Almost two years ago to this day, Diane Kruger attended the 2013 Television Critics Association's summer press tour in a stunning mixed-print Mary Katrantzou design that she styled with nothing else except for a pair of delicate black ankle-strap sandals (below, left). Little did we know that those seemingly nondescript heels would go ahead and launch a footwear movement unlike anything we've ever seen. That moment was the first time the Stuart Weitzman "Nudist" sandals saw their first red carpet event.
Thousands of red carpet appearances and something like 82,000 sold pairs later, it's present day and the Nudist sandals are still as ubiquitous as ever. It certainly feels as though not one night goes by without a celebrity sporting the style. And on top of that, it's probably one of the most copied footwear designs in recent history—a phenomenon that shoe design genius Stuart Weitzman can hardly believe himself. "Every designer line I can think of, whose shoes sell for more money than ours, is making this shoe. That's really something," he tells InStyle in disbelief. '"You expect the lower-priced lines to, but for high-end designers to go after it, it's a clear recognition that we've hit something here—that they can't avoid not having it."
But we're getting a little ahead of ourselves here. Let's backtrack to the point of ideation.
"It happened because there was a need for it," Weitzman says simply. "Too many celebrities would change their dress at the last minute and those wonderful shoes we made won't go with the new outfit. We needed to have a shoe simple enough that it could go with literally everything. The Nudist is the little black dress of shoes."
Design-wise, it took him just a couple of hours to sketch out. It was simple enough—a delicate strap encircling the ankle and one other tiny strap right across the toes. But bringing it to fruition was a whole other story. Frankly, constructing the sandal was nothing short of a miracle, an engineering feat that Weitzman says wouldn't have been possible a generation ago. With such a minimalist design, questions like—How do we keep the feet from sliding? How do we keep the shoe in the right place? How can you place the heel away from the center point of weight (heels at the edge, versus center, Weitzman says is more aesthetically pleasing) without it bending or collapsing? How can it offer support without side straps or panels?—all had to be considered and addressed.
Tackling these obstacles and executing the design took 19 trials that spanned five months. On average, it takes a maximum of two weeks with two to four trials. "We almost gave up at 15 [trials]. It's the longest I've ever spent on a shoe," Weitzman says. "As a rule, my father once said to me, if you have to struggle with a style, forget it, it's not worth it. Generally, it's a pretty good rule otherwise the desire to execute the shoe is greater than reality. You end up stretching reality."
What Weitzman needed was a strong sole and an extra sturdy heel. He looked outside the shoe industry and found the answer in titanium—a metal so strong, so solid that constructing a heel from it is like "walking with an invisible wedge under your foot." The ankle strap, too, serves a purpose. It's placed high up on the ankle for ornamental purposes, but from the back, the strap dips to a location that prevents the foot from sliding forward. Weitzman calls it a "strap that actually works."
And if its staying power serves as any indicator, it was all well worth it. But what's even more astounding is that this is the first shoe that everyone—the general public, fashion insiders, and celebrities alike—knows by name.
"The Nudist is the perfect invisible-yet-sexy shoe. Every time there is a red carpet, a stylist always needs a 'simple strappy nude heel' because 99 times out of 100 it will work with anything," says A-list stylist Cher Coulter, whose clients include Kate Bosworth, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and Elizabeth Olsen. "There is nothing distracting about them. A pump can often be heavy, so this shoe works great for me. It's a classic."
And Weitzman isn't so far removed from reality that he thinks the Nudist trend will last forever, but he does recognize that it has all the makings of a classic, likening it to the Birkin or the quilted Chanel 2.55 bag. Until then, the Nudist shows no signs of slowing down—Kruger has come full circle and wore the style just this week (above, right). Derivatives of the original have rolled out since the first, including platforms, alternate heel heights, and new colors and textures.
"I didn't think the Nudist would get to be this big," Weitzman says humbly. "It's the most amazing thing."
Stuart Weitzman Nudist sandals, $395 each; stuartweitzman.com