The Evolution of Haute Heels

Awkward, terrifying, treacherously tall and slightly masochistic  are not typically words used to describe footwear. However, from showrooms to runways the industry has seen a trend of museum and editorial-worthy heels. As Vivienne Westwood introduced her sky-high nine-inch pumps to the world almost a decade ago – who could forget Naomi Campbell’s infamous spill – other designers have been pushing the height and limit to this fantasy shoe fetish. From the use of materials like moss agate, tigers eye, porcelain, and turquoise to the reinterpretation of  “heels” altogether with an inverted shin crutch to replace the heel to an eight-inch ballerina pointe shoe. Practical? No. Weird? A bit. Beautiful? Absolutely.

Leanie van der Vyver has gained attention on what she coins “Scary Beautiful” shoes. With a concept of “playing God by physically and metaphorically perfecting themselves” she shows her interpretation of a shoe fit for the perfect human being. The shoe forces the wearer to take on a whole new approach to the concept of walking altogether, with no actual heel, rather a ballet pointe shoe with a front crutch for your shins to rest upon creating a bird-like walk.

Van der Vyver nods at her South African roots with the bone color and sleek lines of the heel referencing the naturalist vibe of the local architecture. With no intentions of practicality, unless of course your name is Lady Gaga, these shoes are fit for spectacular photo editorials and are opening the door to a broader horizon of what footwear can be.

While van der Vyver creates the ultimate un-shoe, other designers are taking a different approach to an avant garde heel. Christian Louboutins’ recent design for the English National Ballet puts a super skinny eight-inch stiletto heel on what literally seems to be a ballet pointe shoe, but this is just the tip of Louboutin’s driving point of the shoe and foot fetish industry. A collaborative exhibition with American surrealist filmmaker David Lynch and Louboutin called “Fetish” showcases his signature red soles with teeny stilettos that overextend the length of the heel itself, heels so high the ball of the foot does not dare come in contact with the ground, S&M straps, fishnets, barbed wire and the whole nine yards. A reference and culmination of our society’s cult interest in all that is pain wrapped up in a series of kinky and provocative photos.

After Alexander McQueens’ unforgettable claw-like booties encrusted with turquoise and carved porcelain, other designers have stepped up their use of alternative materials. This is exactly what Dutch designer Iris Van Herpen did by using precious stones and earthly materials. With influences from microorganisms to hylozoism (the belief that every piece of matter is ‘alive’) she incorporates precious materials. Black lacquered shoes with a heel structure in a shape resembling a starfish’s underside or a platform and heel literally in the shape of a woolly mammoth’s tusk gives her shoes a life and story of their own. Van Herpen’s use of mixed materials lends a futuristic quality to her shoes that offers a sense of weirdness fit for the ultimate fashion-forward Trekkie and convincing enough for one to want to
attend Comic-Con.

With the concept of shoes evolving from function to fantasy with every new season, designers are redefining what a heel can be. Sure, these shoes might only be practical in the world of music videos, museums, and photos, but who needs practicality when you’ve got art on your side? In the world of fashion, anything is fair game and the desire to wear art from head to toe trumps all.

Text by Emily Wong