Helpern, Joan, 1926-2016

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Helpern, Joan, 1926-2016

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Joan Helpern was an American shoe designer. She was the head designer of the Joan & David line of shoes, a company she co-owned with her husband David Helpern. Joan & David popularized elegant, comfortable — and non-high-heeled — shoes for working women in the 1960s.

Joan Evelyn Marshall was born on October 10, 1926 in the Bronx. She attended Hunter College in Manhattan, majoring in economics, psychology and English. She earned a master's degree in social psychology from Columbia University and a doctorate in psychology from Harvard University.

Joan and David married in 1960. David Helpern worked in his family's clothing stores and for a time, Joan was a child psychologist in the New York City school system. Joan began her second career as a shoe designer in the 1960s, working for a small Boston shoe company and as a consultant to a firm that operated several chains. Eventual she and David decided to start the Joan & David shoe label.

“We had noticed that women were running through airports,” Ms. Helpern told The New York Times in 2012. “We decided to make shoes for women who run through airports.”

Within two decades, Joan & David, founded in Cambridge, Mass., was selling shoes and men and women’s apparel, bags and belts in about 100 outlets in the United States and Europe and grossing about $100 million. It had boutiques in the Ann Taylor retail chain and a flagship store on Madison Avenue in New York, where the company was later based.

In 2000, after five years of financial difficulties, the company sought bankruptcy protection and was sold to the Maxwell Shoe Company for $16.8 million.

David Helpern, from whom Joan was legally separated in 1998, died in 2012.


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