Here’s a riddle: what do 51-year-old Sotheby’s Europe chairman Melanie Clore, 40-year-old film director Sofia Coppola, and 28-year-old “It girl” Alexa Chung all have in common?
Stumped? All are early adopters of the latest trend in footwear. Not an ever-more towering platform but rather its opposite: the slipper. Specifically, the smoking slipper.
More substantial than a ballet pump, but not as mannish or everyday as a loafer, the smoking slipper is a smart year-round shoe that adds a luxurious day-to-night footnote to an everyday ensemble of jacket, T-shirt and cigarette pants. Worn with or without socks and plain, patterned or monogrammed, the style is, says one stylish executive who wears the much-coveted version by Céline, “one of the few pieces that genuinely takes you from day to night”.
“It takes a woman who is quite secure in her own look to pull them off, as it’s a very sophisticated aesthetic,” says Helen Attwood, buying manager for shoes at Selfridges, adding that the style appeals to multi-tasking women in their thirties and forties who want a stylish shoe without a high heel. Indeed, Attwood says she has seen the smoking slipper grow in popularity, whether it be by Jimmy Choo, Alexander McQueen or Marc Jacobs. There is a wide selection of printed finishes on the dainty versions by Charles Philip Shanghai; and smoking slippers fashioned in colourful linen embroidered with a crown grace the window of Church’s Paris flagship store. Louis Vuitton, meanwhile, has an eyecatching £500 leopard print version flaunting a bow.
Reportedly favoured by Queen Victoria’s consort, the shoe style was originally named the “Albert slipper”. Manolo Blahnik, who has revived men’s and women’s versions in black velvet, remembers that in the 1980s he made them “in vivid colours, sold them at Bloomingdale’s and they became a favourite of American society women such as Mrs Kennedy and Mrs Kempner”. Stubbs & Wootton, founded by Percy Steinhart in 1993, is among the go-to places for the style stateside, while Steinhart still has stores in New York and Palm Beach that offer every smoking slipper style imaginable.
In Britain, Penelope Chilvers has been developing what she’s called her “Dandy Slipper” (from £245) since 2010. “They’re perfect for that masculine detox look,” says the Notting Hill-based designer whose Spanish-made slippers come in a variety of materials including suede, python, velvet and wool that’s been worked to look like kilim fabric.
Pointedly, even designers better known for towering heels such as Tabitha Simmons, Nicholas Kirkwood and Charlotte Olympia consider this slipper shape the latest winning flat. Nicholas Kirkwood says the style is an “upgraded ballerina” and has developed an eye-catching version in tangerine-coloured lace or turquoise suede. Tabitha Simmons started out with a black ponyskin style called “Cybil” and has been updating it each season, while Charlotte Olympia, who launched her whimsical Kitty flat (£485), complete with a cat’s face embroidered in gold, will bring out a spiderweb design next.
According to Kurt Geiger’s head of luxury, Scott Tepper, “next season smoking slippers appear in a fantastic variety of materials from patent, velvets and laces to brocades, as well as satins in rich jewel tones that perfectly mirror ready-to-wear,” . In other words, this trend has legs.