So long, stilettos: Why 2014 is the year women’s footwear fell to Earth
In a field that included Manolo Blahnik’s Hangisi satin pump with its jewelled buckle embellishment, Christian Louboutin’s studded Pigalle stiletto and Valentino’s strappy caged Rockstud, it is a lowly sneaker that has won the 2014 shoelympics: Footwear News’s Shoe of the Year award went to the Stan Smith, Adidas’s antiseptic white leather tennis shoe, the sneaker style recently championed by Phoebe Philo and worn by an otherwise naked Gisele Bundchen in Paris Vogue. Besides its classic iteration, the narrow, unisex shoe relaunched with variations of colours and materials, a special Raf Simons edition, Colette capsules and collaborations with the other inevitable trend of 2014, Pharrell Williams.
The recent CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund was also awarded to an innovative footwear maker: the British designer Paul Andrew, who spends as much time on the fit details of his haute-tough luxury motorcycle boots and skimmer flats as he does on his more rarefied 140-millimetre stilettos.
Gone is the hauteur that resulted in anointed It shoes best suited to runway models and those with Town Car lifestyles. If 2014 was the year that women’s footwear truly fell down to Earth, it didn’t just have to do with a repudiation of heels – there was the Lanvin- and Repetto-spurred ballerina-flats craze of a few years ago, after all – but the embrace in fashion circles of an explicitly comfort-focused shoe, from Birkenstock orthopedic sandals to New Balance and Vans (the original basic skater sneakers that have come in colourful collaborations with J.Crew or been aped by luxury brands like Céline – with the nearly four-digit price tags to match). Waiting lists not seen since the Hermès Birkin have ensued. For sneakers.
Even in the highest fashion echelons, the zeal for the vertiginous heel has congealed in favour of footwear with a rubber soul. It reached apotheosis in Chanel and Dior’s spring haute-couture shows. The latter are basically bead-embellished athletic water-shoes, while the former are sequinned and embroidered running shoes tied with tubular mesh tulle shoelaces – overall as substantial as gauze bandages, but, hey, they’re sneakers nonetheless.
What’s more, the overall silhouette of the clothes wasn’t otherwise modified – as they would have with high heels, models paired sneakers with gossamer gowns and then went about their runway circuit (albeit with a more purposeful and buoyant stride than usual).
This seems a fundamental pivot not seen since the late-Victorian cycling craze, the one that begat the first flats since the Greco-Roman world donned sandals. A more suitable low-heeled bicycling boot with a ridged sole to prevent pedal slippage was developed and, by the First World War, Keds had launched the first canvas plimsoll sneaker for the post-Edwardian era’s New Woman, the careerist suffragette type who liked to march in protests, play sports and otherwise get around on her own two feet. Is it any coincidence that on the heels of Rihanna’s CFDA Icon award comes Puma’s recent announcement that she would be the brand’s new creative director for women’s wear in 2015, including taking on decorative redesigns of the sleek Speed Cat sneaker style she herself wore as a teen?
When the question is not who will be the next Christian or Manolo but who can be the next Stan Smith or Church’s (the heritage English cobbler known for its brogues and loafers), the arch-villain stiletto may as well be dead. (My answer to that question for 2015 is the Adidas Superstar and Dallas-based shoemaker The Office of Angela Scott, which makes the sort of elaborate wingtips that Gatsby, not silly Daisy, might have worn. They’re what modern-minded Cinderellas dream of now.)
In the new holiday film Into the Woods, in fact, Anna Kendrick’s pragmatic and rather more irreverent Cinderella realizes that the prince is charming but fundamentally insubstantial. She probably wishes she had a pair of decent sneakers instead of gilded retrograde stilettos that get stuck in the muck. Run, don’t walk, Ella!