An Ode to High Heels Living in a New World
I’d like to know, I really would,
Let’s hear it from the great and good-
What’s going on with shoes these days,
A gal like me she gets dismayed.
No matter where my glance does fall,
It’s trainers on the feet of all,
At eventide and late at night-
Flat shoes are everywhere in sight.
I miss the reign of killer heels,
I miss the classic glam ideals,
I miss the clicking as I’d roam,
I miss easing my sore feet as I kicked them off at home.
There are a few moments that are known to be sad for the high-heeled shoe.
When the stiletto is so skinny it gets jammed between the escalator grates and you must yank with all your might or be eaten by the moving machine… That’s sad.
When it snaps on the wedding dancefloor with an oopsie-audible snap… oh, that’s very sad.
But no incident could be as sad for the high heel as the year-and-a-bit of global seclusion it endured in 2020. Heels are not destined to stay home. They are not for opening cans of catfood or chasing after cooped up toddlers.
Thus, they went to the back of the wardrobe where they languished, shrivelled, crumpled. Acquired a blanket of dust to keep them warm in this hibernation.
If they came back into our lives, would they be the same? It didn’t seem likely that we would have the same mindset as we did in the judgemental 90s and 00s, when Christian Louboutin threatened, ‘High heels are pleasure with pain. If you can’t walk in them, don’t wear them.’
Nor did it feel like we were ready to fall again for marketing ploys that offer luxury lifestyle and status as long as we buy buy buy. That’s the subtext of Manolo Blahnik’s quote: ‘You put high heels on and you change’.
So, in an attempt to examine the shoes of the present moment, how they are sold, and what motivates the makers, LONDNR speaks to three young UAL graduate designers who prove that the heel will never die, only shapeshift to facilitate the demands of a new world.
Zia Lee’s footwear is inspired by nature and her urgent need to raise awareness about environmental issues.
Yet her personal philosophy rests on a beautiful inversion of the ‘Butterfly Effect’, not the fatalistic stereotype. With fashion being the third top polluting industry in the world, she hopes that every person buying from a sustainable brand will inspire others and spark a positive synergy.
The inspiration for her collection, Annihilation, comes from the movie of the same name, starring Natalie Portman. The film considers humans’ destructive nature and features a scene where flowers grow into the shape of the human body – this influenced Zia’s visuals and colours.
Zia uses 3D technology to bring her blossoming creations to life, though she is reluctant to produce at factory level. ‘I want to keep doing research, innovate or make some kind of material that makes high heels comfortable’, she tells us. Now who wouldn’t want a pair of those?
Cecília Gloria actively seeks out innovative materials. One of her shoes is constructed from a leaf called elephant ear (Alocasia), made by a tannery in Brazil that specialises in tanning fish skin. The heels are made from recycled plastic and the soles are made using the milk from hevea trees located in tropical plantations, which are regularly maintained. Natural materials are clearly being explored in pursuit of sustainability, and Gloria is wildly passionate about applying them.
This collection is inspired visually by Gustav Klimt. Gloria nods to the great Viennese artist by incorporating detachable charms, inspired by the viewfinder Klimt used to frame his landscape paintings. ‘I laser cut mirrored acrylic, painted the backgrounds and ﬁnished them with leather backers to hold them in place,’ she explains. The charms invite the wearer to customise and embellish, playing an active part in how the footwear looks. This clever extra brings buyers actively into the process and feeds into our love of personalisation.
Yasmina El Akhal drew inspiration from her heritage. ‘My practice, deﬁnitely for this design, was a fusion between Moroccan and British. This shoe speciﬁcally was inﬂuenced by Fantasia, a big equestrian event in Morocco.’
The event is over-the-top ornate and decadent, a cavalcade of golds, silvers, tassels. Yasmina was drawn to it in an abstract way, absorbed by the horses and riders, and the relationship between the two. ‘I did a lot of research into how horses move, their various gaits and the shapes, and how their bodies convey the motion,’ she explains. She was so stirred she wanted to make dynamic footwear with a body of its own.
How shoes affect the wearer, how they stand, how they walk, and how it affects their form has become a fascination. ‘There’s also such a sculptural element when making a physical product,’ she notes, recognising the duality between shoes as stationary objects when left alone, but active as soon as they fulfil their destiny of being worn and brought to life on their owner.