When footwear designer Paul Andrew set out to create the most comfortable pair of pumps three years ago, he did so against all odds. His first obstacle: Proving the pessimists wrong, including one chiropractor who considered wearing high heels to be the worst thing a woman could do to her body. His second: Perfecting a fit that would meet the feet of the modern-day woman.
“The majority of luxury designer shoes are made according to measurements established several decades ago,” Andrew explains to us. “Now that everyone’s more active and more people are wearing sneakers, our feet have changed. The natural collagen we used to produce under the ball of the foot is much less than it used to be.”
Yes, you heard that right—ironically, sneakers have changed our feet for the worse. We’ve evolved to become dependent on comfortable soles. So in terms of heels, that meant Andrew had to create and design a shoe with enough support to compensate for our collagen-compromised feet. He turned to an Italian insole maker and together, they developed a high-tech, top-secret air-injected memory foam padding to serve as a foot cushion—all of which took nine months to perfect, the longest he’s ever spent on a shoe (on average, he takes about four months). He also recruited the help of the previously mentioned chiropractor, gathering intel on the highest pressure points and subsequently, identifying which areas needed the most support: the ball of your foot, under the heel, and certain parts of the arch.
“You see super elegant put-together women and so many of them look crippled by their stiletto heel, and there’s nothing less attractive than that,” he says. “What I’m trying to do is make women feel more attractive, so they can be comfortable at the same time.”
As for the design, he knew he wanted to design a pump right off the bat. It’s the most popular shoe silhouette, after all. But unlike any other pump, this one boasts a pointed, winged peak at the vamp—a detail that’s subtle, yet easily distinguishable—inspired by photographer Andrew Zuckerman’s Bird, a tome that captures 75 different species of birds in flight. Its name Zenadia, the daughter of Zeus who can fly, speaks to the detail as well. “I wanted something simultaneously pretty classic,” he continues, “but had a modern twist that I really made my own.”
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But hold up a sec—it’s not just a pretty little thing. This one small detail is also insanely practical. Andrew says he placed the wing in that particular spot because it accommodates both women with wide and narrow feet: “If you’re wider, it allows your foot to not fall over the edge, and if you’re really narrow, it holds you into the shoe.”
The pointed toe took a while to perfect as well. It’s pointy, but doesn’t pinch. It’s narrow, but wider than most. The heel, too, is unlike any other. It’s not only entirely made of metal, making it nearly impossible to break, but it’s more underslung, as in, it sits directly under the heel cushion (a major pressure point). The result? “It actually feels like you’re wearing a much lower shoe than you really are.”
It took him only an afternoon to sketch the design, but after nine months of constructing it and undergoing fit trials, Andrew says he didn’t really know what he had on his hands until he gave a pair to journalist Alina Cho to try on. “She told me it was the most comfortable pair of pumps she had ever worn and that was when I felt it was ready to launch into the market,” he recalls. “I didn’t realize the Zenadia pump was going to be the hit that it was. It was designed for my first season, spring 2014, and it’s still the best-selling shoe in my collection today.”
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Since its launch, the Paul Andrew Zenadia pump has been created in more than 100 colors and fabrications, from super-saturated (aka triple-dyed) suede to python, and worn by stars, including Allison Williams, Elizabeth Olsen, Amy Adams, Amal Clooney, Brie Larson (we could go on, but you get the point). It’s also been named as the most comfortable shoe by some of Hollywood’s most powerful stylists, including Cristina Ehrlich, who dresses Larson, Williams, and Penelope Cruz.
The breakthrough moment, though, was when then-breakthrough star Lupita Nyong’o wore them to the 2014 Golden Globes, matching her caped Ralph Lauren Collection gown to her custom dyed Zenadia pumps. After that, the Zenadia’s fate was sealed.
The Paul Andrew Zenadia pump is available for $675 at net-a-porter.com and for $795 at nordstrom.com.