your process? What do you learn from students?
My process in teaching shoe design through the science of shoe making, from the sketch to the actual shoe. Making the pattern and lasting the shoe, selecting the right leather, heel, trimming, etc. What I learn from, and respect from a student, is their focus on what they want to create and how they go about getting there. Today’s young are very savvy.
Any last thoughts?
Fashion to me is the closest thing I have seen to show business. The designer is the performer, the stage is Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Gap, Saks, etc. The audience is the consumer. —Fiona Bollag, AAS Fashion Marketing
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