November 2008

The Fate of Fashion

image of 1920s and Christian Louboutin shoes
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The Fate of Fashion
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One of my favourite designers of all time, Coco Chanel, once said that "fashion is made to become unfashionable" but in the world of shoe design there are some truly classic designs that are long-lasting in their appeal. This is well illustrated by the two pairs of shoes that were chosen for November's "Shoe of the Month".

The first pair of shoes (1) we'll look at were worn in the mid-1920s in England. While we're not sure of the maker, we can be sure that the wearer was a stylish young woman of reasonable means. This can be deduced because the shoes give a fashionable nod to the new trend of Art Deco styling but they're not extreme or avante-garde. They are beautifully made from high quality bronzed leather that would have been high-end but still affordable and available to the middle class.

The most innovative feature is the instep strap which was introduced to women's day and evening shoes in the 1920s. It has been theorized that the instep strap was a practical way to keep heeled shoes firmly on women's stocking covered feet when dancing in jazz clubs at night, which was an increasingly suitable activity for young women. A less romantic theory is that the instep strap would be just as useful while they were out walking, or perhaps in the workplace. This practical innovation speaks to all the new opportunities that were opening for women in the 1920s. In addition to the strap, the sensible and stable two-inch heels are high enough to enhance the wearer's femininity but not so high as to negatively affect a woman's ability to move gracefully.

Architecture and fashion have mutually influenced each other since the time of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. These shoes continue this legacy as they illustrate the beauty of Art Deco design and its commitment to modern geometric shapes. The scalloped forms across the toes and the chevrons along the sides of the foot share lines with the impressive and ultramodern skyscrapers that were beginning to soar skyward in fashionable urban centres in which these shoes were surely worn.

The second pair of shoes to be considered this month is a contemporary style designed by famed Parisian shoe designer Christian Louboutin. (2) Designed for his 2007 line, it is called "Cathedral Mary Jane" and hints at the architectural influence of Art Deco now cleverly restyled for a 21st century aesthetic. Mr. Louboutin came to the Bata Shoe Museum in 2005 as we celebrated our tenth anniversary and it was on this visit to our large storage rooms that he saw the previous pair among many others. Taking inspiration from our international collection, he reinterpreted the shoes to create a modern fashion statement.

From his choice of metalicized leathers to his trademark red soles, these shoes with towering heels capture the essence of the shoes he so admired in our storage rooms. But in typical Louboutin style, they are a gorgeous, luxurious indulgence that is just out of reach for most women. (3)

While it might be the fate of fashion to become unfashionable, it is only appropriate for a designer to take inspiration from beautiful, classic items and to re-style them for us to enjoy in new ways. So we must say thank you to the unknown designer of the 1920s pair, for he created such a striking pair of shoes that they were the inspiration for a new design eighty years later. And of course, let us not forget to thank Mr. Louboutin for these glorious shoes that give us a contemporary expression steeped in history. Now if only I could afford a pair!


image of 1920s shoe - closeup

(1) The 1920s shoes - detail showing the instep strap and geometric decoration

image of Christian Louboutin shoe - closeup

(2) The 2007 Christian Louboutin shoes - detail

image of Louboutin shoebox

(3) The shoebox for the Christian Louboutin shoes