In 2009, aspiring sneaker designer Christopher Dixon got to peek into Serena Williams’s closet and check out her personal shoe collection. "She was like, ‘Those hurt my feet, but I love them. And those hurt my feet, too,’" Dixon recalls. The tennis superstar was a cousin of Dixon’s best friend and had hired him to help with a clothing line.
"She hired me and showed me the world of fashion," Dixon says. "But I started asking questions like, ‘Why do you wear shoes that hurt, especially as an athlete?’ I found out no one had solved this design problem of making comfortable high heels." So, he shifted his focus from sneakers to stilettos, and set out to solve the problem himself.
This week, Dixon is debuting the Christopher Coy Collection, his first original line of high-end high heels designed to be super-sleek while also being easy on the feet. The first thing you’ll notice about the shoes is their heel—er, heels. There are two of them on each shoe. That extra point of contact between ankle and cement actually makes the shoes easier to walk in by improving weight distribution and taking some of the pressure off the arch of the foot. As Dixon explains, "When you have one heel, when you walk, the heel shakes. We wanted to add more stability." The rest of the shoe is designed for comfort as well. The midsole is filled with shock-absorbent material and memory foam, the same kind you’d find in a comfortable sneaker. On the inside, the shoes are lined with calfskin leather.
In wear tests, all 60 women who tried the shoes said it was the most comfortable high heel in their closet, Dixon says; he even gave a pair to his wife to get her honest opinion. "She wore them all year," he says. She wore them so much, in fact, she had the heel caps changed three times.
But there’s no way around it: The dual heel is odd looking. The shoes look like something Lady Gaga would wear on the red carpet. But that, Dixon says, is the point. "I don’t design just to make something that looks like the next person’s design and follow the trend," Dixon says. "I want to set the trend and offer some newness." Dixon was a student at footwear designer D’wayne Edwards’s PENSOLE Footwear Design Academy. Edwards, a veteran of Nike's Jordan Brand, knows the power of weirdness in the fashion world. "In my past life designing Jordan products, our goal was that we didn’t want you to like it the first time you saw it," he says. "If you did, we didn’t push you enough. We didn’t elevate you enough to embrace a new aesthetic. And this is going to be a new aesthetic."
The patented dual heel could become Dixon’s signature design element, sort of like Christian Louboutin’s iconic red soles. But Edwards knew Dixon would still have to fight to break into the fashion world without any real name recognition. "Many designers come in with some pedigree, where he has none," Edwards says. "So what’s gonna make him special? Make the product an experience."
To create a sense of story, each style (there are 10 of them, and they all have a different woman’s name "because no woman is the same," Dixon says) comes with an invisible chip made by a company called Chronicled. When a smartphone recognizes the chip, it automatically pulls up a story about what inspired the shoe design, and where in Italy its materials came from. This also helps ensure authenticity in a world of imitators. "The fashion industry is brutal that way," Edwards says. "They’ll knock it off in a heartbeat."
Starting at $425 a pair and going up to $1,100, the shoes in the Christopher Coy Collection don’t come cheap. "We’re in the luxury market," Dixon says. "I think traveling women in business, they want to wear their heels but know they’re going to be in pain." For some, maybe comfort—and a brand-new look—is worth paying for.