Rational Beauty

Martha Davis

Marilyn Monroe once said, “Give the girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world”. Every time I marvel over Martha Davis’s shoes, that quote comes instinctively to mind. Each pair is smartly designed, well crafted, comfortable and very sexy.

Trained as a product designer at Smart Design, Razorfish, and her own company Able Design before segueing into the fashion world in the fall of 2009, she leverages her industrial design expertise by fusing hard-core functionality with unique sculptural possibilities to create some very impressive shoes.

“I think of shoes as little products or architecture for the feet—both share similar purpose of protection, organization, and personality,” says the designer. An expert at looking for solutions within a problem, she never loses sight of ways to keep the foot secure and the wearer confident, while at the same time innovating with form and experimenting with structure and materials.

“I look at where the foot needs to be supported and where it doesn’t—then how the materials and shapes can be arranged in an interesting way. I like a bit of tension—something unexpected—whether it’s in the proportions, compositions, or materials,” Davis says.

This past winter, Martha was a resident at the newly formed The Workshop Residence in San Francisco. This exciting collective engages makers of all kinds: emerging and established, traditional and unexpected, and invites them to collaborate with the Bay Area’s vibrant artistic and craft communities. During her residency there, she blended industry and craftsmanship to design three distinctive shoes. While all of the shoes use the same vegetable-tanned leather and have similarities in the shape and construction of the shoe, the key point of innovation is the design of the heel.

“Kasha” features a heel with colored resin and utilizes the outer part of a redwood tree trunk known as the “jacket”. This part of the tree is considered waste product by sawmills, but Martha envisioned this beautiful and striking substance as a way to give the shoes a truly bespoke feeling.

For “Simone”, raw materials are carefully selected from the undulating folds of Black Acacia wood harvested in the San Francisco Bay.

Finally, “Sugi” has an adjustable heel made with repurposed Douglas Fir. Additionally she constructs the shoe with wood originally used as brakes for San Francisco’s iconic cable cars. Due to the wear and tear, the brakes on the cable cars are replaced every 72 hours. Martha resurfaced the brakes and cut the heels directly from them—the stunning result is a stylish oval that swivels on a pin to two heel heights.

Martha is joining forces with creative director Susanna Dulkinys to create Dulkinys Davis, a new fashion label made in the USA. The collection will consist of basics centered around leather, blending traditional and innovation to create modern shapes and exceptionally high-quality, handmade products. More on their collaboration in a future post.

With out further ado, here’s my Q&A with the alluring and magical Martha Davis.

Job description: A forever student—I hope!

Why do you do what you do? I am a terminal non-linear thinker.

How do you break through a creative block? Look at stuff.

Education: Cornell Art/Arch/Planning School: 82-84
RISD: BFA Sculpture 86
Are Sutoria: Footwear Engineering Certificate 07

Mentors: My dad & Tucker Viemeister

World-saving mission: Help people appreciate making things and live more self sufficiently.

Office chair: Eames.

Office Soundtrack: Italian Opera.

Most useful tool: Apple Air Book/ Husquvarna Sewing Machine I got as a gift when I was 17.

Favorite space: The Giardiniin, Venice.

Favorite design object: Paperclip.

Guilty Pleasure: Naps.

Underrated: Plumbing.

Overrated: Facebook.

What did you learn the hard way? To love.

If you could cross over into other profession… what would you do? Be an architect or a surgeon.

Dream project: To start a factory that could employ all kinds of people and give local vitality.

Where’s home? San Francisco.


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“I think of shoes as little products or architecture for the feet—both share similar purpose of protection, organization, and personality.” —Martha Davis