We’re call­ing it: The stiletto is dead.

Is fash­ion walk­ing away from the stiletto? BY LIZ GU­BER

ELLE (Canada) - - Insider - By Liz Gu­ber

THERE’S A SCENE IN THE 1984 trea­sure-hunt flick Ro­manc­ing the Stone in which Michael Douglas, who plays a rough-and-tum­ble ad­ven­turer, and Kath­leen Turner, an out-of-her-el­e­ment ro­mance nov­el­ist search­ing for her kid­napped sis­ter, are run­ning through the Colom­bian jun­gle. Douglas takes Turner’s mud-cov­ered taupe pumps and chops off the heels with a ma­chete. “Th­ese were Ital­ian,” says Turner as she holds up her new flats. “Now they’re prac­ti­cal,” coun­ters Douglas. I’ve loved this ex­change since child­hood, but lately it has made me won­der: Are we putting our own heels on the prover­bial chop­ping block? My taste in shoes has cer­tainly evolved over the past year. I no longer con­sider my pair of gilded five-inch Ni­cholas Kirk­woods my most prized shoe pos­ses­sion. In­stead I’m dream­ing of a pair of quirky shoes by Korean de­sign house Yuul Yie, whose in­vert­ed­block-heel de­signs are far from ver­tig­i­nous. The Holy Heel Trin­ity—Blah­nik, Choo and Louboutin—once oc­cu­pied footwear’s most de­sir­able tier with their ex­trav­a­gant de­signs. Now, new brands like Gray Mat­ters, Maryan Nas­sir Zadeh and Mansur Gavriel are shak­ing up the mar­ket with their min­i­mal, low-to-the-ground styles. In The Devil Wears Prada, Anne Hath­away’s trans­for­ma­tion from mousy out­sider to chic pro­tege be­gins the mo­ment she ac­cepts a pair of sky-high Jimmy Choos. To­day, her char­ac­ter might opt for Gucci’s back­less loafers, which were the sec­ond-most-sought-af­ter item on fash­ion search en­gine Lyst in 2016. (The first? Sneak­ers.) And at the last cock­tail party I at­tended, I spot­ted a woman in flat stud­ded Alexan­der Wang slides. She looked con­fi­dent, sure-footed and hardly un­der­dressed.

Sid­ney Morgan-Petro, a re­tail edi­tor at trend fore­cast­ing firm World Global Style Network, con­firms my hunch: “Look­ing as far ahead as 2019, high heels are not part of the main fash­ion story.” Morgan-Petro cred­its ev­ery­thing from the dom­i­nance of ath­leisure to the con­tin­ued in­flu­ence of the ’80s—an era of kit­ten heels and sturdy pumps—with the stiletto’s de­cline. Still, she pre­dicts that high heels will con­tinue to have a place in oc­ca­sion­wear. “Ev­ery­day life has be­come so ca­sual that the fo­cus on get­ting dressed up with a heel will ac­tu­ally in­crease,” she says. How­ever, prac­ti­cal­ity will rule—for day and night. “The heel trends we’re see­ing are much more com­fort fo­cused,” she says, point­ing out Gucci’s ball­room-dance-in­spired shoes from the Re­sort 2018 col­lec­tion. (The shoes’ pur­pose is to be danced in, mak­ing func­tion and flex­i­bil­ity key.) Morgan-Petro also con­sid­ers the in­flu­ence the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate has had on our shoe choices. “The fresh wave of fem­i­nism has been re­ally im­pact­ful on re­tail,” she says. “The ero­sion of gen­der stereo­types, see­ing ‘The Fu­ture Is Fe­male’ on a shirt—that’s go­ing to make it hard for the stiletto to re-en­ter the mar­ket­place.” Af­ter all, who wants to march in Mano­los?

It’s not the first time ditch­ing heels has been a metaphor for lib­er­a­tion. Ac­cord­ing to El­iz­a­beth Sem­mel­hack, his­to­rian and se­nior cu­ra­tor at the Bata Shoe Mu­seum in Toronto, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween heels and tra­di­tional no­tions of fem­i­nin­ity dates back to the 17th cen­tury, when dain­ti­ness was a woman’s great­est as­set. Im­prac­ti­cal shoes are so tied to the male gaze that the ear­li­est ex­am­ples of erot­ica from the 1850s de­picted women dressed in noth­ing

but—you guessed it—heels. “The heel be­came a sig­nal of de­sir­abil­ity, sex­ual ma­nip­u­la­tion and ir­ra­tional­ity—so much so that it was largely aban­doned in the late 19th cen­tury, when women be­gan de­mand­ing the right to vote,” ar­gues Sem­mel­hack.

