1. Suzy Menkes
  2. Suzy Menkes

Suzy Menkes

Vogue International Editor Suzy Menkes is the best-known fashion journalist in the world. After 25 years commenting on fashion for the International Herald Tribune (rebranded recently as The International New York Times), Suzy Menkes now writes exclusively for Vogue online, covering fashion worldwide.

Killer Heels

The agony and the ecstasy of seductive shoes

21 Августа 2014

Christian Louboutin’s take on stilettos. «Printz», spring/summer 2013/14

Oh, the ignominy and the embarrassment of it all: swaying on one leg like a drunken duck, hiding round the corner of the red-carpet entrance, pulling off the flats, stuffing them in a handbag and putting on those vertiginous heels.

You see the shoe-changers lurking outside any fashionable event. But even with a limousine, getting out of the car and walking the few steps past the paparazzi must be a challenge. What a disaster to fall off super-high platforms on to the ground! It could be a rerun of that infamous picture of Naomi Campbell in a heap on the runway at a Vivienne Westwood show.

Naomi Campbell stumbles on the catwalk. Vivienne Westwood fashion show, 1993
The famous Vivienne Westwood Super Elevated platform Naomi was wearing when she fell over in 1993

That was back in 1993, 21 years ago, but what have we learned since then? At Jean Paul Gaultier’s last Paris haute-couture show there were three crushing falls – all by the another unfortunate veteran model. Even Miuccia Prada, a trailblazer for women in every other way, lures us with mad and immodest footwear; think of the fetishistic 2012 Prada shoes shaped like racing-car tail fins.

Prada wedge sandal, spring/summer 2012

In the shop windows – and close-up online – heels only get higher. And higher. Torture via a pair of Christian Louboutins. (No wonder the soles are blood-red!) Pin-thin balancing acts are demanded for Roger Vivier. Nicholas Kirkwood might make some sensible flat shoes, but there are also metallic pin heels and wedges thicker than a club sandwich.

Nicholas Kirkwood suede and Swarovski pumps, spring/summer 2013
Roger Vivier «Virgule» comma heels in houndstooth, autumn 2014

Of course, we know that it is all about sex. Stilettos are erotic, acting as tools of sexual arousal. Any high heel makes thighs tighten as the body sways. How did Pippa Middleton get her seductive bridesmaid derrière at her sister’s royal wedding? Where would Marilyn’s wiggle have come from, if not her high-heeled Ferragamo court shoes?

And no woman would wear Manolo Blahniks throughout her pregnancy – unless she were Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie Bradshaw in /Sex and the City/.

Marilyn Monroe lived the high life on Ferragamo’s court shoes
Balancing pregnancy and high heels, Sarah Jessica Parker poses with the designer of her shoes, Manolo Blahnik

Footwear can also show sensuality’s darker side: the weird, fetishist shoes from Alexander McQueen, part of an ugly aesthetic that was both disturbing and provocative. Were they works of art? Or as torturous as those historic Chinese feet bound to stunt their growth?

«Killer Heels: the Art of the High-Heeled Shoe» opens on September 10 at New York’s Brooklyn Museum. Curator Lisa Small will take us from the historical to the contemporary, from fetish objects to fashion statements. Six films by artists, inspired by high heels, will also be on show.

I can accept torturous designs from the past. Often women did not then have the chance to stand up, as it were, for themselves. In retrospect, I even see as rather inventive and dynamic the prostitutes in sixteenth-century Venice who created platform shoes so they would rise above the crowd.

Chinese nineteenth-century Manchu woman’s embroidered shoe made of cotton and silk
Silk and metal Italian «Chopine» slippers, circa 1550–1650

But that was then.

Now we women have earned the right to dress how we want. From the boardroom to the political stage we can take anything that men can do in our stride. Except, if in super-high heels, to dash forward, run away or kick ourselves out of trouble. (Although the stiletto heel could become a useful weapon).

Daphne Guinness wearing her trademark heel-less shoe, by Noritaka Tatehana

Sometimes I despise myself for not taking a more feminist attitude. What’s wrong with going to “fashion work” in sensible shoes – even if you have to look at Daphne Guinness towering above you?

Maybe I should have invested a vast 3,000 bucks in Chanel’s January couture sneakers (hand-embroidered with lace, pearls and tweed). Too late! The order books are closed.

Perhaps kitten heels really could be as alluring as sexy, high-heeled gladiator sandals. But, as the French put it: “<Il faut souffrir pour etre belle>.” “You have to suffer to be beautiful.”

True or false? Read on, tomorrow, about fashion on the other foot…

Tomorrow I will be exploring Salvatore Ferragamo’s constant quest to link shoes to feet
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