For decades, one of the world’s most influential makers of women’s footwear operated out of a storefront in downtown Jacksonville.
The LaRose women’s shoe store first opened in 1949 on the ground floor of Western Union Telegraph Company’s building. It was founded by Italian immigrant Joseph LaRose – sometimes styled as La Rose – who had worked at a few of downtown Jax’s other high-end shops before deciding to launch his own.
LaRose and his store quickly became noted for his expertly-crafted designs, which were sought after by some of the most famous women in America. Stars like Joan Crawford and Jayne Mansfield were seen wearing LaRose designs, and his shoes even reportedly made their way to the Kennedy White House at one point.
And though the store itself didn’t attain countrywide recognition, it became well-known in the Southeast, expanding to multiple locations across the state. In 1981, LaRose purchased a nearby building along Monroe Street and moved out of the Western Union building – which by that point had become The Galleria.
The brand soon scaled back down to a single location in downtown Jax, where LaRose and his wife continued to operate the storefront – and its mail-order business – until shortly before his death in 1999.
Upon his death, the remaining collection of LaRose shoes, along with designs for other accessories such as handbags, were purchased by collectors. Hundreds of shoes were donated to MOCA Jacksonville, which had recently moved into LaRose’s old space in The Galleria; many others were put up for auction.
Today, no physical reminders of LaRose’s store exist in downtown Jax. Its original home is now part of MOCA’s lobby, and its second building was torn down to make way for the city’s current downtown library.
But the shoes themselves have become highly-valued collector’s items and its designs and details were even studied by top designers. As a result, Joseph LaRose’s influence on – and passion for – women’s footwear will still live on for years to come.