Feet march to the forefront of design as shoes are elevated to a fanciful art form
Unless you are sitting in the front row of a fashion show, what goes on below the models' knees is a mystery.
Just ask the Canadian fashion editors seated in the seventh (or 12th!) rows in New York, Paris and Milan.
We give our quads a workout by lunging up and down to peer over our colleagues' heads.
More often than not, we don't learn about designers' footwear until the following day when we can study the photos on style.com, just like everyone else.
We should all be investing in periscopes, because what designers are puting on the models' feet is more important than ever.
And more outlandish.
Among the curiosities on the fall 2007 runways: Balenciaga's Lego/robot shoes, Chloe's curved cone heels, and Stella McCartney's tilted platforms that angle the toes towards the sky.
Spring offerings are even more theatrical with Prada heels that look like floral doorstops. Marc Jacobs' surreal runway styles included some where the models' heels rested above the shoes.
The current selection at Holt Renfrew Bloor St. bears out the trend, with "hidden" platforms cloaked in green leather and heels that look like shiny black popsicles, or sawed-off coffee table legs.
No wonder the new shoe department at Saks Fifth Avenue's New York flagship store has its own zip code.
"Footwear seems to be where it's at when it comes to the forefront of design," comments Tommy Ton, a photographer who documents street fashion in Toronto and abroad. After the recent spring '08 collections in Europe and New York, Ton believes that the excitement in fashion has shifted to ground level.
"Footwear has always been an art form but designers are really pushing the envelope and treating it like art," Ton says. "They're giving women something more visually stimulating and challenging to sink their teeth and pocketbooks into. Fabrications and ornamentation are becoming more elaborate and eccentric."
"At the Dior store in Paris, some of the shoes are like works of art," says Debra Anissimoff, owner of two Zola Shoes stores in Toronto. "They are embellished, and strapped, and so over the top, with heels like a series of red lacquer balls."
The more cutting-edge styles are presented in a separate gallery-like environment that enhances the wow factor. "Seeing those shoes on the shelves – you could have been looking at a glass vase," Anissimoff says.
Of particular note to Ton this runway season was the stunning, and occasionally comical, footwear worn by fashionistas on their way into the shows.
Among them was Camille Miceli, Louis Vuitton's jewellery designer, striding into Balenciaga wearing the "Lego" shoes, that retail for $4,175 (U.S.) at Neiman Marcus.
"Women are more than willing to step foot into eccentric designs and pay whatever price," Ton says. "I feel that's fuelling the creativity of designers."
Demand from more daring markets than Canada might also be driving the trend.
"I've been in showrooms in Europe when the buyers from Dubai are there and there are no limits to what they choose," Anissimoff says. "They have no budget and there is nothing too extreme. They'll take the wildest things. But then look at their architecture. It makes sense that a market that is extreme in other ways will be extreme in fashion, too."
Toronto is a different story.
"We buy small amounts as window dressing, but that's not what pays your rent," comments Faye Markowitz, of Davids, whose designer selection includes Marc Jacobs, Chloe, Valentino and Sonia Rykiel.
Markowitz didn't order the Jacobs' spring pumps with heels that look like they've tipped on their sides.
But she is expecting delivery of a Christian Louboutin sandal that has a triangular slice cut from the back of the cork wedge heel.
"Handbags are a phenomenon and shoes are, too," Markowitz says. "We used to say, `How will we sell a boot for $1,600?' But we aren't fearful anymore."
Adds Ton: "You have to ask yourself how high will prices and heels rise? How much further can we go?"