On Sunday, March 30, in the shoe department on the fifth floor of Bergdorf Goodman, ladies of varying age were sitting with box after box piled before them and male shopping companions collapsed at their sides, wearing the typical lobotomized expressions of men forced to undertake a woman’s expedition. A small crowd had gathered near a display of Christian Louboutin pumps made of cork, while others longingly pawed at the mass of Manolo Blahniks. But at the other end of the floor, another shoe stood tall and alone, crying out for the attention it would be denied by most, if not all, shoppers: a Marni wedge with a five-inch black platform and thick straps of brown and chartreuse patent calf leather, a cabbage in a rose bed, one ugly heel.
“It’s very retro. It feels like a costume, or a film. Like Clockwork Orange or a Mad Max kind of thing,” said Lara Greenberg, eyeing the Marni monstrosity. “It’s a statement.” Ms. Greenberg, an interior designer in her thirties with curly blond hair swept back, was wearing a stylish white trench coat and a pair of low black wedges. (Chinatown, $40!)
A woman named Gail, standing nearby, was less circumspect. “Those are insane,” she said.
This “runway wedge” (and really, where is the line that separates a wedge from a stripper shoe?) is hardly alone in a shoe season that seems to be foisting tackiness upon us and calling it couture. Prada, Miu Miu, Dolce & Gabbana, Pierre Hardy, Marc Jacobs, Gucci and others (even Old Navy!) are peddling everything from the ankle-cuff stiletto (dominatrix much?) to the spike-heeled patent leather, lace-up loafer. (We thought booties were for babies.) And don’t forget the inches-high, covertly slutty, Balenciaga-influenced gladiator sandal, a style we do our best to ignore in flats but absolutely reject in a heel.
Such shoe strangeness is everywhere: creeping into fashion spreads in everything from Vogue to Us; decorating shop windows all over Soho; peeking out from under those equally unappealing maxi-dresses. It may be expensive. It might be “wearable art,” as its (few) proponents argue. But it is godawful ugly.
‘A Little Fashion-Victimy’
Perhaps we should have anticipated this turn for the trash. After years of watching women stock their closets with those perfect Louboutin peep-toe pumps, with their tell-tale and perfectly sexy red soles; the classic Manolo ankle-tie in its metallics and pastels; and the Jimmy Choo Mary Jane with its straps across the arch and golden buckle, it seems inevitable that more adventurous designers would stage a revolt, a.k.a. give us something else to buy already.
But turning the actual heel of the shoe into a candlestick or a stem, a move some genius at Prada decided to green-light, is too easy, too silly. Same with slapping a spike, or a cork wedge, on a sneaker. As with men, height in heels does not make for automatic beauty. (And speaking of men, their reaction to these babies, judging from a casual survey of office heterosexuals, ranges from “hideous” to “horrible” to “yeesh.”)
Back at Bergdorf, a customer who won’t give her name because she “works in the industry” was examining a pair of Gucci wedge tennis shoes ($550). “They’re a little fashion-victimy,” she said. A pair of Dolce & Gabbana snakeskin lace-up booties (with black sneaker-style laces no less), selling for $1,195, were even more tragic.
But when it comes to heels, Prada, as is its wont, is definitely the most violent offender this season. Anyone else remember their hollow-soled horrors modeled by Cameron Diaz in Harper’s Bazaar a decade ago? Now it appears as though the house, which is also carrying a line of safe, classy leather stilettos this season, hired Wavy Gravy to dash off a few sketches. With thick candle-snuffer heels and cartoonish patchwork of colored leather, Prada’s “Groove is in the Heart”-esque Mary Janes look like the work of someone on acid, or at least weed. Hydroponic weed.
And how about their boots? These consist of a gold cuff that covers the calf attached to a black-and-gold peep-toe heel (though modest) with a strap over the arch ($970).
“They go too far,” said Chantal Deneef, a Belgian woman in her mid-40’s who was shopping at Bergdorf. She was wearing blue mascara and lots of perfume. “But that’s the problem with fashion at the moment,” Ms. Deneef said. She blamed the proliferation of ugly heels on newly wealthy Russians who want something more extravagant. “We European people won’t wear that,” she kindly explained. “We are very—not so fashionable, but more simple,” preferring “something chic, something that stays.”
Meanwhile, the specious argument that these shoes are actually “sculptural” objets d’art (that depreciate immediately upon wearing, we hasten to add!) was burbling at the Prada store in Soho—once, let’s recall, the downtown outpost of the Guggenheim museum.
“I think maybe there are people who look and say, ‘Oh, that’s horrible,’” said Andrea Bettiol, who was visiting New York from Brazil, gesturing toward a $700 pair of Wavy Gravys. “It’s the same as art. There are a lot of people who see a picture and the paint and say, ‘Oh! This is just white paint, I can’t understand.’ Taste is taste.”
So would she buy them? “Never. It’s too expensive.”
The renowned artist, photographer and self-portraitist Cindy Sherman was also shopping at the store, which she clearly does often, greeted as she was with kisses by the staff. So what did she think of the shoes?
“These crazy heels, and the colors and just all the textures … it’s just so inventive,” Ms. Sharman gushed. “And it just seems really fun.”
Maybe these shoes just need a bona fide intellectual to appreciate them; someone with less quotidian concerns than pleasing men or, you know, walking down the streets of New York looking relatively pulled-together and sane.
“Oh, yeah, oh, yeah,” Ms. Sherman said, when asked if she would actually purchase one of these Prada-trocities. “I don’t have a top choice yet, but probably one of the ones with the crazy heels.”
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