Style: A shoe is not a camel Are mustaches in style 2015.
In Sweden, culture shock can come when you least expect it.
“I sent this photo to Lars. He approved,” the first woman says. All the ladies around her nod their heads. I ask, “Shoes? You ask permission to buy baby shoes?” but do not hear the explanation, the blah blah of how the women here in Sweden consider themselves part of a “household,” and how household income is to be held and spent by common decree for the good of everyone in the household as decided by… well, you get the point. In shock, I look out the window of the restaurant onto a dark, medieval cobblestone street, over to where my bicycle is parked so I can have a glass of wine with this shoe-discussing group and not risk going to prison for driving under the influence of so much as looking at an ice cube. “What have I done?” I wonder. America loves shoes. In America, I can go to as many shoe stores as I wish, buy as many shoes as I need, and use a credit card that comes loaded with discretion. “What have I done?” I repeat, as I pedal home in the rain.
I suspect that if the woman had said, “Look at the picture of these baby bibs,” I may have never heard the conversation. The fact that she brought up shoes instead of any other item of clothing may have been what triggered my reaction. Shoe shopping requires a pulse, impulse, and passion. We can think and reason and debate and assess, and we should. Is this pair the best choice? How do they feel? Can I afford others if I buy these? How will they work with my wardrobe and the rain? Do I have the right feet for them? What message am I trying to convey? What message will I be conveying? All of these issues surface. But there is no algorithmic answer. A shoe is like the signature in blue ink at the end of a typed letter. The right shoe says, “I approve this message,” and it does this better than any other item of clothing. Not everybody carries a purse. Hats come and go. But the shoe is a universally understood article of apparel, and it reflects and affects how we move through life. Just like a signature, shoe selection is not a job for a committee. A camel is a horse drawn by a committee. A shoe should never be confused with a beast of burden—which never happens, at least not in the world of international style.
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Shoes are more sophisticated than ever, and more complicated, but three words sum up a broad look at this season’s designs: influential, flats, and weaves. Clunky heels, wide straps, platform soles, mountain bike treads, power loafers, cowboy boot mash-ups, Birkenstock-Moulin Rouge hybrids, get-your-Comic-Con-on lace ups, and gladiator-powered-everythings all offer one big style advantage this spring: you will look like you got dressed with a purpose. There is nothing haphazard with this year’s big, look-at-me shoes, but with this level of substance comes a caution: be careful. Negative association happens. There is a reason why, even in this age of male facial hair a’ plenty, no one is sporting a Hitler mustache. Heavy leathered black platforms can still trigger an image of Frankenstein, while the furniture-sized white versions (like the pair Ports 1961 put on the runway last fall) can strike a Nurse Ratchet chord, conveying an “It’s time for your enema” message rather than the desired “I’m a tall cheery optimist on my way to the summer house.” Meanwhile, the mysterious, enchanted, maybe-even-a-witch look that seemed to work so well for Stevie Nicks could be okay for mysterious, enchanted, maybe-even-a-witch Stevie Nicks types, but the rest of us just seem stuck in a bad Halloween loop, or worse—that our reaction to a child’s report card full of Cs would be, “Well, school’s just not her thing.” But with shoe styles that sometimes seemed at best theatrical and often overwrought, designers are producing rich detail and elegant structure. We are starting to see beauty and power.
Roberto Cavalli, for example, makes a platform sandal that satisfies a critical element in the big shoe genre: if you are going to force my eyes to your feet, make the journey worth it. His do, in rich wood and leather tones. The wrap-around-the-ankle lacing is a bit Game of Thrones, but in a good way. Proenza Schouler’s chunky heeled snakeskin slide, with a super wide and almost braid-it-long kilty fringe, blends golf course class with an Upper West Side aesthetic, a shoe for decision-makers. Marc by Marc Jacobs platters up a royal blue suede platform shoe for a very grown-up and in-charge Eloise or Madeline. Tory Burch’s entire spring/summer 2015 runway collection is simple, striking, and trending. Her chunky-stacked heeled slide has a sliced leather geometric detail, a toe wrap that keeps the sandal from looking, sounding, or feeling sloppy, and Burch’s signature stamp of clean, calm sophistication. The Creatures of the Wind patent leather platform succeeds with an upper of delicate patent leather strips, woven into wide, base-balancing sections. Balance matters with platforms, so take the time to weigh it with your eye. They do not all work, as misses by DKNY, Coach, and Derek Lam demonstrate.
Rag & Bone has created a sporty buckle and tread slingback sandal that I would probably buy all three of. Suno seems intent on updating the Birkenstock-without-socks look. And Marni’s platform canvas upper carries enough clout and joy to handle its steroided-out gym shoe tread. But one other “influential” trend, the athletic trainer, is muscling in to replace the flat shoe, and the flat is fighting back. Nike, Adidas, and every fashionista on at least two continents seem to want the eighties back. Apparently we are supposed to wear gym shoes to work again, and this time, keep them on. But this look did not even work well in the eighties. A gym shoe goes with earning-a-living type clothes about as well as peanut butter and mustard, and who needs that taste in your mouth when there are so many tailored, comfortable, image-maker flats to choose from? Pick a Tod’s car shoe, a Philip Lim whole cut loafer in bone or pale pink, a Derek Lam loafer, a Burch version of the white buck (in crackled leather), or go white Keds with a sheer silk anklet. Delpozo’s white mesh upper and white floral cut-out base works because—as close as it comes to looking like a sneaker or a nursing shoe—it is simply too happy, whimsical, and intricately detailed to be categorized by anything but a smile. Until superhero spandex work-out clothes or singlets become part of your business wardrobe, fight the urge to go pro. Flats are where it’s at.
If your budget limits you to one high-end shoe this spring, skip the strappy sandal category. Buy a glue gun and update last year’s pair with feathers, faux gemstones, and glitter (although Kate Spade has a bejeweled sandal that can cover several venue changes). Focus on finding the variations of weaves instead—the mat looks, the roping, or the interlocking. Alexander Wang offers two, a high heel sandal with a rope edging and a patriotic wedge bootie that can handle a fourth of July fest as well as a cobblestone walkway in Tuscany. (Take a pass on his fishnet version—it seems like it is still in Beta.) Not every part of the foot looks great all of the time. Find summer shoes that cover when needed. On the dressier end, Bottega Veneta freshens the forties look with a slingback pump, while Caroline Herrera’s Jane Jetson version of the spectator may be my favorite shoe of the season. Again, Tory Burch nails this category with a weave for every heel height, and Calvin Klein proves that even a monster platform can avoid the monster look with a translucent heel and light-reflecting woven fabric.
The most economical pair of shoes I ever owned was also the most expensive. I had buyer’s remorse even before the card swiper said “Approved.” But that particular shoe was a smart look for me. I knew it. I wore those shoes to every event and every meeting I could for three years because they made enough of a statement to give me time to think and to relax. I cannot imagine having a discussion with anyone beforehand, trying to justify the expense, and yet those shoes served me better than any suit or handbag or briefcase ever did. Statement shoes are worth exploring for, and they do not have to be expensive. Across the board, shoe design keeps advancing. All a statement shoe has to be is your own personal signature, a shoe that, in many ways, helps you walk into any room as a committee of one.
Longtime Spree writer Catherine Berlin now lives in Sweden.
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