June 10, 2002 12:00 PM

Taryn Rose has always been devoted to designer duds, In high school her jeans had to be Jordache, and in 1997, to celebrate finishing her orthopedic surgery residency, Rose chose a champagne-colored, floor-length Richard Tyler dress. Even as an orthopedic surgery resident, Rose remained fashion-minded, making her rounds in 2½-in Prada heels. “They were murder,” Rose says. “I wanted my shoes to be chic and healthy for my feet, but the choices were limited.”

Thanks to Rose, that’s no longer the case. In 1997 she launched Taryn Rose International, a line of women’s shoes that met her style standards but didn’t, she says, “make your feet scream.” Fans—who include Demi Moore and Geena Davis—echo her enthusiasm. “She saved my feet!” says 7th Heaven‘s Catherine Hicks, who wears the shoes to help her handle hours of standing on the set’s concrete floor. Says Angela Bassett, who stepped into black suede Taryn Rose dress shoes for this year’s Academy Awards: “They feel like bedroom slippers with style.” Such comfort comes at a cost: Rose’s shoes, which sell at 220 boutiques across the country, her two stores (in Beverly Hills and New York City) and Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, range from $298 for sandals to $600 for boots. But such prices haven’t deterred customers. In the past four years the company’s annual sales have grown from $50,000 to $8 million.

Success has allowed Rose, 35, to expand her women’s line to include bridal shoes and, as of last month, a men’s collection that has already attracted Sting. Although the men’s shoes are made of sturdier leather, they boast the same design features as the women’s styles, including an assymetrically designed arch that provides extra support and a wide toe box that helps prevent foot woes like bunions and calluses. Moreover, to ensure a comfortable fit, ever) 7 Rose shoe has a heel no higher than 2 in. and is padded with PORON—a urethane foam that retains its shape under constant pressure. “Everyone I know who uses the shoes just raves about them,” says Dr. Vernon Tolo, president of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. “Taryn has made a difference for many women.”

The oldest of four daughters raised by Liem Vu, 62, a pathologist, and his wife, Thuan, 58, a homemaker, Rose was 8 years old when her family fled Saigon in 1975, three days before the fall of South Vietnam. “I remember machine guns going off,” Rose says, “trying to stop our plane from leaving.”

Despite the harrowing start, Rose thrived in the U.S. She and her family moved several times while her father finished his American medical training but eventually settled in Anaheim Hills, Calif., when Rose was 15. At Canyon High School, Rose played varsity tennis while acing her studies, eventually going on to the University of Southern California medical school. “I was raised to be a doctor,” she says.

But Rose decided to change her destiny. In 1995, while doing an orthopedic surgery residency at USC, she conducted research on footwear for diabetics, who typically have orthopedic problems. The project inspired her to create her own shoes, and at a 1998 shoe convention in Milan, Rose met a group of Italian artisans who handmade her designs. Shortly after passing her medical boards in 1998, Rose sold a $20,000 order to Nordstrom.

Today Rose lives with her husband, Sven Rose, 40, a radiologist, and their daughter Anneka, 2, in a 3,200-sq.-ft. ranch home in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. Although she once practiced orthopedic surgery, the success of her business limits her medical career to consulting work—not that Rose has any regrets. “I’m still fulfilling my duty to help people,” she says. “I’m just doing it in a different way.”

Galina Espinoza

N.F. Mendoza in Los Angeles

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