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Shoes have the power to crystallise the moment in fashion – they can be sexually provocative, outrageously glamorous and exist as pure folly and fantasy that continually trumps more functional concerns. Shoes can send messages and tell stories. This season, shoemakers have been diving into their wildest dreams and gliding through the contemporary zeitgeist to conjure up styles that speak of female empowerment, unadulterated exuberance and cult-worthy cool.
Available exclusively at Pacific Place, Roger Vivier’s bejewelled heeled mules let beauty blossom from the feet up

Spirit of the age

As the V&A Museum’s enlightening show Shoes: Pleasure and Pain opens, the reading and understanding of footwear will become ever more nuanced. The exhibition surveys the triumphs in footwear design through the centuries, underlining how shoes can speak volumes not only about the wearer but about the times we live in. The ever-changing mode for heel heights, toe shapes, decorative effects and materials shows how the shoe has become the number one messenger of fashion, as well as a harbinger of the times ahead. Throughout the centuries, shoes not only came to be seen as adornment for the feet but have been interpreted as a cipher for fashion, an object of dreaming as well as a barometer of women’s evolving roles.

As Vogue wrote in 1920, ‘And how expressive of character is our footwear! Watching the feet go by, one may learn almost as much as by looking in the faces of their wearers. Women have always understood the importance of shoes.’ From cowboy boots to flower-like Cinderella heels and wild animal prints, shoes’ expression today concerns individuality, adventure, hybridisation and cultural collision.

Today the cowboy boot represents adventure, and that mood is neatly summed up in Fendi’s glazed logo-motif pair

These boots are made for everything

Never a winter goes by without a slew of new boots. The difference now is that they’ve been conceived as all-day and all-night wear, fashioned to go with midi skirts and pants as well as the new thigh-skimming, 80s-charged cocktail dress. Boots are full of mastery and mischief. Take Dior’s patchwork boot. While Roger Vivier fashioned Christian Dior’s footwear during the heyday of couture in the 1950s, Maria Grazia Chiuri is putting her own stamp on designs. Patchwork speaks of women’s stories and the beauty in stitching together remnants and memories. 

The cowboy boot is also out in force not witnessed since the iconic style first appeared in the 1970s. Back then, fashion took to exploring ethnic tropes in step with a more liberal, bohemian society. Today the cowboy boot still represents adventure, and that mood is neatly summed up in Fendi’s glazed logo-motif pair that boasts an architectural cut-out wooden heel. At Chloe, Natacha Ramsay -Levi  seizes the bohemian spirit in her tapestry and top-stitched hiking boot that boasts high function and artistry. For Clare Waight Keller at Givenchy, purism is a driving force and that’s summed up in a side zipper wrap over a mid-calf boot that’s the ideal marriage with midi-length hems.

As seen at Dior this season, patchwork speaks of women’s stories and the beauty of stitching together remnants and memories

Boots have always represented rebellion, with tribes adopting their own symbolic styles. Hippies championed suede desert boots, 1980s new romantics sported Westwood’s pirate styles while the punk movement took on the industrial Dr. Martens. At Saint Laurent you’ll find a cultish recalibration of the glam rock platform, this season fashioned in leopard print and fastened with an ankle buckle. While on the surface it appears that every shoe style has been achieved in the 21st century, hybridisation gives way to a whole new genre of shoes. Try Olivier Rousteing’s Diane heel at Balmain that segues between a hiking boot and a heeled sandal.

Head turners

Heels can often do the talking for you. They’re icebreakers and head turners in our frenetic life. Miuccia Prada’s motif is a fierce flame that’s seen to burst from the thin edge of a patent-leather wedge. These heels give you the thrill of excitement that is the driving motive of fashion. With advances in technology, we can now balance on impossible-looking structures like Zanotti’s silver thunderbolt heel that transforms a classic heeled pump into a totem. At Balenciaga, a severely pointed toe gives a new witchy character to a conformist ‘cute’ kitten-heel slingback.

Polka-dot mesh and a deep V-shaped vamp turn Jimmy Choo’s pumps into decadent objects of desire

Beyond passing trends, what endures is the celebration of the transformative power of the shoe. Cinderella’s delicate slipper is just one of a family of styles that encompasses dance and ballet pumps, court shoes, strappy sandals and thigh-high ‘Prince Charming’ boots. The imaginative prowess, the richness of materials and the decorative flair are hallmarks of the Cinderella shoe that is a classic in the lexicon of footwear. Beautiful polka-dot mesh and a deep V-shaped vamp turn Jimmy Choo’s pumps into decadent objects of desire; intricate floral-motif cut-outs on Gucci’s design remind us that there’s beauty to be found everywhere. But one of the most exuberant designs of the season is Miu Miu’s pink satin and crystal confection that embraces the wearer as if she’s just stepped into a full-blooming flower. What better declaration of the love between a woman and her shoes?

Harriet Quick is a style writer and former fashion features director at British Vogue. She is the author of Vogue The Shoe