Under the Sun

Joan Dominique Is Back in Phoenix (and She's Brought Shoes)

Joan Dominique

It was practically inevitable, said Joan Dominique, that she would become a fashion designer.

“Donna Karan and I share a birthday,” the Paradise Valley native explained, with absolutely no irony.

A visit to summer camp when Dominique was 8 sealed the deal. “There was a girl there named Emily,” she remembered. “She taught this class about fashion design. We cut pictures out of magazines and I was looking at the magazines and I thought, ‘Wow, fashion is a career.’”

Dominique returned from summer camp and announced that because fashion design was headquartered in New York City, she planned to move there.

“I never let it go,” she said over the phone last month. “Every year, my parents would check in with me: ‘Do you still want to do this?’”

She did. After attending New York University, Dominique worked for apparel and accessories label Alice + Olivia and did stints with Kenneth Cole and Diane von Furstenberg. During an internship in Milan, she fell in love with leather goods.

Two years ago, she returned to Phoenix to launch her own line of shoes and bags, makeup, and bridal couture. Joan Dominique recently set up shop in the legendary Pyramid on Central building.

“The city has changed,” she said. “It’s not New York, but it’s not really Phoenix anymore, either.”

People she knew here seemed relieved that Dominique was no label snob. “I admire artistry, but not a cheap shoe with a Chanel label slapped on it,” was her take.

Shoes are her thing, she admitted. She always looked at people’s shoes. “It’s the first thing I notice when I meet a person. I make more footwear contact than I do eye contact.”

Occasionally, loving shoes can be painful. “I am guilty of having bought shoes that were too small for me, because they were beautiful. I’ve had, like, so many blisters on my feet. Sometimes love hurts.”

Her new line emphasizes men’s footwear. “Guys don’t like to experiment too much when it comes to shoes,” she explained. “They either want something conservative, or they want to break all the rules and just have fun. My men’s designs play between that.”

When it comes to promoting her shoe line, Dominique said it was all about a man’s hands. “I like to show a guy touching his shoe. It’s just something that creates a gorgeous image. It’s weird, I know, but it’s stunning. You have to make sure the model’s nails are clean, though.”

If she does any one thing for Phoenix, Dominique thought, it will be to teach people about craftsmanship. “I want people here to be more inclined to purchase from artists. Once you start thinking, like, ‘Does it have a Prada label on it?’ you’re missing the point. We have to start looking at our feet and thinking about where the shoes were made, and how well were they made.”

She said she’s happy to be changing minds in Phoenix, in an office building shaped like an upside-down pyramid.

“Eventually I want to have a presence in Europe,” Dominique said. “But for now, I’m back home. And while I’m here, I want to change how people think about a $32 Prada knockoff from Target.”