FLATS REACH NEW HEIGHTS

Ditch those wickedly high, ut­terly un­wear­able heels for a shoe that’s more sen­si­ble – but still stylish. After all, even Chanel, Jimmy Choo and Manolo Blah­nik have em­braced this most wel­come of trends, says Emma Bartley

The National - News - Luxury - - SHOES -

When Vic­to­ria Beck­ham un­veiled her first shoe col­lec­tion at New York Fash­ion Week last month, we thought we knew what to ex­pect. The de­signer for­merly known as Posh Spice is fa­mous for hav­ing plat­form stilet­tos seem­ingly glued to her feet, be it for a shop­ping trip or a school sports day. Yet her most talked-about footwear cre­ations for spring/ sum­mer 2015, adorned with leopard print or pink ap­pliqué flow­ers, were Western-style, pointed … flats.

High heels have been los­ing their dom­i­nance of high fash­ion for a while, with smoking slip­pers, brogues, train­ers and flatforms all en­joy­ing mo­ments in the spot­light in re­cent years. But things have reached a peak in 2014, with lux­u­ri­ous flats front and cen­tre in the footwear col­lec­tions of Ar­mani (pearl-en­crusted Mary Janes), Saint Lau­rent (glossy lace-ups), Proenza Schouler (strik­ing criss-cross loafers) and Dolce & Gab­bana (jewelled slip­pers in lace, vel­vet or bro­cade), as well as Mrs Beck­ham’s lat­est.

Some be­lieve that the trend has come about be­cause it suits the looser, more an­drog­y­nous sil­hou­ette cur­rently seen on the cat­walks. For oth­ers, it is an eco­nomic phe­nom­e­non – heels reached a 20-cen­time­tre peak at the time of the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis, this the­ory goes, and, like the mar­kets, have since been forced down to a more sen­si­ble level. For Han­nah Rochell, a fash­ion ed­i­tor and the au­thor of En Brogue: Love Fash­ion. Love

Shoes. Hate Heels, the truth is a lit­tle of both. “Fash­ion al­ways gets to a point where it wants the com­plete op­po­site of what has gone be­fore,” she says. “I think there was a nat­u­ral tip­ping point, when heels got so ridicu­lously high that they were gen­uinely dif­fi­cult to walk in. Women love how they look stand­ing still in heels, but it’s prob­a­bly quite a small per­cent­age of us who feel good in them.”

For a time in the early 2000s, it seemed as if bal­let pumps were the an­swer to women’s prayers. Pop­u­larised by Kate Moss, who wore them with skinny jeans on the school run, they be­came the decade’s most popular street-style trend – so popular that they started to be mass-pro­duced and sold on plas­tic hang­ers, stacked up on rails. Nei­ther flat­ter­ing nor aspi­ra­tional, they were stu­diously avoided by lux­ury fash­ion houses.

‘Lux­ury de­tails such as pony skin,

em­bel­lish­ments or stones look much bet­ter on a

flat shoe. Look at the printed flats at Er­dem, or Dolce & Gab­bana, which were made out of

vel­vet with gem­stones on them’

– Han­nah Rochell

But there was still a de­mand for com­fort­able shoes. The ac­tress Emma Thomp­son ar­tic­u­lated the point at last year’s Golden Globe awards, when she walked on­stage bare­foot, telling the au­di­ence: “I’ve taken my heels off as a fem­i­nist state­ment, be­cause why do we wear them? They’re so painful. And point­less, re­ally.” Any­one who has owned a pair of Louboutins, looked at the red-soled heels in her hand and un­der­stood im­me­di­ately: while flat­ter­ing, the shoes are no­to­ri­ously painful. In­deed, Christian Louboutin once told an in­ter­viewer that it is “not my job to cre­ate some­thing com­fort­able”.

