Beth Levine (fashion designer)
Under the Herbert Levine label, bearing the name of her husband, Herbert Levine, Beth was the best-known American women's shoe designer from the 1950s to the early 1970s, and is still referred to as "The first Lady of American Shoes Design" ().
She was born as Elizabeth Katz in Patchogue, New York, the third of five children of Anna and Israel Katz, Lithuanian Jewish emigrants who operated a dairy farm. In the 1930s, she moved to Manhattan and found work as a shoe model, then worked her way up from a stylist to head designer for I. Miller. She served as a Red Cross volunteer during World War II.
She met Herbert Levine when she applied for a job designing shoes for another shoe manufacturer in 1944 and married him three months later. In 1948, they founded together the Herbert Levine label. He was head of the firm, and this gave her designs the chance to come to center stage.
Beth Levine's greatest influence is considered to be the re-introduction of boots to women's fashion in the 1960s and the popularization of the shoe style known as mules. When Nancy Sinatra wore Levine boots in publicity shots for the 1960s hit song These Boots Are Made for Walkin' demand for fashion boots leaped so much that Saks Fifth Avenue opened a special section its shoe department called Beth’s Bootery.
Ms. Levine was hired in 1965, along with famed Couturier Emilio Pucci, and designer Alexander Girard to help overhaul a new look and style for Braniff International Airways. The Campaign, developed by Jack Tinker and Partner's Mary Wells Lawrence, was dubbed The End Of The Plain Plane, and was a revolutionary airline overhaul that had never been attempted. Ms. Levine designed the unique shoes that complemented the Pucci uniform designs. The Campaign was considered one of the most successful advertising and image reworks in history.
Beth had recognized how much women admired the delicacy and femininity of high fashion shoes when she modeled them on her tiny (size 4B, European size 35) foot. She set out to create designs that would make women with average shoe sizes look more delicate and feminine in their shoes, and in the process changed the silhouettes of American fashion. She experimented with cutting away more and more of the leather to expose more and more of the foot, in the process creating shoes that were regarded as both sexier and more elegant than her predecessors.
Fashion innovations introduced by Beth Levine for the Herbert Levine label include boots as Haute Couture, Spring-o-lator mules (where an elastic strip allowed the wearer to keep the shoes securely on while wearing stockings despite the lack of any straps at the side or back of the shoes), stocking boots (panty hose with heels attached, as well as boots made from materials like vinyl and acrylic) and clear plastic shoes.
Beth Levine was awarded the Coty Award in 1967 for design innovation.
- Beth Levine Shoes Historical Website
- Beth Levine at the Fashion Model Directory
- NY Times obituary
- Braniff Flying Colors Historical Page