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The art of heeling

Had enough of “it” bags?


Had enough of “it” bags?

Behold the statement shoe.

After seasons of the cultish trend of handbags fetching prices rivalling those of cars and women accumulating entire wardrobes of must-have purses, shoes are stepping into the limelight as the new coveted accessory.

But not just any ordinary pump will do. Footwear design has taken on bold architectural shapes with surreal, fantastical and sometimes downright bizarre heels.

“No one wants a basic black pump any more,” says Barbara Atkin, vice-president of fashion direction at Holt Renfrew. “People are gravitating to heel art.”

And some of the most spectacular heels that came down the runways for spring look exactly like that — an object of art.

Miuccia Prada sent out a sensuous velvet shoe with an art nouveau-influenced floral stalk as a heel, the perfect accompaniment to the erotic pixies featured in the prints on her clothing.

Architectural marvels were noticeable at Marni, where platforms had the sharp edges of a skyscraper, and at Jil Sander the nail-thin heel was held in place by a criss-cross of lattice resembling scaffolding.

Fendi’s heel was a metal cage that encased what appeared to be a glass column.

But the pump reached the height of perversity at Marc Jacobs. He went the surrealist route and showed a high-heel shoe with the heel missing, leaving the shoe seemingly suspended in mid-air, with the heel protruding horizontally from the toes.

“Surrealism is about looking at something in a new and different way,” says Atkin. “And fashion is about fantasy. It’s taking everyday things and twisting it up and bring it back in a new way. It’s all about escape.”

When it comes to the complex relationship between a woman and her shoes, part of that escapist fantasy probably started in childhood.

“It’s a Cinderella complex. Subconsciously, as little girls reading fairy tales, the symbolism is there,” Atkin says. “We are fascinated by that glass slipper left behind. It can only fit one person and it’s fit for a queen.”

A visit to Toronto, Ont.’s Bata Shoe Museum shows surreal-looking shoes are not exactly a new invention.

"Extremes of fashion for the sake of fashion in footwear is nothing new. It's been around quite awhile," says museum curator Elizabeth Semmelhack. She cites examples like the extended pointed-toe footwear of the Middle Ages and the towering chopines worn by Venetian women in the 16th century.

Even that flower heel Prada shoe referenced 1970s Italian shoe designer Andrea Pfister, whose designs had shoes perched on heels in the shape of vegetables.

And the platform, another extreme footwear trend, curiously was in fashion throughout World War II, came back during the Vietnam War and is popular again today, as conflicts rage in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It is possible when things become so dire that fashion can answer by going completely capricious — the same way cinema became so important during the Great Depression," Semmelhack notes.

 
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