William Scholl

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The Independent Online

William Scholl, shoe designer and businessman: born London 24 September 1920; CBE 1998; four times married (four sons, two daughters); died Douglas, Isle of Man 15 March 2002.

William Scholl was the designer of the most fashionable sandal of the Sixties and Seventies. His orthopaedic invention became the ultimate hippie accessory. Synonymous with Woodstock and as famous as Jimi Hendrix, the Scholl sandal – made from carved wood with a leather strap across the front – was worn by millions of women worldwide. In the mid-Sixties sales reached a staggering two million pairs per year.

The third son of an American of German descent, William Scholl was born in London in 1920 and educated at St Edmund's College, Hertfordshire. Encouraged by his father, Scholl was sent abroad to learn French and German, returning to read Modern Languages at Christ's College, Cambridge. On holiday in America when the Second World War broke out and unable to return to Britain, Scholl joined the US Army, where his language skills were put to good use when he was made an intelligence officer interrogating prisoners of war.

The Scholl family firm, founded by William's uncle, an American doctor, in 1906, originally specialised in chiropodists' equipment and accoutrements. Another uncle, Frank Scholl, joined the business in 1910 and moved to London soon after, heading a new company selling Scholl products in Europe. When William Scholl returned to Britain after the war and joined the firm, he took the core business – which was then suffering from post-war shortages – and developed its range of foot-care products, turning the distinctive blue and yellow packaging into a recognisable brand, easily spotted in the clinical environment of traditional British pharmacies.

The original Scholl sandal, developed in the late 1950s, was based on a Finnish design, refined and marketed through the company as a health product and sold with the slogan "Looking good and doing you good". Although originally designed solely with health benefits in mind, the Scholl sandal struck a chord with the hippie sensibility. The Scholl sandal was designed specifically to exercise the feet and legs, support the arch, tone muscles and prevent podiatric ailments.

But the Scholl sandal had a wider appeal. In the same way Body Shop shampoo extolled the virtues of fair trade, the Dr Scholl sandal with its organic connotations and clip-clop sound became associated with a simpler way of life. Scholl had inadvertently invented a fashion classic and by the mid-Sixties an estimated half of all British women owned a pair of Scholl sandals. In 1971 Dr Scholl's became a public company, and seven years later a brand of Schering-Plough Health Care Products.

Forty years after the invention of the sandal, the Scholl brand and William Scholl himself were still going strong. Scholl, a proficient pilot, learned to windsurf when he reached pensionable age and enjoyed skiing into his seventies. The Dr Scholl Foundation has given around £140m to charitable causes; William Scholl was appointed CBE in 1998 for his charity work. The Scholl brand has gone from strength to strength and now includes foot baths and massagers alongside its corn plasters, arch supports and foot creams.

Recently the Scholl sandal enjoyed a renaissance. The American footwear company Naturalizer, marketed Dr Scholl's alongside Bob the Builder footwear for children. The Olympic gold medallist Rulon Gardner – who boasts a 58 inch chest and beat the great Russian wrestler Alexander Karelin in Sydney 2000 – has appeared cartwheeling in Dr Scholl adverts. But Scholl's association with high fashion has not been forgotten: the sandal made a recent appearance on the Paris catwalks, and In Style magazine featured it in a piece entitled "What Your Jeans Say About You": "What? You worry? You're too laid back for that. You just want to throw on something and go."

Linda Watson