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Au revoir Bay Area, bonjour Paris: San Carlos shoe designer helps in teen's shopping wish
March 21, 2013, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff

As any Cinderella knows, if the shoe fits wear it.

And Oakland resident Alison Sooter plans to do that and more when the 17-year-old takes a dream come true trip to Paris for a shoe shopping spree after a stop at a San Carlos shoe company's international headquarters for some design lessons and a few pairs of flats.

The well-heeled adventure comes courtesy of Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area which provides dreams for ill children. In Alison's case, the prompt is Hodgkin's lymphoma. But while her illness may be the reason she is going to Paris now she is certainly not letting it define her -- or her vacation.

As of Monday, Alison didn't know too much about what to expect from her trip other than she was leaving Paris-bound from San Francisco International Airport on Saturday for a week of shoe shopping with her mom and 14-year-old brother. What she was more certain of was what kind of shoes she was looking for.

"Shoes for school and I kind of want shoes for prom," she said, adding she is also in need of some black flats.

After missing part of her senior year due to a difficult course of chemotherapy, Alison is enjoying being back in her regular routine which includes looking forward to prom and competitive swimming. She's a little less flexible and gets tired sometimes during swim meets but Alison said she's been supported by an "awesome group of friends" and is back in the swing of things.

Alison isn't sure if anyone other than adults know about her Parisian plans but joked if her friends knew they'd "be excited for me but also secretly jealous because they'd want to go."

A friend's trip to Paris and the allure of the City of Lights -- "It's always a party theme, a Night in Paris," she said. "It's the place you think of when you think of Europe" -- added to Alison's lifelong desire to visit but she never thought she'd go until much later in life.

In the meantime, she honed her shoe desire with trips to Nordstrom Rack to fill up carts and try on possible additions to her closet. Unique and "funny-looking" shoes catch her eye although she doesn't know if she could pull them off. Her collection includes a pair of UGGs, a lot of moccasins and even slip-on Tom's although her narrow feet make those challenging, she said.

Currently, she owns 21 pairs of shoes although she concedes they don't all get regular use.

"You can't wear high heels all the time," she explains.

After Friday, she will have a few more pairs. Prior to departure with her mom and 14-year-old brother William, Alison is heading to San Carlos to meet with the founder and design director of LUV shoes. The company's international headquarters are in San Mateo County and CEO Michael Toschi and Design Director Caroline Cecil will show her shoe design and creation from start to finish for both his high-end leather men's footwear line and the more mass market LUV.

Toschi said she'll see how inspiration becomes reality all the way through samples and approval.

"She'll know more about shoes than 99 percent of people," Toschi said.

If Alison is excited about her trip, Toschi might be equally stirred up about her visit to learn about his world of shoe design.

"The real joy comes from giving and on Friday it will be just as much about me having a good experience," he said. "It's like a gift to us and I think she's going to have a lot of fun here."

Toschi's connection to Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area is proof of the "serendipity and magic" the nonprofit brings about, said Executive Director Patricia Wilson.

Wilson and Toschi struck up a conversation on an airplane and, by the time it landed, he was on board as its newest partner. The next day, Wilson mentioned the encounter to her staff and the program director mentioned for the first time in 14 years there was a wish involving shoes.

The missions of both the company and Make-A-Wish align well, Toschi said.

"If you're a child that is dying or ill your best weapon is motivation and hope and being inspired to live," he said. "And our company's philanthropic section believes inspiration is the greatest gift you can give another person."

But the giving doesn't stop there. Toschi said Alison will be outfitted with a few pairs for walking around Paris and visiting its landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.

Maybe she'll get those black flats after all.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 102.

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