Joan Helpern, one half of the famed shoe duo behind the Joan & David label, died on Sunday at her home at the Carlyle hotel in New York. She was 89.
The cause of death was respiratory failure, her daughter Elizabeth Helpern told WWD.
David Helpern, Joan’s husband and business partner, died in 2012.
Together, the pair founded a footwear company in 1967 in Cambridge, Mass. A decade later, they introduced the designer Joan & David brand, which rapidly grew into a global player. After decades of success, the brand began to experience challenges amid new competition.
In 2000, after Joan & David filed for bankruptcy, Maxwell Shoe Co. acquired rights to the brand. A few years later, The Jones Group bought Maxwell and absorbed Joan & David as well. Today, Sycamore Holdings owns the rights to the brand, but it is not being produced.
Industry veteran Arthur Samuels Jr., whose family founded Golo Shoes, first met Joan in the ’60s when she and husband David Helpern operated a shoe store in Cambridge, Mass., and bought shoes from his company.
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“She was honest, forthright and passionate about what she did,” said Samuels. “She was dedicated to creating the world of Joan & David.”
Samuels recalled that women wanted to wear her eponymous brand. “She had a point of view,” referring to a collection of career to sportswear-inspired shoes. “She wasn’t all over the place with her designs. She knew what she wanted [to create].”
Joe Moore, another longtime footwear player, said: “Joan was one of a kind: brilliant, talented, loyal, loving, fun — a pain in the a–. To know her was very special. She was a women ahead of her time. The shoe industry will miss her. May she rest in peace.”
Dick Jacobson, former president of the Fashion Footwear Association of New York, recalled Helpern’s creative spirit and boundless energy. “She was a fabulous character,” said Jacobson. “She had a great eye for fashion and traveled all over the world discovering so many wonderful things.” According to Jacobson, while David ran the financial side of the business, Joan oversaw product. “She was a fireball,” recalled Jacobson. “If you got to know her, you got to love her.”