A fashiony pal of mine was standing at a stop light on Madison Avenue and 57th Street when a similarly foncy broad alighted right next to her. The stranger looked down at my pal’s Prada-clad feet and, with an air of breathy reverence bordering on creepy, whispered one word: “Congratulations.”
Yes, she was actually lauding my pal’s ability to own a pair of designer shoes!
Back in the last century only the shoe fabricator or the shoe designer would have been eligible for that kind of felicitation.
“Oh! Monsieur Hermès, your top stitches are perfection. They are like kitten’s teeth!”
The notion of blowing hot air up any gal’s dirndl simply because she bought something did not exist.
Times have changed. What constitutes an accomplishment has now become very elastic—as elastic, in fact, as the logo’d waistband on my Calvin Klein underwear, the ownership of which will doubtless, 'ere long, elicit a spontaneous ejaculation such as, “Congratulations on your undies.”
But back to footwear: In today’s world, purchasing a pair of nifty shoes, or better yet, multiple pairs of nifty shoes, is seen as a headline-making, gasket-blowing, praiseworthy accomplishment. I came, I saw, I snagged—and am therefore fabulous!
In the current everything-about-me-is-fascinating age of Twitter, acquiring those Pierre Hardy porno-pumps, Tabitha Simmons peep-toes, Reed Krakoff slingbacks, Alaïa ankle booties, and Givenchy stilettos is the ne plus ultra of achievement. Shoes are the new Nobel Prizes, or they would be if people were allowed to Nobel laureatize themselves.
How did we get ourselves into this seemingly ludicrous position? When did the vaunting and flaunting of designer shoes, shoe closets, and shoe collections become so vital to any gal in pursuit of social currency?
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!