A country girl steers fancy footwear
Bedford’s Susan Duffy is the mastermind behind Stuart Weitzman’s luxury footwear marketing.
photo by Rana Faure
A woman in a Florida airport once caught my eye. It was the fact that she wore very tall, bright- orange heels while lugging a large suitcase. She was actually runway walking—not teetering—with grace and had a big smile on her face. This is a woman with style, I thought. I quickly realized she was Susan Duffy, and the private part of my brain—the one that chides me for not keeping my hair in its clip or fresh make-up on—has admired Duffy for over 20 years as we raised our families in Bedford. What fearlessness she’d shown that morning in buckling on a bold-colored pair of glamorous stilettos, despite the unforgiving airport corridors, endless ticket lines, and some hazards of slippery soft-drink spills to avoid.
Duffy’s business is shoes. As chief marketing officer for Stuart Weitzman, a world-renowned luxury shoe brand, she truly knows how to “walk the walk” in both far-flung airports as well as at home in Bedford, a town she and her husband, Jim, selected because of its commutability and its similarity to her hometown of Litchfield, Connecticut.
“There must be destiny with me and shoes,” she says, seated comfortably in her Madison Avenue office where she strategizes how to market the high-end line. Her eyes twinkle. “When my daughter was asked to draw a picture at Bedford Village Elementary School, she drew me vacuuming and wearing heels.”
I asked Duffy, who previously served as VP of public relations at Chanel, if she always wears elegant footwear. Swiveling her chair to reach under the desk, she answers, “I have actually learned how to run in high heels, but this is what I wear to walk from my car to the office.” She holds up an adorable flat, a hybrid sandal/espadrille that is now sold-out nationwide. “It’s called the Trek,” she says. “We are the most democratic of brands; there is something for everyone.”
A self-described “country girl,” Duffy says she and Jim (along with their Yorkie, Marco) have little desire to move or even to downsize now that their two daughters are out of college and living independently. “I put myself through cruel and unusual punishment to live here,” she says in reference to her long commute, “but the thought of leaving is just too hard.”
Duffy arises in the pink master bedroom at 5:15 a.m. and hits her treadmill while making calls to Asia. “A few years ago, Jim asked if we could have something besides pink in the room,” she says. “In this business there is no time to rest on your laurels. Things change so fast, and I like that Bedford is a constant. So, while I was reluctant at first to introduce new colors—pink is my favorite, I did.”
The time commuting is spent speaking to family and friends. “I decided if I’m going to drive to work, then my one extravagance is a nice car,” she says. Her XK Jaguar is not only fun to look at, but comfortable, like a great pair of Stuart Weitzmans. “And at the end of the day, I usually meet Jim at Bedford 234 for dinner. We see all our friends there.”
The couple first met in a conga line during a college spring break trip to Florida. Susan was a student at Smith, and Jim was there with his hockey team from University of Vermont. “Jim will say it was love at first sight, but it took me a few hours. He cleaned up nicely, though.”
Jim, who runs his own Internet business and has coached hockey at Fox Lane High School, is also the captain on the Bedford Bears men’s hockey team. When she isn’t rooting for her husband on the ice, Duffy says what she loves most is her local book group and playing in a tennis league at the Saw Mill Club. “My life would be perfect if only Stuart Weitzman made a tennis shoe,” she says. Tempted by 600 new shoe styles a season, I ask Duffy who’s the likely recipient when she thins out her Bedford closet. “Oh, well my daughters and I have different size feet,” she says wistfully, “but my sister benefits.”
Duffy has big plans to take up horseback riding this winter. “I’m hoping it won’t be as cold as last year,” she says. “The first thing I did after finding a riding instructor was to buy the boots.” Naturally.