Haute Historian: Tip Toeing Around Fashion

August 29, 2011 • Haute Historian, Magazine

It’s an accessory that once donned immediately transforms a woman’s physical appearance. Her posture improves. The straightening of her spine inadvertently forces her chest and behind out. She instantly appears taller and thinner and her calve muscles are at their most defined. More than that, her self-confidence and sexual awareness ratchets up a few notches as well.  All thanks to the stiletto heel. Even though they’re agony to wear and force women to walk on their tip-toes, a painful and tricky endeavor, and not to mention that long-term wear can cause serious damage to the bones and tendons of the foot, women can’t seem to give them up. And it’s no wonder why, with all the physical and mental improvements they give, the bit of pain seems almost worth it.

Alternating one’s appearance for the better has long been a part of fashion and so too have high heels. But stilettos, named after the Italian stiletto dagger and recognized by their long thin appearance, are a modern design thanks in great part to the technology of steel which is used as its support. Seen in many fetish drawings pre-1900, women began balancing atop these lofty heels with greater popularity in the 1940’s after French shoe designer Andre Perugia designed a pair for a fellow French artist, singer Mistinguett. While not the originator, Perugia certainly modernized the thin heel. But it was Roger Vivier who designed a collection of stilettos for Christian Dior in 1954 and became the godfather of stiletto heels, or more aptly put: the Manolo Blahnik of his time. His designs were elaborate and intricate and adored by women. While the shoe was supported by the strength of steel, Vivier used delicate materials like pearls and silks to adorn his designs.

The stiletto heel can range in length from two to five inches or longer if a platform is added to the toe. Because walking in the shoe can prove difficult, at least at first, kitten heels (stilettos that are one inch in length) were introduced in the late 1950’s as “trainer heels” for younger girls. And while it would seem that stilettos have been a part of fashion since their modern inception, they lost popularity in during the 1960’s thanks to the emergence of hippie styles. Manolo Blahnik reinvented the stiletto by reintroducing the shoe with his “Needle” design in the 1970s. The rest is history. Every fashionista has at least one pair in her closet and some even look to collect them. With creative wearable works of foot art like Vivier’s, Blahnik’s and Loubouton’s, who wouldn’t want to start a collection?

1. Roger Vivier Kitten Heel Stiletto, 1961

2. Roger Vivier, 1960s

3. Roger Vivier Silk Floating Rose Stilettos for Christan Dior, 1960-63

4.  Stiletto Illustration by Manolo Blahnik, Isabell, 2000 2000

—Bonnie J Brown

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