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Balancing Act

A country girl steers some fancy footwear



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, a onetime neighbor. 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 slippery soft-drink spills.

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 and in the corridors of the finest fashion houses. But her sense of fashion and sense of self began on Fern Avenue in Litchfield, where she grew up, down the road from where her father grew up.

“I worked for Peter Tillou at the Tillou Gallery after college,” Duffy says. “The fabulous thing about growing up in a town where your father grew up was the sense of family and community. You knew the school teachers, the police-men, everyone at church. Life was simple and uncomplicated. We would play in the woods, climb trees, catch frogs in the stream, and collect chestnuts on Chestnut Hill Road.” Duffy was voted Outstanding Female Athlete in her graduating class from Litchfield High School, after which she went to Smith College. (She spoke at LHS’s 2013 commencement.) 

“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 in 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 husband Jim (along with their Yorkie, Marco) love returning to Litchfield. Her sister Lori Binstadt raised her family here, and brother Jim Fiolek is here as well. “We love having holidays in Litchfield—my sister is an amazing cook—so we often go for Thanksgiving and Easter. I love going back for the Litchfield road race—although I’ll probably never run it again. And when my girls were little we would go pumpkin picking at Bunnell’s Farm every year.”

Though not a road racer, Duffy arises in her 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. “Things change so fast, so, while I was reluctant at first to introduce new colors—pink is my favorite—I did.”

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, still plays on a men’s hockey team, while tennis has stuck with Susan. “My life would be perfect if only Stuart Weitzman made a tennis shoe,” she says.

I ask Duffy who’s the likely recipient when she thins out her shoe closet. “Oh, well my daughters and I have different size feet,” she says wistfully, “so my sister benefits.” Duffy has big plans to take up horseback riding this winter. “The first thing I did after finding a riding instructor was to buy the boots.” Naturally. 

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