I used to be convinced that aesthetics were enough when it came to nabbing any shoes in my standard size 12-13—basically, if I liked a shoe’s looks, I would find a way to don it—no ifs, ands, or buts. Suffice it to say that this all-or-nothing mentality has since left me with some pretty battered feet. And I now have some things to worry about other than how shoes look. Stuff like my general and foot health. Or my ability to walk (without wincing) into what will hopefully be the best years of my life.
Today, a footbed’s plushness and the softness of leathers or fabrics matters a lot to me. I’ve found a few brands over the years that try—and mostly do—bridge the comfort and style gap while offering me something in my size. Clarks is pretty good. Fidji is interesting. I surprised myself by really liking a pair of Earth shoes. But airy, next-to-nothing comfort AND stylish design AND my size? That seemed like an equation where I’d be lucky if I got 1; luckier if I got 2; and buying wearable stocks if I got 3.
I first discovered Autograf New York when they followed me on Twitter. Intrigued by their charming logo and offer of bi-continental “handcrafted shoes, devoted to US sizes 4-13”, I visited their site to discover a curated, impeccably designed selection of timeless silhouettes—ballet flats, oxfords, ankle boots—in stunning mirror gold leather, perforated calf leather, and even lavender nappa leather. The look was there. The sizes were there. But what about the comfort? I talked to Monika Kusinska Paez, the Owner, Founder, and Creative Director behind Autograf. A footwear industry veteran, tall girl herself at 5’10”, and—similar to me—someone who spent most of her teenage years squeezed into too-small shoes for her US size 12, Monika had made it her mission, with Autograf’s founding in 2014, to offer women with conventional and unconventional footprints alike beautiful, luxurious shoes meant to stand up to years and years of wear.
Every shoe is designed and perfected by Monika, and handcrafted in a 40 year-old family factory in Italy of the finest and most unique leathers, on soft leather soles and sturdy lasts. With Monika’s advice, and given my year-round donning of ankle boots, I opted to try the VERA Chelsea bootie—a streamlined, pull-on style designed in a perforated black calf leather on a specialized sacchetto construction. Sacchetto is an old world shoemaking technique, only practiced today by a handful of factories in Italy. It entails hand-stitching the lining and the insole together and sewing the whole piece to the upper—which is then shaped on a last for days. The effect, once on the foot, is that the inner leather sock molds to the foot and moves independently from the outer leather—allowing for a first-in-class fit.
When I pulled on the VERAs myself, I was overwhelmed by how light and sock-like they indeed felt—unlike any other boot I had ever worn! As close to barefoot as I could possibly feel with such a degree of coverage! So soft, and not pinching, pulling, or squeezing my feet anywhere! And even without a heel, the almond toe was flattering and leg lengthening! The zigzag pattern of the breathable leather was singularly cool, and really versatile for spring wear too! These were the shoes I had always hoped for! As I took them out for their first wear, my enthusiasm was palpable—I was comfortable enough to kick my heels up, and perch atop railings in them. The VERAs bent and moved with me, not inhibiting in the least. I realized after trying these wonderful shoes from Autograf New York why savvy consumers talk about cost per wear and investing in quality—why quality really matters. It matters because it is something you can feel from first wear. And if you don’t believe me, take it from your grandmother: you want to be pampering those tootsies for as long as possible.
I recommend starting with a pair of shoes from Autograf New York.