Toronto: The outrageous heights of heels

From left:
From left: BALENCIAGA Fall 2007, PRADA Spring 2008, CHANEL Fall 2009. Photography by Peter Stigter.

Like a shoe paparazzo, Toronto’s beloved Tommy Ton of Jak & Jil captures some of the world’s most beautiful heels in action. Zillions of women devotedly visit the site to catch glimpses of the worldly lives these shoes lead. If you are a footwear cyber-gawker you’ve probably noticed a new breed of heels has been on the streets over the last few years. Remember the gun heels by Chanel? The tea cup and Baroque heels from Miu Miu or the Balenciaga Sportiletto? Not only are the silhouettes outrageously sculptural, the new shoes have also reached obscene heights–last fall, Christian Louboutin told The Wall Street Journal that he was planning on releasing an 8-inch platform this year.

Surely the human foot hasn’t changed so much in the last five years, so what has lead to this extreme evolution shoes? In search of some answers, I headed straight to living shoe-pedia Elizabeth Semmelhack, the senior curator at Canada’s Bata Shoe Museum and author of Heights of Fashion: A History of the Elevated Shoe. And this is what she has to say:

“Partly I see this connection between the economic condition of the current period and the absurd footwear that is being created by designers and wonder if it is at all linked to the absurd footwear worn in the ’70s, ’30s and early ’40s, which were periods of economic downturn and war,” says Semmelhack. “I don’t know what the connection is, but I find it interesting.”

“It also seems that with the knock-off rate from China and other places that are able to translate couturier designs immediately to meet needs of the mass market, increasingly sculptural heels, exceptionally high heels, things that you might not really be about to knock off at the Payless shoe store level and make affordable, is part of that status.”

For that dose of prestige and exclusivity, women are evidently welcoming outrageous silhouettes and painful new heights as a means to distinguish their heels from counterfeits. How ironic that knock-off artists, the sworn enemy of the fashion industry, seem to be partly accountable for this explosion of creative designs.