Fash­ion is noth­ing if not cycli­cal. Skip ahead about a hun­dred years and Chris­tian Louboutin in­tro­duced his now-iconic “Pi­galle” pump—an ir­ra­tional shoe if ever there was one. The blade-thin high heel mea­sures at just un­der five inches and of­fers glossy red-soled glam­our at the price of foot-numb­ing pain. (The shoe’s toe box is made ex­tra­nar­row for the ap­pear­ance of an ul­tra-high arch.) Mon­sieur Louboutin was well aware of this trade-off. In 2011, he told The New Yorker that he hated the word “comfy.” Ouch.

It took Cé­line’s Phoebe Philo to get us to come down from those per­ilous heights. Philo rocked the fash­ion world when she in­tro­duced the in­fa­mous furry Birken­stocks on the spring/sum­mer 2013 run­way. The fluffy, flat shoes were widely de­rided by the pub­lic when they first walked at Paris Fash­ion Week. Now, pairs sim­i­lar to the “furken­stocks” are ev­ery­where, from in­die shoe brand Brother Vel­lies to Ri­hanna’s sold­out Fenty Puma slides.

Philo also in­flu­enced our shoe choices with her own style. When the de­signer took a run­way bow in pris­tine Stan Smiths in 2011, she caused a col­lec­tive sneaker fever. Even Vic­to­ria Beck­ham, whose love of tow­er­ing footwear is as well doc­u­mented as her aver­sion to smil­ing, traded in her plat­form Louboutins for white kicks, telling The Tele­graph in 2016, “I just can’t do heels any­more.”

Other de­sign­ers have fol­lowed in Philo’s steps. “The fact that heels hurt was never taken se­ri­ously,” says model and shoe de­signer Mari Gi­u­di­celli, whose line of retro-cool mules barely rise above an inch. “My rou­tine in­volves a lot of walk­ing, sub­ways and bike rides, so heels don’t make sense to me,” she says, ad­ding that some­times she even sac­ri­fices her de­signs for the sake of com­fort. Gi­u­di­celli’s ethos is sim­i­lar to fel­low New York de­signer Rachel Comey, whose shoes are meant to help women “run around the city with­out fall­ing through the cracks.”

But not ev­ery woman finds flat shoes em­pow­er­ing. Dolly Singh, who spent six years as the head of re­cruit­ing at Elon Musk’s rocket-ship com­pany SpaceX, loves how pow­er­ful stilet­tos make her feel. “When I walk into a meet­ing, I feel more in charge,” she says. “I draw en­ergy from my shoes, and that’s go­ing to dic­tate how the meet­ing goes.” Three years ago, Singh tapped into her network of top engi­neers to de­velop a truly com­fort­able high heel. The re­sult is The­sis Cou­ture, a la­bel that com­bines Ital­ian-made lux­ury with Sil­i­con Val­ley science and uses the prin­ci­ples be­hind pros­thetic-limb de­sign and aero­space en­gi­neer­ing. “We’re con­di­tioned to be­lieve that beauty is go­ing to hurt us; I think peo­ple are start­ing to see through that fa­cade,” says Singh, who is pro­duc­ing her line in lim­ited runs as she builds the brand and pushes for in­no­va­tion. Singh plans to sell the first gen­er­a­tion of the soon-tobe-patented de­sign to lux­ury footwear brands. “Tech­nol­ogy has im­pacted ev­ery in­dus­try on the face of the planet, and fash­ion has been re­ally far be­hind,” she muses, “but there will al­ways be a place for the spiky stiletto.”

Time will ul­ti­mately tell us whether we’re liv­ing through a fun­da­men­tal shift in footwear trends or if we’re sim­ply at one end of fash­ion’s swing­ing pen­du­lum. What mat­ters is this: If we do aban­don our stilet­tos for good, un­like Kath­leen Turner’s un­lucky heroine, it will be by choice. n

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