Surrealism may be in the air, thanks to the revival of the house of Schiaparelli, which opens its historic doors on Place Vendôme for the first time in decades this weekend, just ahead of couture week in Paris. But it is experiencing something of a revival on the ground, too. Forget the stiletto, the wedge or the stacked heel: this season’s shoes are supported by dancing figurines, upturned lipstick tubes and even butterfly wings. There is fun to be had blurring the lines between art and fashion. Look down, and you never know what you will see.
“There is definitely something exciting in the ‘collectables’ that footwear designers are offering this season,” says Pam Brady, accessories buyer at Browns, the London-based fashion boutique. “Designers are offering the customer something of worth, which is collectable, significant and most certainly a talking point for the wearer and those in proximity.”
Italy’s Alberto Guardiani, for example, offers the Lipstick Heel (£311): an upturned lipstick on a simple black pump. “It is from the heel that the last, the shoe’s shape, is made but it is also from the heel that the shoe’s magic blossoms in a way that only a woman’s shoe can,” says the designer, who will add the Flutterby design to his line for autumn/winter. These red suede pumps with sculpted butterfly heels were designed by 28-year-old advertising creative Lady San Pedro, and first came to light following a competition staged by Guardiani and i-D, the British style magazine, last year.
Maison Martin Margiela has printed the shape of a skinny stiletto into the centre of a wedge (£490), while at Casadei, the head of the family-run shoe business, Cesare Casadei, says the Italian artist Lucio Fontana provided the spark for platform cut-outs (from around £700): “The work of Fontana was very inspiring for its three-dimensionality, the clean and precise lines and its relation between static form and movement.”
London-based designer Nicholas Kirkwood also found inspiration in the art world, paying tribute to Keith Haring on the 20th anniversary of his death via 10 one-off pieces featuring signature characters and seldom-used artwork from the Haring catalogue, such as a cut-out dancing figurine on an ice-blue coloured pump (£2,440).
Even Miuccia Prada, currently paired with Schiaparelli at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s costume institute show, offers a group of stiletto patent heels that replicate the shape of headlamps on 1950s cars (£890), while sling-backs and wedges feature leather flames shooting from their heels. Wear them or put them on the wall; either way, they make a statement.
The power of the shoe sole has been much in the news lately, thanks to Christian Louboutin’s aggressive protection of his trademark red versions, writes Kitty Go. Perhaps, then, it was only a matter of time before another shoe maestro decided to up the ante. Enter Rupert Sanderson, who has introduced 23.75 carat gold-leaf signature heels – albeit exclusively in Hong Kong.
“Competition is so fierce, with so many brands doing a lot of treatments, like crystals and feathers, that understated elegance is overlooked,” says Bertrand Mak, Sanderson’s partner in Asia, who denies the gold heels are simply an attention-getting gimmick.
“If you have a court shoe with no symbol, nor a recognisable buckle, no red sole, you have nothing that will get you recognised as paying £500 for a pair of shoes,” he continues. “I wanted to make something recognisable but still true to our brand philosophy and values. [The gold heel] is sort of a signature but it also makes you focus on the product and the simplicity and elegance of the styles, which are so often overlooked.”
The gold heels were inspired by Sanderson’s popular shoe, the Hera, an open-toed pump supported by a contrasting wedge covered in fake gold leaf. This made Mak, a former Christie’s watch specialist, dream of a shoe using the Hong Kong last (the Winona court with an Asian fit, introduced last year) with heels in real gold leaf. “But the purer the gold, the more fragile it is,” he says. It took about a year and a half of research and development to perfect.
Gold leafing is a specialised and painstaking process that involves smoothing the surface, lacquer and layers of leaf, and then applying several gold “sheets”, which are in turn dried and polished. Gilding the heel alone takes about 20 hours (a regular Sanderson shoe already involves 120 individual procedures) but the result feels smooth, it looks textured and is hard to imitate. “We can always do flat and reflective,” says Mak, “But that would be like having no personality.”
Approximately a dozen styles from Sanderson’s main line have been given the gold heels. The shoes (blue courts, £430) which sell for about 10-15 per cent more than the main collection, have become so coveted that one customer walked out with a dozen pairs for herself.
And diamonds on her toes …
It takes a lot to equal a shoe adorned with gold leaf, or a lipstick instead of a heel, but by encrusting the A Queen Forever heels with 3,503 diamonds, designer Bruno Frisoni at Roger Vivier has done it, writes Carola Long. Created in collaboration with the East India Company for the diamond exhibition Brilliant (curated by Vogue jewellery editor Carol Woolton as part of the Masterpiece London art and design fair), the shoes are also for sale: price on application, but somewhere in the region of $500,000.
The sandal harks back to the originals that Roger Vivier designed for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953. Frisoni says his inspiration for the motif was “something that looked like a fleur de lys, but wasn’t”. The swirled shape on the original shoe, which was inlaid with rubies, echoed the fleur de lys on crown jewels worn by the Queen at the coronation.
Now, however, the shoe would probably be more suited to Boujis nightclub, frequented by younger members of the royal family, than a state occasion. Frisoni says: “I wanted the wearer to be on the dancefloor, so I bumped up the height and added a discreet platform and a thinner heel.”
The level of detail involved in the shoe’s creation was on a par with couture: it took 17 people two weeks to cast the jewellery, seven people 10 days to set the diamonds, and 38 hours to embroider the diamonds using silk thread. The stones were provided by the East India Company, which presented the Koh-i-Noor diamond to Queen Victoria.
Sanjiv Mehta, East India chief executive, says: “Our intention is to sell the shoe and to receive further commissions. These are in the Queen’s size at her coronation, 37, so we need to find a lady with that size.” Cinderella, eat your heart out.
Masterpiece London, until July 4, www.masterpiecefair.com