What It Is: Marion Parke is a podiatric surgeon who designed a namesake luxury footwear brand that combines optimal orthotic support with fashion-forward styles. After one too many foot injuries left me unable to wear high heels for extended periods of time, I put Parke’s pairs to the test during New York Fashion Week to see just how well her insole technology works.
Who Tried It: Colleen Kratofil, Style Writer-Reporter
Level of Difficulty: 2. The toughest part of the process was picking out the perfect outfits that would show off the shoes each day.
Why I Did It: After years of competitive dancing and running, my feet have endured a lot of wear and tear. Thanks to various toe, ankle and Achilles tendon injuries, I can’t wear heels all day, every day like I wish I could. I usually have to stick to a wide, low heel if I wear one at all.
I’ve tried just about every high heel shoe that comfort brands have developed but something about them always falls flat. They’re either not the most stylish or not the most comfortable – neither of which is ideal. So I went into this experiment a little hesitant; it was hard for me to believe a shoe cute enough to wear wouldn’t kill me after a few hours. But speaking to Parke sold me on her vision.
When the Minnesota-based podiatrist started researching the shoe industry, she discovered that the insoles typically used in the high heel-making process are created from flat cardboard with a tiny piece of cushioning attached. “I said, ‘Okay, we’re going to do this differently,'” Parke told PeopleStyle. “So my insole is sculpted and contoured to follow the curvature of the bottom of the foot with an arch support. We use a medical grade material for cushioning that molds to the foot over time.”
She explained that walking in heels usually makes the foot tilt to the side of the shoe in an ankle-spraining direction, so her solution was to add more material along the side of the shoe to “discourage the tendency to walk on the side of your foot.”
But one look at the designs and you’d never suspect any kind of foot stabilizers were in place. “[The stabilizers] aren’t neon orange or brown with perforated holes,” she says. “It’s very tasteful, it’s very discreet but it’s all happening at the same time.”
Which is why she clarifies that her shoes are not a “comfort” shoe. “It’s not extra wide, it’s not extra deep to give you more room,” she explains. “It’s a fashion shoe first. And my shoes are for a normal or average foot.”
What they are meant to do is to stylishly allow the wearer to easily walk and stand comfortably in heels for hours. So to find out how they “stand up,” I decided to put two pairs (the Mitchell and Lainey) to the test at NYFW.
The ‘Mitchell’ Mary Jane Pump
I started this experiment by putting on the blue pointy-toe pair for a 9 a.m. meeting and wore them throughout the day to two fashion shows, each of which had a pretty intense staircase to hike up.
I ran around the city to catch Tadashi Shoji and Pamella Roland shows and by the time I made it back to the office, my feet felt absolutely fine. My usually wobbly ankles felt sturdy the entire day (which seldom happens even with tennis shoes on, to be honest). I didn’t get a blister (which has never happened with a new pair of shoes in my entire life) because with these heels, there was no rubbing. It felt like the shoes didn’t budge all day.
I wore this style to a few other events throughout the week, including the Naeem Khan show (pictured above), and I felt more and more comfortable walking faster and faster with each wear. And as I was running to hail a passing cab with Essence’s fashion editor Joiee Thorpe, she complimented me on my shoes and immediately identified the brand right away. We chatted about how much we love the brand so much, our cab driver asked us (not-so-politely) to change the subject.
“If you want to wear a heel and you’re not a heel girl, these shoes are perfect because they’re comfortable; every part of your shoe is supported — the toes, the sides, the middle, it’s crazy,” Thorpe said. “They’re great and they’re cute.”
The really impressive part of wearing this shoe was that even after a few more wears throughout the week, I could still feel all of my toes at the end of each day — which is pretty unheard of for a pointy-toe design. My colleagues even remarked that my foot didn’t look squished inside; they said that it looked like the shoe was made just for me.
The ‘Lainey’ Stiletto Sandal
Next up, was the feathery slipper with ankle ties, a style which I normally could never, ever dream of wearing.
Due to hammer toe issues (thanks, competitive dance career!) I can’t wear shoes that don’t have complete heel coverage. And once I realized the only thing connecting the shoe to my foot was a pretty velvet strap, I was sure I wouldn’t make it out the door without them falling off. Of course, I had a full day of standing presentations followed by parties at night, so I knew this would be an even tougher test.
I went to the Veronica Beard presentation in Chelsea, walked five blocks to a WWD x Samsung NYFW event and made it five more blocks to the Black Panther “Welcome to Wakanda” party without sitting or taking them off once. From 5:00 p.m. to 10:55 p.m. I walked all around the cobblestone-paved Meatpacking district from event to event and even stood in line to enter the Black Panther party for an hour and didn’t feel any pain or soreness, which always inevitably happens in my arch or Achilles tendon.
During my conversation with Parke she explained that her shoes have more surface area contact between the bottom of the foot and the shoe, which helps transfer pressure on the foot. “You’re not just standing there on the balls of your feet, you’re actually putting weight into your rear foot — your heel and into your arch,” she explained.
It’s a real difference I noticed immediately. Even after standing in them all night, I laced up those straps (which are surprisingly very durable and never came untied once) again at 8:00 a.m. the next morning for the J. Mendel presentation. I did feel some soreness in the arch of my foot that morning — not searing pain, but noticeable — but once I was out and about it wasn’t as prominent and the shoe’s support still steadied me on my feet the rest of the day.
I was actually surprised that my Achilles tendon didn’t ache the next morning — or any time throughout the week. I usually experience soreness after putting too much pressure on the area in heels (I’ve been told I have a “short” Achilles tendon), but it didn’t feel stiff at all.
The only thing that was uncomfortable was going open-toed in 30° weather. I don’t know how influencers and celebs do it — but dressing like it’s summer in the middle of winter is just not feasible for me.
The drawback to combining cuteness with comfort is that it doesn’t come cheap, but Parke says there are more benefits to her designs than just getting a ton of likes on your #OOO Instagram. “There is a lot of value in the shoe,” Parke says. “The hashtag I use all the time is #morethanjustbeautiful. Like the women who wear them, my shoes are more than just beautiful. They are designed to perform the technology of the invisible, but you never will be.”
Down the road, Parke says she’d love to be sold in more department stores (you can find her shoes at Bloomingdale’s and Shopbop at the moment) and hopes to open her own brick and mortar location. And I’ll be there — Marion Parke shoes on my feet — to wait in a long line without wincing once when she does.
The Verdict: What I’ve learned is that unlike celebs and influencers, I am not impervious to the weather and that no matter how pretty the shoe, open-toe sandals should not be worn in February outside. But when it comes to comfort, I have happy, happy feet. Overall, I could not recommend these shoes more. They’re not just game-changing, they’re life-changing. Never having to worry about being stuck in heels when you have to stand or walk longer than you expect is such a relief. And it’s easier on my back, too, knowing I don’t always have to carry a purse big enough to stash a pair of flats in. Parke truly accomplished a real feat with these designs, pun intended.