“Designer shoes, no matter what era in history, have always been interesting—it’s mainly the high street that has changed things in the last few seasons,” says Finsk founder Julia Lundsten. “I think there were too many basic shoes on the high street, then some of the braver brands started taking risks and employing good designers to push styles forward—not just copy designer shoes. But these brands have very limited budgets for leather and finish, and that’s where the real difference now lies between designer and high street.”
According to Michaela Wenkert, founder of limited-edition shoe label Lady Double You and former head of accessories design at Mulberry, this has inspired the designer footwear industry to take its artistry to new heights. “As designed, yet disposable fashion has become available to the masses, luxury brands have been forced to become more creative and produce unique, instantly recognizable products that are very difficult to copy,” explains Wenkert. “Architectural heels are a case in point: they require real technical knowledge and are hugely expensive to produce.”
This phenomenon could partially explain why artists outside the fashion world are flocking towards footwear. Architects such as Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas have all created their own shoe designs (for JM Weston, Melissa and United Nude, respectively), while shoemakers Joy Chen and Rachel Comey both got their start in sculpture before moving into footwear.
Yes, art has always influenced shoe design, but the elaborate creations on the spring/summer ’09 runways propelled this connection to new levels of masterpiece. Nicholas Kirkwood created mosaic and chain pieces for Rodarte that perfectly blended sci-fi and punk, while John Galliano molded a fertility goddess form into a heel on his strappy metallic sandals and Alexander McQueen’s models paraded in tall, crystal-encrusted boots. But perhaps the most talked about pair was Prada’s vertiginous snakeskin slingback-and-peds combo, which left more than one model sprawled red-faced on the runway.
“I think women are taking more risks with accessories and are embracing fashion with a wink, which gives designers the freedom to really design,” adds Kristen Lee, owner of LA accessories boutique TenOverSix and designer of her own shoe label. “Plus, politically charged times of unrest often lead to heightened artistry.”
Of all the influences crowding the catwalks—from tribal to futuristic and modern baroque—Lee expects “boho, folk and new wave” styles to emerge as the biggest trends over the coming seasons. And, as the months go on, the catwalk showboating looks like it might evolve into something more practical, if no less stunning. “In these hard economic times, women are definitely being more selective,” notes Lee. “They’re either looking for affordability, or quality, limited-edition pieces. The days of excess and impulse buys seem to be gone.”
“I think statement shoes are here to stay, although there will be more demand for wearability—the biggest challenge for designers!” says Lundsten, whose autumn/winter ’09 Finsk collection is set to include subdued takes on its signature modernism, while maintaining the label’s traditional graphic wood heels and pleated leather detailing. Thanks to the fervent creativity that’s jolting the industry, we doubt any such challenges will be more than a minor dalliance in the world’s collective romance with shoes.