Manolo says, the Manolo’s friends at the Collector’s Weekly (which earlier this year published the remarkable interview with the shoe collector John Walford) have returned with the excellent interview with Elizabeth Semmelhack, one of the curators at the magnificent Bata Shoe Museum and author of the book Heights of Fashion: A History of the Elevated Shoe.
There is much in this interview to both ponder and enjoy, but below are two intriguing excerpts.
Collectors Weekly: How did a pair of Manolos or Louboutins become star accessories?
Semmelhack: I don’t think that it was the designers themselves who did it as much as the culture. Clearly their shoes are lovely, but over the course of the 20th century, you have a great loss of accessories in women’s wear. I like to use the hat as an example of that. If you think about watching “I Love Lucy” on TV, so often she’s walking by a hat shop and she stops to purchase a hat. Now she’s got to hide it from Ricky because God forbid he sees it. It’s the hat that she must have, the hat, the hat, the hat. Along the same lines, we had white gloves and we had pearls and we had other similar ways of expressing status.
With the loss of iconic accessories like those, shoes carry a greater burden of meaning. We now require shoes to really, as someone said, punctuate our fashionable outfit or unfashionable outfit, whatever we’re doing. They are increasingly a way of turning a generic outfit around, and I think that’s one of the reasons why shoes have become such a focal point of culture. We can read a lot into them.
But today, where fashion has been so democratized, you can have two women of wildly different socioeconomic standings or wildly different social constructs of themselves going into the same, say, Gap store and buying the exact same pair of jeans. One might wear her jeans with a pair of Manolo Blahniks, making one statement, while the other woman puts on a pair of Keds to go watch her kids play soccer, and she makes a different statement.
The loss of the hat as the fashion accessory elevates the shoes to the place of prominence? The theory is so simple and elegant, it cannot but be true.
Here is the second excerpt, this time on the topic of clothing for the men.