August 13, 2019 | News | No Comments
Simone Rocha ready-to-wear autumn/winter ‘19/‘20
At Prada’s autumn/winter ‘19/‘20 show, one pair of shoes stood out. Between the biker boots and trainers laced to the knee, there walked some sparkling red heels that looked like they’d tripped straight out of a grown-up (where the dresses were dark and draped, rather than gingham with frills). It was an appropriate homage, given that this year marks the 80th anniversary of the film’s release. And Miuccia wasn’t the only one thinking about vermilion footwear – from bright red velvet at Simone Rocha (above) and crimson, open-toed boots at Victoria Beckham to glitzy heels at Hellessy, red shoes made their way up and down catwalks around the world.
They’re an alluring choice. In the case of Dorothy, her ruby red slippers – imbued with an immense power that made them ferociously sought after by the Wicked Witch of the West – eventually take her home with a simple click of her heels. In L Frank Baum’s original book, the slippers were silver. We have the advent of Technicolor to thank for the ruby shoes adorning Judy Garland’s feet: shiny sequins with bugle beads on the toes providing a perfect contrast to that tirelessly followed Yellow Brick Road.
The slippers have a contentious history. With somewhere between five and 10 pairs made for Garland to wear, in a dramatic twist, one pair – insured for US$1m – were stolen from a display case when they were on loan to a Minnesota museum in 2005. It wasn’t until 2018, after a year-long sting operation, that they were recovered.
Outside of Oz, red shoes have long been a potent form of footwear. Cladding the feet of ballerinas, nobles, popes and pop stars, they’ve ignited imaginations, stirred tempers, garnered looks both admiring and scandalised and, in the case of some cautionary fairy tales, led their heroines to rather gruesome ends.
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Victoria Beckham ready-to-wear autumn/winter ‘19/‘20
Hans Christian Andersen’s is one such example. Spinning the story of a young woman called Karen who covets – and subsequently acquires – a pair of shiny red leather shoes which she wears to church, her hunger for something as simple as eye-catching footwear is apparently so monstrous that she is condemned by an angel to dance herself to death. In desperation, she has her feet amputated. They continue to dance, disembodied in those flagrant shoes, off into the forest.
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It’s a horribly morbid little story, full of unsavoury messages about punishment of vanity. Powell and Pressburger’s 1948 film reimagines the story with headstrong ballet dancer Vicky Page (played by Moira Shearer) stranded between art and love – and also between two prissily controlling men – while dancing the lead role in an adaptation of the fairy tale. Among the numerous dazzling costumes, her ballet shoes are a perfect scarlet satin.
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Kate Bush’s 1993 album also pays homage to the dark frenzy at the heart of Andersen’s fairy tale, with its lyrics telling a similar story of a young woman who’ll be made to “dance ’till her legs fall off”. Her accompanying short film , featuring a startlingly monobrowed Miranda Richardson, places another pair of red ballet shoes at the centre of the narrative: ones that pay homage to both their filmic and folkloric predecessors.
Hellessy ready-to-wear autumn/winter ‘19/‘20
Red shoes seem to have a particularly complicated relationship with womanhood and beauty. As Summer Brennan, author of – an examination of footwear, femininity and transformation – says, “Red has all sorts of taboo associations with women that we may not always be aware of. In some cultures red is understandably associated with fire, and so with the devil and sin, or with sinfulness. Think of that scarlet A in Or of Scarlett O’Hara being forced by her husband to wear a red dress to a party in after she’s caught flirting with another man. It’s a colour that says ‘stop’, but it can also stop you in your tracks in a good way. It’s the colour of blood and is therefore associated with violence, but also with sexuality, menstruation, fertility and birth. And in other cultures, such as in India and China, red is considered a bridal colour and a colour of good luck.”
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Red shoes also function as complicated status symbols. Whether it’s France’s 17th-century King Louis XIV posing with his red-heeled shoes – and decreeing that only nobility could do similar – or the flash of a modern-day Louboutin sole signifying the wearer’s wealth (and ability to stride in vertiginous heels), red shoes remain a commanding choice. Across many cultures and eras, Brennan points out, red has often been connected with royalty and authority. “I think if red shoes tell us anything about power, it’s about where power comes from and what we think it entails,” she adds. “It has to do with destruction, and creation, and who is the centre of attention, and the freedom to express and pursue desire. And, of course, it’s about resources, since throughout much of history, the people most likely to wear red shoes were the ones who were rich.”
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Their many histories and meanings are what make red shoes so mesmerising. It’s a colour that suggests lust, luck, passion and magic. It’s a warning: here lies danger. It’s playful: a shot of something bright on a grey day. It’s a smear of lipstick, hellfire and damnation, dusty stage curtains, lacy underwear, cartoon hearts, the tantalising apple. It’s a child splashing through puddles in her cherry bright wellies and a femme fatale in scarlet.
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Red shoes can be provocative, or powerful, or just very pretty: the ideal footwear to draw attention, as well as embody the enchantment of both myth and movies – though hopefully for any potential wearers, without the prospect of everlasting dancing to contend with.