Review: Will Camileon's transforming heels change fashion forever? (The answer: no)

Over the past few weeks, we've been testing out a pair of Camileon Heels — high-heeled shoes that easily transform from wobbly 3.25-inch stilettos to practical pumps with 1.5-inch heels. We've seen high-tech shoes before, but rarely have they been so fashionable.

High heels are uncomfortable, especially if you have to wear them for more than an hour. Could Camileon heels be the solution? They sound like something off of an infomercial, and they're shamelessly expensive with prices hovering around $300 ($230 on sale). But do they work? And will people notice that your shoes are, well, a little funny looking? Click Continue to read more about my experience with these futuristic kicks, and to watch a video them in action.

Stylish Footwear — Transform!
Manufacturers frequently lend DVICE review models of various gadgets. I thought that these shoes would be fun to try, so I e-mailed Camileon's press representative. The rep told me the company didn't want to have anything to do with DVICE, since its board was afraid that I would give away the secret of how the shoes work. This seemed like a bizarre concern to me; after all, the shoes aren't some secret prototype — there available in stores around the country. Furthermore, DVICE doesn't specialize in reverse-engineering products. But the representative I spoke to still refused to loan us a review pair, clearly afraid other entrepreneurs would try to steal the design. Is it worth stealing? Read on.

Since Camelion wouldn't send me the shoes, we bought a pair from Zappos. Here's how the heels work: The stiletto is split into two sections, with a stainless steel rod going through it. The bottom section is made of aluminum and painted with six coats of paint. The top of the heel is screwed into the shoe (the company claims that other shoe companies use nails or glue). When you want to take down the heel length, just pull the bottom of the heel straight down, fold it over and click it into place beneath the sole. Confused? See the video below.

The Camileon Achilles' Heel
Once you see these heels in the down position, it's immediately apparent that they could be improved upon. After all, the heel just doesn't tuck in and become invisible. This is something that's not quite clear in the company's promotional materials. Sure, most people will never notice that little tucked-under heel, but if you care enough about beautiful shoes to wear these in the first place, you'll probably think this is a major design flaw. To all those plotting to break into the adjustable high heel business, I'd suggest that instead of stealing the Camileon design, you work to make that bottom section disappear.

Heel Thyself: The Camileon Experience
Design flaws or no, these are serious shoes, not some infomercial product that doesn't really work. For your $300 you get a classy-looking pair of all-leather pumps. The shoes are made in Italy, and are surprisingly comfortable in both up and down permutations. I'm never really comfortable in 3.25-inch heels, but if you're used to wear shoes like this, they'll feel very normal. During the evening I spent in my Camileons in stiletto mode the discomfort I felt outweighed the social advantage of being temporarily taller than 5"4'.

In the low position, however, the shoes are positively comfortable. I was able to walk a mile to and from a dinner party at a fast clip without feeling like I was going to topple over or that I would rather go barefoot. Though that folded-under heel isn't invisible, it certainly didn't get in the way. When I got to the party, someone even complimented my shoes without knowing what they were. That didn't mean I was tempted to switch them into stilt mode: in fact, I took them off and left them at the door like everybody else.

Will Adjustable Heels Transform Fashion?
To answer this question, I demo'd the shoes with several female friends, letting them try the Camileons on. Everyone thought the transforming heel was a clever idea, solidly executed. Whether it would catch on amongst women who actually rely on super-high heels was another question entirely. We agreed that for women who care enough about fashion to wear uncomfortable and expensive shoes, the 1.5-inch iteration of the heels would never do. Forget the folded-under heel — in that position they're more frumpy than fashion-forward. On the other hand, we agreed that the shoes scream "use me on business trips!" and that they might catch on in the corporate world.

The inimitable Tim Gunn of Project Runway said recently, "If comfort is your only fashion guide, fashion will just always elude you… If you want to dress to feel as if you never got out of bed — don't get out of bed!" I'm guessing he would prefer Camileon heels to my 10-year-old Doc Martens. I prefer the sartorial advice of crossword-puzzle author Frances Heaney, however. He advises you to dress just well enough not to repel the members of the opposite sex in your social group. I am sure that he would advise women that low-heeled shoes are probably the best way for a woman to attract a man or woman who's interested in having an active partner, not a constrained one.

But let's be practical: some situations call for heels. If you can afford them, Camileon Heels are a good solution for women who spend most of the day wearing high heels but usually carry around extra flats for the subway ride home. Nobody's going to notice that your heels are folded over on a bus or train. If you care about comfort and only need to wear the high heel occasionally, you should probably just keep an extra pair of heels under your desk and spend most days wearing comfortable shoes that don't require you to be furtive about the state of your sole.