Retail therapy Ruthie Davis, the New York-based shoe designer beloved of Beyoncé, talks about her life in fashion.
'I like to be edgy and make a statement'
Ruthie Davis, the New York-based shoe designer beloved of Beyoncé, talks about her life in fashion. My brother recently sent me an old home movie from when I was one or two, just a baby. I was in my mother's high heels, so I definitely had an innate fascination with shoes at a young age. I remember getting my first pair and that was it: I literally slept in them that night. They were red patent-leather Mary Janes, shiny with a little button strap.
I was lucky because I had two older sisters (I was the youngest of six kids) and they were very fashion-forward, always ahead of the curve. I had my first pair of platforms when I was seven or eight. They were Kork-Ease with nude vegetan uppers and a natural suede platform. They were really big in the Seventies, and my older sisters had them. They bought me the smallest adult size long before I should have been wearing platforms. I used to take them to school in my backpack - my mother had no idea I owned them; she would have forbidden them - and put them on in school.
I set shoe trends at a young age. I remember I had red clogs when no one else in my school had clogs. I always had this thing about cool shoes, avant-garde shoes. The women in my family had great style. They were very chic. My mother had beautiful dresses so I was exposed to some great fashion. I grew up outside of Hartford, Connecticut. The state is known as being kind of preppy and classic but with style. A lot of people who live in Connecticut work in New York City. It's style-conscious but it's more like British fashion, more classic. I definitely went above and beyond. I always liked to be edgier and make a statement.
At an early age, I was very specific about what I wanted. I used to borrow my sisters' clothes. It was a point of contention growing up. I used to go in and steal their clothes when they were at school and I'd get yelled at. My whole world revolved around my outfits. I used to get hand-me-downs but stealing my sisters' clothes was a big occupation of mine. A lot of entertainers wear my shoes because they can perform in them. For the height, they're really comfortable. In a lot of pictures of Beyoncé, she's wearing my shoes. When they're high, I always put in a platform.
I do a lot of fit testing. You can do shoes that look great and feel terrible: it takes extra time, money, research and development to make them fit well. I try everything myself because I'm a woman and I actually wear the shoes. A lot of high-end luxury designers are men. The shoes look wonderful but the designers aren't wearing them so they don't get how they can make you feel crippled. I went to prep school and high school in Connecticut, and university at Bowdoin College in Maine. I majored in English and minored in visual arts. My family is somewhat conservative so art school wasn't an option; you did liberal arts. And I didn't even know about the art schools in New York where you just draw.
My college was very preppy, very Abercrombie & Fitch. I stood out like a sore thumb. I have a picture of me in college wearing an oversized white T-shirt that I made into a minidress. I wore it with a big silver belt, white ankle socks and red pumps with gold heels - total Flashdance. I went against the grain up in Maine. At the time, my older brother was living in New York and working in advertising. He lived in Tribeca and in the summer I would visit him. So I felt like: "I'm cool. I go to New York City."
I used to buy Norma Kamali there. I bought my first really cool outfit there, so I definitely thought I was cooler than the other kids as far as fashion goes. This was in the 1980s, when the whole legging thing first came around. I wore pea green leggings and a pea green baby-doll dress with red stripes and Edwardian, leg-of-mutton sleeves. If I still had it, I'd wear it proudly and be like: "You know what? I was there before you, young people!"
I definitely live like someone who is youthful, on top of trends, looking in stores. When I see an item that I like and know is my style and my size, I buy it, even if it's a couple thousand dollars, because I know it's a good purchase. I don't buy a lot of trendy junk that I'm never going to wear.