Grad­u­ally, how­ever, the fash­ion world started to lis­ten to its cus­tomers, ex­per­i­ment­ing with brogues, smoking slip­pers and even slide shoes. It helped when Phoebe Philo, Cé­line’s cre­ative di­rec­tor, de­vel­oped a habit of tak­ing her post-show bow wear­ing train­ers. Rather than scruffy, the hugely in­flu­en­tial Philo looked cool and con­fi­dent – and soon enough Karl Lager­feld was send­ing his mod­els down Chanel’s au­tumn/win­ter 2014 run­ways in cou­ture train­ers, while Dior’s se­quin flower-em­broi­dered sneak­ers made head­lines in style ti­tles around the world.

And it’s not just cou­ture houses: shoe la­bels that were built on sky­scraper heels have also em­braced the flat craze. In re­cent years Manolo Blah­nik has cre­ated ev­ery­thing from a manly, buck­led “monk” style for Beck­ham’s spring/sum­mer 2013 show to a flat ver­sion of the jewel-coloured, gem-adorned Hangisi style that played a star­ring role in the first Sex and the

City movie. Jimmy Choo’s cre­ative di­rec­tor, San­dra Choi, has put flats firmly at the cen­tre of her de­sign strat­egy, say­ing: “A flat is such a ba­sic for the mod­ern woman. We’re run­ning around so much but we still want to look great – a flat is es­sen­tial.” Even Louboutin has made a lit­eral and fig­u­ra­tive come­down on com­fort­able shoes, adding a few pairs of brogues to his col­lec­tion over the past few sea­sons, us­ing glitter or python skin to add glam­our.

“I think all de­sign­ers have taken no­tice of the flat­shoe trend and un­der­stand how im­por­tant it is to have an of­fer­ing in their col­lec­tion,” says Jessica Craw­ley, who, as a buyer for Bloom­ing­dale’s, is re­spon­si­ble for stock­ing one of the UAE’s largest shoe de­part­ments. “We have al­ways had a strong business with flats from brands such as Pe­dro Gar­cia, Giuseppe Zan­otti, Le Silla, Stella McCart­ney and any­thing with a bit of bling. Lately, we have also seen an edgier cus­tomer emerg­ing who is buy­ing more footbed san­dals, which have been a dom­i­nant shoe on the run­ways, from brands such as Givenchy, Is­abel Marant, Alexan­der Wang and Marni.”

But the trend isn’t all about prac­ti­cal­ity. For Rochell, whose cof­fee-ta­ble book fea­tures photographs and il­lus­tra­tions of some of fash­ion’s most orig­i­nal flats, high heels too o en be­come the only point of in­ter­est in a pair of shoes – think of the dull nude stilet­tos so favoured by the Duchess of Cam­bridge. “Lux­ury de­tails such as pony skin, em­bel­lish­ments or stones look much bet­ter on a flat shoe,” Rochell ex­plains. “Look at the printed flats at Er­dem, or Dolce & Gab­bana, which were made out of vel­vet with gem­stones on them. If they’d had heels they would have looked hor­ri­ble, but be­cause they’re flat you can get away with a lot more bling and lux­ury.”

The de­signer Giuseppe Zan­otti, who sells his popular, glit­ter­ing shoes via bou­tiques in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, as well as Bloom­ing­dale’s, be­lieves that this glam­orous ap­proach to flats will make them par­tic­u­larly ap­peal­ing to shop­pers in the UAE. “Flats are gain­ing ground on high heels,” he says. “Some time ago, only 11 per cent of our shoes were flat, but the pro­por­tion is now about 40 per cent. They are very com­fort­able for hot weather, rem­i­nis­cent of the 1960s, and prac­ti­cally time­less.”

Re­ports that heels are dead are greatly ex­ag­ger­ated, of course: while Beck­ham has been in­creas­ingly spot­ted in flats such as the YSL mono­chrome laceups, she still took her bow in New York wear­ing her favourite Manolo Blah­nik stilet­tos. But with so many mod­ern, beau­ti­ful flats around, tot­ter­ing about on heels is be­gin­ning to look anachro­nis­tic.

“Will heels go back up?” muses Rochell. “Prob­a­bly, at some point – but I don’t know if it will ever get that ridicu­lous again. I won­der if women will look back in 20 years’ time at how high heels got and say, ‘Can you be­lieve it?’”

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