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The biggest style shock at the Miu Miu show last March wasn’t on the catwalk, but the moment when Emmanuelle Alt of French Vogue and Carine Roitfeld of CR Fashion Book entered at the Palais d’ Iéna wearing – gasp – mid-height heels. Given that these two editors have made towering heels part of their signature look, their embrace of shoes in the modest 2in to 3½in range signalled the start of a new era. Farewell skyscraper stilettos, hello grounded midi-heels.
“There was definitely a visual sense of power in the highest heel a woman could wear before, but not everyone could pull that off,” says Hong Kong-based Kim Bui Kollar, group creative head of On Pedder, Asia’s leading designer shoe retailer. “The ubiquitous 4in or platform heel makes a lower heel a choice that speaks of confidence stylistically. Let the masses think that an ultra-high heel is the definition of sexy – I would rather enter the exclusive circle of chic women who know otherwise.”
The reprisal of the midi reflects the power that “real” women (as opposed to fashion pin-ups) are exerting over fashion: demanding comfort and subtlety in their wardrobes.
“Over the past few seasons we’ve noticed a move away from the skyscraper and a return to a lower heel height,” says Ruth Chapman, owner of London boutique Matches; “specifically brands like Gianvito Rossi who offer midi-heels in great colours, but also at Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen, who offer cool, sexy styles.
“Not only is this a positive from a comfort point of view, for me travelling in different cities and running between meetings, there is a practicality involved, but it also works well with this season’s midi-skirt. Editors are wearing a lower heel or a flat in the front rows and many more designers are showing similar footwear on the catwalk. Isabel Marant, Alexander Wang, Lucy Choi and Nicholas Kirkwood also offer really interesting shoes with a lower heel.”
With Saint Laurent’s lips-printed pumps and booties, Kirkwood’s block-heeled city sandals and Gucci’s bamboo-effect square-heeled design, the midi-heel is proving understandably popular among professional women.
“I ignored wedges; anything dangerous over 5in (I think they look ugly anyway); block soles (so unflattering); especially built-up trainers, even though Isabel Marant invented them,” says Juliet Soskice, a London-based psychotherapist.
Soskice’s shoe staples include Acne’s zipped ankle boots, Roger Vivier’s sturdy square-heeled Belle du Jour pump and four pairs of LK Bennett midi-heels in nude, black, pale pink and snakeskin. “I don’t want anything that detracts from what is going on with my patient. And I’ve never understood why you would wear shoes you can’t walk in,” she says.
The midi-heel is finding favour in art and design circles too. Daisy Hoppen, who runs a London-based PR firm, made a beeline for Zara’s pastel design with a bow fastening. “I have a large number of summer weddings this year,” she says, “and needed a great shoe I could walk in for 12 hours and clash in an interesting way with my wedding outfits.”
Hoppen is not alone, she says, in preferring “dainty” heels to more sensational ones: “I have a number of friends in fashion and art PR and publishing who are increasingly wearing a low heel. Thin or thick, with a great pair of trousers, jeans or skirts. Many keep a pair of kitten heels under their desk at work.”
While lower heels are more comfortable, not everyone will embrace the kitten: the bonsai heel shape that resembles a champagne glass. The toast of late 1990s fashion, it became the go-to footwear for city professionals, even though its proportions made big calves and ankles appear bigger – but subsequently became dated and associated with Sloane Rangers.
However, Valentino successfully reprised the style last year in its Rockstud collection, adding multi-studded straps and a pointy toe. “Valentino brought it back with desire – as opposed to feeling that a midi-heel shoe was for a librarian,” says Sarah Rutson, fashion director at Hong Kong fashion and lifestyle store Lane Crawford.
Arguably, the more flattering styles are heels that extend from the very back of the shoe or square heels that give you a subtle lift. The latter can be found everywhere from Zara to Chloë and Sergio Rossi. And the appetite for midis has led Charlotte Olympia to devise a new work shoe line in comfortable heel heights, called the “9 till 5 Collection”, which will be launched in June. It gives new meaning to the high-low mix.