“I have,” declares the elegant Parisienne, “a perfect foot.” On her home turf—a swank Left Bank boutique—designer Maud Frizon, 38, does not seem in danger of being contradicted. A wooden replica of her slim, size-6 foot is the model for a line of shoes that keeps her several steps ahead of the competition. Her strikingly original approach has transformed the look and shape of footwear with such innovations as the cone heel and the use of shiny metallic colors, as well as appliqués in the shape of flames, flowers, butterflies and grapes. After each new Frizon line (she turns out about 130 different designs for each of her twice-yearly collections), mass-market spinoffs turn up the very next season. Not to worry. Frizon still cashes in to the tune of $25 million a year on her originals.
The bold Frizon look appeals to avant-garde couturiers like Claude Montana, Sonya Rykiel and Thierry Mugler, all of whom display her boldly colored creations at collection time. “She’s the only one,” proclaims Mugler, “who is open to new ideas and knows how to see them through.”
Her Paris boutique is so jammed after each new show that customers try on purple lizard shoes and pink ballet slippers on the sidewalk for lack of space indoors. Frizon also has a shop in New York, plus a boutique at Bloomingdale’s, and boasts outlets in Dallas (Neiman-Marcus) and Beverly Hills. There, the likes of Catherine Deneuve, Farrah Fawcett and Lauren Bacall can be spotted slipping on the designer’s flash sandals ($210) or boots ($325 and up). One of the latest offerings: multicolored rollerskates at $390 a pair. Donna Summer bought five pairs of Maud’s new ankle-strap flats for spring. Cher, whose closet is already crammed with more than 100 Frizon styles, settled on leopard-stenciled sandals and a pair of crimson high heels. “With working shoes like this,” quips Cher, “you either have to do what I do or be a hooker.”
When Carly Simon recently picked up two pairs of evening pumps (one is rust, black and bronze, the other is fuchsia, purple and metallic pink), she also took the matching evening bags at $210 each. However, Carly’s husband, James Taylor, had no luck with Frizon’s new men’s line (zebra boots and pink oxfords); his size-13 feet are one size larger than the biggest Maud has to offer.
This fashionable fetish is nothing new to Maud, despite her modest background: Father was a Paris factory worker, Mother taught English (though Maud speaks very little). As a child she spent every last franc of her allowance on shoes. “It’s a sickness,” Frizon shrugs, “and I’ve never been cured.” She started modeling fashions right out of high school in 1958 for designers like Nina Ricci, Courrèges and Patou.
Then in 1967 Italian shoe salesman Luigi de Marco spotted Maud at a salon modeling his shoes. “I fell in love with the woman and with her feet—even though they have come between us ever since,” he half-jokes, referring to their frequent disagreements about new designs.
Capitalizing on his manufacturing savvy and her ideas, they went into business together in 1969 convinced that, as Maud puts it, “people are judged more by what they wear on their feet than what they put on their backs.” The first collection was a smash. It featured a high-heeled Russian-style leather boot that folded just beneath the knee—a perfect complement to the midi skirt lengths of the time. De Marco and Frizon wed the following year. Her nickname for de Marco, who runs their 300-worker factory in Venice: the General.
With children Caroline, 6, and Thomas, 5, Maud and Luigi divide their time between apartments in Paris and Venice and a 395-acre estate in the Loire Valley filled with Maud’s Art Deco finds. (Her daughter from an earlier marriage, Sophie, 15, attends boarding school in Paris.) They recently sold their yacht, Scorpio, and are building a new 75-foot sloop.
Frizon, who usually wears her shoes with colored stockings, is now working on a more sober collection for the fall. Heels will be going lower to suit skirts that will be higher, and the tones will be earthy. Frizon insists that comfort take precedence over style—one reason she tries every design before it goes on the market. “There is nothing worse,” she grimaces, “than sore feet.”