It all started back in the late '90s with Carrie Bradshaw. Of course, much has been written about Carrie’s fashion influence, but a key component of Carrie’s idiosyncrasy was her surprising and mysterious interest in footwear. She could just as easily have had an obsession with vintage brassieres, bejeweled Hungarian snoods, Victorian butt plugs (they exist!), or Bakelite bangles. But, no, it was Blahniks or bust for Carrie.
(For those of us who wrote for the New York Observer during those halcyon pre-9/11 days—since Sex and the City was based on a New York Observer column written by Candace Bushnell, Carrie was kinda sorta an Observer columnist—Carrie’s Manolo addiction lacked verisimilitude. Even back then, a hack salary was more Payless than Pucci, if you know what I’m sayin’.)
Shockingly, improbably, Carrie and her addiction spawned a million imitators. Why? Here’s the deal: Carrie was a new breed. She was an eccentric waif whose craven addiction to luxury gave gals permission to be both bohemian and wildly materialistic—at the same time. Not only did Carrie’s shoe addiction coexist alongside her unconventional grooviness, it conveniently (for retailers) became a significant component thereof.
Before Carrie came along, the notion of combining the hippie and the material girl was unthinkable. Alternative indie chicks would rather die than skip down Madison Avenue toting a luxury shopping bag. After Carrie that’s all they wanted to do. By adding this unexpected wrinkle to the character of the free-spirited Carrie, the writers created a monster with massive appeal: “Wait! You mean I can be a groovy bohemian writer chick and still cultivate a wildly expensive, superficial addiction to shoes? I thought I was going to have to wear Mephistos for the rest of my life. I’m so there!”
Initially, back in the aughts, I had a real problem with this aspect of the Carrie persona. Could the act of buying designer shoes in and of itself render one a more interesting, nuanced, idiosyncratic person? Preposterous, right?
Now, more than a decade later, I am a raging convert. I have drunk the Carrie Kool-Aid.
Here’s the deal: Have you taken a good look at shoe designs recently? They have never been more mind-blowingly insane and imaginatively bizarre. While designer clothing seems to have settled into some kind of comfy holding pattern—nothing seismic, earth-shattering, or influential has happened since Jean Paul Gaultier introduced tattoo prints back in the ‘90s—shoes are becoming ever more innovative and surprising. Spiked, barbed, fluorescent, cartoony, spangled, kinky, and fantastically unwearable … and that’s just the shoes for men!
Shoes are today’s ultimate statement of craft and wearable art. Every season they become spectacularly more intriguing. Shoe connoisseurship is, therefore, a mind-expanding and legitimate hobby, and collecting shoes has become a bona fide form of creative expression.
Having reached this zenith of ingenious fantasy, shoe design is outstripping everything else on the cultural landscape. Why would you collect cookie jars, Damien Hirst dots, superannuated Barbies, Civil War muskets, kitchen witches, Victorian butt plugs (yes, I’m obsessed!), Beatrice Wood finger bowls, Joan Crawford-abilia, Mormon underwear, Nana Mouskouri CDs, Thomas Kinkade glowing cottages, or novelty Pez dispensers when you could collect shoes? Answer me that!