Shoe designer Joan Helpern 1926 – 2016 (active 1967 – 2000)


David and Joan Helpern, 1978

Better known as the ‘Joan’ in Joan and David shoes, she and her husband’s eponymous shoe line was a top seller in the 1980s.

Born October 10, 1926 in New York, divorcee Joan married widower David Helpern in 1960. His Boston-based family operated clothing store chains including Suburban Shoe Stores. Although trained as a child psychologist, Joan soon realized she knew better what sort of footwear working women wanted in the 1960s than her husband, who was buying the inventory. Joan started designing at a small Boston shoe company “shoes for women who run through airports”, and in 1967 created her first design – a navy and white low-heeled Oxford.

With David managing the business and Joan as the creative director, they launched Joan and David, a line of shoes for working women in 1977. In 1982, David and Joan, a line of shoes for men, was launched. By 1987 when they opened Joan and David Too, a line of cheaper shoes, the company was reaching sales of 100 million dollars a year.

Joan received a Coty Fashion Award in 1978 and was named designer of the year by Footwear News in 1986. Despite meteoric success, the shoe industry was under a lot of strain in the 1990s with off-shore manufacturing competition. The strain lead to Joan and David separating in 1998, and the company sought bankruptcy protection in 2000. The company was sold for 16.8 million and relocated to Italy. David Helpern predeceased Joan, passing in 2012. Joan passed away May 8.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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