Ruthie Davis Pumps Up the Volume

Designer Ruthie Davis remembers her first trip to humdrum department store Lord & Taylor with her mother, at the age of two. She left with a pair of patent leather Mary Janes that the salesperson just couldn’t convince her out of them. Davis still pays pay homage to that younger girl, with bright, fluorescent flashes, albeit with sky-high heels and that same passion for patent leather.

Ten seasons into Davis, her self-titled collection, she’s succeeded in making extreme shoes for extreme shoe fetishists. Case in point: Backstage at a Beyoncé show (a huge Ruthie fan), the shoe designer gave Knowles a new pair of her ‘Links’ heels; that night Beyoncé was photographed wearing them. Other fans include Gaga and Alicia Keys, who are attracted to the designer’s almost-camp sensibility, like the PVC-laden, Malibu Barbie-themed summer collection or 2009. But Davis is more than candy colors and California sunsets; she tells Interview about her recent inspirations—Rem Koolhaus, Judy Jetson, Italian noir comics—and Fashion Week, her futuristic fall line, and why high heels always come out on top.

LEILA BRILLSON: Thanks for sharing your sketches. Can you tell me what it’s like when you design a shoe?

RUTHIE DAVIS: I always start each collection with a key concept or feeling. I start to brainstorm ideas based on the marketplace, magazines, buildings, people, places, etc—and then I create a storyboard that puts my ideas into one overall theme for the season. Since I now have ten seasons to draw upon, I also spend time looking at what worked for me in the past, what is selling well and where there are areas I need to focus on to improve.  

BRILLSON: What materials do you prefer to work with? What will we be seeing more of this season?

DAVIS: I actually get inspired by things that have nothing to do with fashion, like corrugated metal, glass and rubber.  Sleek, high-shine objects inspire me, like a sexy, black 4×4 or a glass and metal high-rise.  I tend toward high-tech materials that are minimal and futuristic-looking, such as patent, lucite, metal, stretch leather, metallic finish leathers and anything that shines. My shoes will always have a fun and playful appeal, but they are growing to be a bit more intense.

BRILLSON: Who is your muse this season? What is with all of the science-fiction elements, like industrial hardware or futuristic straps?

DAVIS: I am so in love with The Jetsons, they were by far my favorite cartoon when I was growing up.  Since day one, I’ve had this intense desire to live in the future wearing a one-piece, silver cat suit and drive around in the Jetson’s vehicle. I find myself heavily influenced by 1960’s Italian thriller films with female heroines decked out in mini dresses and knee-skimming boots. My muse is actually Eva Kant from “Danger Diabolik,” the Italian Comic book series. In the movie made in 1968, actress Marissa Mell plays Eva, and she is a totally mod, chic and hip 60’s and I picture my shoes on her.  I also love all of the Bond girls. Women on the go—a totally integrated package, where the woman, the lines of her body, her outfit and her shoes make one fierce package that is ready to go, go, go.  My shoes are not meant to be like works of art that you never wear.  

BRILLSON: There is something so pop about Davis—the colors, the classic shape, but also the almost cartoon like bubbles on the heel.

DAVIS: My shoes will always have an almost childlike feeling of bright candy fun.  I am heavily influenced by sports gear and love the pops of bright color or racing stripes. But I also have a side that enjoys girly and cute things, but they must be in context of an intense, edgy or sexy overall feel to the shoe.  For me, the little “POP” creates that excitement. And I do love all things outer space. I’m a huge fan of Courreges, Pucci and Zaha Hadid. Or the stores in Asia that had all of the sneakers wrapped in plastic, seeing all of the bright colors in the shrink-wrap – things like that excite me.