Trouble’s Afoot, Gotta Have It

Our complicated relationship with ultra-fab footwear


Rad Hourani

Phillip Lim

Text by Sophia Dearborn

It’s hard not to take notice, but the last few seasons the runways have been rife with Escher-esque footwear. A virtual cornucopia of unabashedly unusual stems, all of which seemed to ooze sex appeal, some more literally than others—were those 6-inch naked women I spotted in lieu of a stiletto heel on the shoes at Dior? Be it sandal, slipper, pump, mule, loafer, platform, sneaker, cleat or clog, why is it that we find ourselves increasingly more obsessed with what goes on our feet? The reasons are multifaceted and much more complex than this humble article can provide, but I dare to venture a guess and say it is intimately tied into a cultural foot fetishism and a desire to bounce down the street in something that looks as if it could be hanging in the Guggenheim—and perhaps just about as expensive.

This year’s Spring/Summer 2009 collections were no exception. Many designers took their cues from last spring’s architecturally structured footwear à la Prada, Miu Miu, Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton, and of course the perennial sky-high platforms at Marni. The logical extreme to these structural goliaths was height. The sky was literally the limit with virtually all of the season’s headliners. It was not uncommon to see a model (or two, or seven) take a swan dive onto freshly waxed catwalks from the dizzying heights of their heels.

Rodarte was an excellent example. The Mulleavys teamed their usual fantastic design milieu with Nicholas Kirkwood and with a pinch of C-3PO, leaving this year’s audience in awe—and model, Abbey Lee, on the floor. Staggeringly tall platform sandals composed of electrical wiring and chains for straps were detailed with gold and silver bits of mirror on the ball of the platform. The co-mingling of fantasy and high-concept structure appears to be no mere phase.

Boys get in on the fantasy shoe brigade as well. Designers are widening the berth of what a man can wear on calloused or manicured feet. Case in point: 3.1 Phillip Lim crocodile oxfords, perfect for a preppy-cum-tough dandy kind of look. Then you have Ann Demeulemeester’s spring boys in gorgeous, leather single-toed ankle booties (yes, booties), a sort of footwear love child between Cupid and Sienna Miller at her boho best. And the always dark and mysterious, Rad Hourani, designed brilliantly simple, high-heeled biker-chic boots for the guy who wants it all: a tough exterior and nice calves to boot.

For the ladies, Lim adorned his strapped snakeskin pumps with large, layered floral mille feuilles resulting in sugar and spice and everything nice—as long as you can stay upright while wearing them. The strong silhouette of the shoe is both whimsical and highly structured, and is extremely wearable (barring a tumble that is). A flat, sandal version is also available and is more walkable and no less covetable as the pastel-colored layers’ appeal remains unchanged. The conceptual shoe has suffered a bad rap in the past, but this opinion seems to be dropping faster than the models at Prada. This is why many a designer appears to be directing their footgear in the direction of highly engineered prosthetics. Balenciaga, with Nicolas Ghesquière at the helm, has always made and un-made runway shoe trends, most recently with their sci-fi finned ankle boots and high-heeled leggings. The structured shoe can also be a bit harder. Take Proenza Schouler’s latest innovation: a bent framed, halo-metal, platform, peep-toe sandal. I know that’s a mouth full, but it’s an eye-full as well. It’s as if John Lautner himself descended from the heavens and whispered sweet nothings of modernist space-age flair into their ears.

The collection that made it onto everybody’s wishlist is no doubt Christophe Decarnin for Balmain’s jewelled and studded sandals which seem to be perfect for everything from cocktail dresses to rock-n’-roll outfits, making them next season’s must-have.

No description of fantastically outrageous shoes is complete without Alexander McQueen. This year’s Species inspired collection has truly earned him the love of entomologist and fashionistas worldwide. McQueen’s shoe collection this season was surprisingly varied without losing cohesion. From a very mean looking thick black strapped sandal with a high, squiggled-metal heel accent and a toe-imprinted pump, to jeweled strapped sandals, to stretch boots and leggings—finally winding down to a soft jewel encrusted nylon socked strappy platform. I felt like little Ofelia of Pan’s Labyrinth, entering the seemingly inviting woods, only to discover an array of bizarre fantasy creatures and fascist dictation, all of which you can’t help loving when it’s made so very lovely.