Designer Florence Otway, whose career spanned more than 50 years, died on June 15. She was 94.
Otway was among an early group of female shoe designers, recognized for her innovative work as well as her commitment to promoting women in the industry.
Former FN editor, Nancy Shapiro, recalled, “Florence was a preeminent designer, widely regarded as one of the best in an era of great American footwear design. She worked for some of the most important domestic manufacturers of fashion footwear — I. Miller, Palizzio and Golo among them — traveling frequently to Europe to consult with overseas producers.”
“She was one of very few women in the industry,” said designer Maggi Mercado about her early years. “She was also a mentor to younger people and other women. She was extremely talented, and she was instrumental in getting [women’s footwear] organizations going.”
Otway began her career in the ’40s upon graduating from The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York. She landed a job as an artist for premier women’s shoe chain I. Miller Shoes. There, she was soon promoted to designer, spending the next four years at the company.
In 1950, she joined New York-based Palizzio as designer and catalog illustrator. Two years later, she began work as a freelance illustrator for Bernardo and Bally of Switzerland.
Next for Otway was a three-year stint at Genesco. Design jobs followed at high-profile names including David Evins, Garolini, Calvin Klein and Adrienne Vittadini.
It was in the mid-’70s while working at Golo that Otway had the idea for waterproof fabric boots and approached Gore-Tex about the concept. According to Arthur Samuels Jr., whose family owned the business and who worked alongside Otway, the company introduced a line of Gore-Tex boots that were met with immediate success. Recalled Otway in an interview with FN, “That winter, we had a huge blizzard, and everywhere you walked, you’d see ‘Golo’ imprinted in the snow. It was wonderful.”
Gail Wheeler, former president of the Calvin Klein division of U.S. Shoe Corp. who worked alongside Otway from the mid-’80s through the early ’90s, recalled, “She was an outrageously good designer, practical and very feminine. She was also a very elegant lady. Her personal taste level was superb.”
Upon Otway’s retirement in the mid-’90s, she joined her husband Howard at Theatre 80 in New York’s East Village, running the business they co-owned and that continues to operate under the direction of her family.
Otway is survived by her sons Thomas and Lorcan Otway, daughters-in-law Eugenia Otway and Anne Marie Otway, and two grandchildren.