LUXURYCULTURE.COM - Fetishizing Footwear


As heels soar to ever-higher heights and designers dole out the decoration, a brief footwear fad becomes an enduring fashion.

Soaring stilettos, unexpected decoration and jolting proportions, the craze for crazy shoes is a font of footwear creativity.

Since Roger Vivier created the stiletto heel in 1954, shoe designers have enjoyed a previously unforeseen bounty of prospects for their craft. No longer would a simple pump suffice, the technical possibilities that opened up have led from one innovation to the next, allowing for fantastic flights of fancy and giving even more mundane fare a tangible twist.

Looking at the international runways and at the shelves of directional designer boutiques one cannot help but be overwhelmed by the sheer creative fecundity that has taken root at the base of the leg. Where once the “It” bag set the agenda, now shoes say everything about their wearer – so long as she can walk in them.

The vertiginous heel that came through three years ago now has had its death knell sounded with the start of every new show season. Suddenly a narrower heel was back, allied to a more appropriate height. And then, just as quick, attention shifted back to skyscrapers as if too much was never enough, now more than ever with visual impact the aesthetic goal.

John Galliano has always looked to the elaborate shoe for his runway dramatics, forcing young models to work on their wobbling. That those runway extravagances are being now sold in stores and snapped up says a lot about the changing tastes, and abilities, of consumers. For his own line this season Galliano created shoes that looked like they sprouted ergonomic sculptures. Once they would have shocked; not any more.

Young designers like Nicholas Kirkwood have carved a niche and garnered attention for themselves through the use of exaggerated proportions and strange combinations, and found a highly receptive audience. Established houses like Celine and Dolce & Gabbana have both created large shoes deconstructed to remove one of the heretofore basic components, the arch, leaving the foot seemingly suspended in air. The French-owned Spanish luxury house Loewe has received a strong footwear focus at the hands of new British creative director Stuart Vevers who has turned his expertise in accessories to wind heels in gilded metal spirals and pull ruffles from metal-framed uppers.

The current economic crisis has given rise to two main conflicting hypotheses when it comes to luxury fashion. One sees the client investing in classic pieces of exceptional cut and quality with investment and longevity in mind. The other sees her banking on splurging to get something truly exceptional. Designers are clearly betting on the latter.

The fetishizing of high-heel shoes runs through the work of photographers Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin, whose advertising work for Charles Jourdan in the 1970s catapulted the erotic possibilities of shoes to a titillated and intrigued public. Bourdin especially shot shoes as objects of worship almost, and highlighted them as important, unmissable players in the visual stories he told.

In 1937, Salvador Dali sketched a hat in the form of an upturned shoe for the couturière Elsa Schiaparelli. It became one of the most famous pieces in the surrealist fashion movement. In 2006, Marc Jacobs revisited the idea, placing a shoe on the model Daria Werbowy’s head in an ad campaign for Louis Vuitton. The infamy of the Schiaparelli original was such that it struck a subliminal chord in the subconscious of a wide public.

Not all shoes, or their representations, have enjoyed the same exposure. Underappreciated designers like the Dutch Jan Jansen and the British Terry de Havilland have been at the forefront of innovative shoe design for years, but the often pointedly non-conformist and labor-intensive aspects of their work have contributed to their remaining somewhat insider secrets. De Havilland’s star has risen recently as his shoes have developed a distribution network, and Jansen has seen his impressive forty-year journey of untrammeled creativity provide the inspiration for a host of modern designers and current trends in footwear fashion. One of the most notable “inspirations” was a shoe standing on a vertical bamboo platform that Prada recreated for its spring 2006 collection. Even that apparently unwearable shoe was produced and sold. That was three years ago and, hobbling on cobblestones aside, the attraction to challenging sandals shows little sign of abating.

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