If shoes are the symbol of resistance, let’s call time on the stiletto
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
On Sunday afternoon Nicholas Kirkwood, the LVMH-owned shoe designer, staged a debut show. It was a fully immersive affair. To set off his collection, he had imagined a future dystopia in which a tribe of resistance fighters, the “NK19”, were trying to take down a dictatorship that promoted joyless “basic beige”. Sometimes they danced. Sometimes they tapped at computer screens. They wore futuristic shoes — bubble-wrap stilettos, puffa mules, foil-wrapped “stealth” sneakers and plasticky thigh boots with neon block heels. Rose McGowan, the shaven-headed actress and outspoken leader of the #MeToo movement, opened the show, and the cast was fully inclusive.
As a bit of brand messaging, Kirkwood’s show was more explicitly linked with ideas of female empowerment than most, although “Woman Up” badges and girl power slogans have been popping up all week.
It’s good that the industry is on side with the feminist agenda. But, for pity’s sake, at least let us walk.
One would assume that, for any brand wanting to promote an interest in emancipation — and granted not all of them do — mobility is key. But while many of the shoes at Kirkwood were fairly athletic, others were utterly impractical. And he wasn’t alone. Roland Mouret’s models wore feminist badges on their lapels, but the message was lost on anyone watching them staggering around the South Bank in pin-thin heels.
At Halpern, two girls were forced to take off their shoes, so impossible were they to walk in. The savage heels at Mary Katrantzou’s 10th anniversary show forced their wearers to master an insectlike scuttle in order to move at all. For a season in which the themes are power and womanhood, this doesn’t look “strong”.
Granted, there is still a huge market for heels. Lauren Santo Domingo, the founder of Moda Operandi, an online luxury retailer that trades especially well with the ladies who limo, says demand remains sky-high: “Where you may see women in Europe in a simple sneaker and blazer, the trainer trend has yet to hit the US.” She attributes America’s love of heels to the driving culture, and the fact that working codes are quite conservative. In a US office, she says, women put on a heel.
Of course I respect a woman’s right to wear whatever she wants. Nevertheless, the culture of footwear is shifting. For many, the tipping point came when Melania Trump flew down to survey the hurricane damage wreaked by Harvey while wearing towering black Manolos. Seeing her set out to do public service in such insanely vertiginous shoes seemed more than a touch Marie Antoinette-ish. To wear a heel looks out of touch. And screams of privilege.
The more intuitive designers understand this. Jonathan Anderson caught the point precisely when he described fashion right now as meaning “fluidity — and movement.” His sneakers and low-heeled boots were made for life in the fast lane.
Victoria Beckham, a woman who will forever be associated with stilettos, now offers classic heels alongside soft leather slippers. Margaret Howell, ever sensible, always stylish, showed utilitarian plimsolls, sneakers and espadrilles. All flat.
And Simone Rocha tempered her charming 18th-century inspired collection of red lace, veiled hats and brocade dresses with feathery slides and crystal slippers. They weren’t altogether practical, but they looked hellish comfortable.
With a flatter shoe, even the most feminine ensembles look more modern. Nicholas Kirkwood offered all heights. And some were more useful than others. But his message about individuality and revolutionary defiance slightly faltered when it was dressed in a puffa heel with neon tube adornments. Bring on the revolution by all means. But don’t fall over in the process.