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Happy Thanksgiving

Ah, Thanksgiving, the day on which people all over the great United States of America come together to gorge themselves on turkey and pretend they prefer foodie Aunt Clara’s pomegranate confit with pink shallot relish to the can-shaped cranberry deliciousness that won the Cold War.

Considering the American importance of the date –not only is it Thanksgiving, it’s the 49th anniversary of JFK assassination– I should do a retrospective of Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis’ fondness for Roger Vivier’s pilgrim pumps.

Unfortunately, I’m both lazy and jetlagged and so here’s a snap of the La Veuve Kennedy four years later in full New York swing sporting a pair of Vivier’s iconic buckled beauties.

Oh, and also a ridiculous platter of pumps.

White satin for autumn? I mean honestly.

Interview With the Curator

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.
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Roger Vivier in the Times

Manolo says, the Times of London has the short article on the life and times of the genius Roger Vivier.

The Queen was crowned wearing Vivier gold kidskin shoes, the heels scattered with garnets. Catherine Deneuve wore Vivier buckle pumps in Belle de Jour, turning them overnight into the iconic must-have shoe that they remain to this roger_vivier.jpg
day. Vivier is the man who invented stilettos and the ground-breaking curved “comma” heel. He dressed the feet – shod seems too ugly a word – of everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to Sophia Loren. Known as the Fabergé of Footwear, his shoes have been woven into the fabric of fashion history since he was discovered in 1937 by Elsa Schiaparelli. As Claire Wilcox, curator of the V&A’s current show The Golden Age of Couture, puts it, “Vivier’s shoes are like pieces of jewellery setting off the clothes they are paired with. He was traditional and at the same time incredibly modern.”

Vivier died, aged 90, in 1998. But his spirit lives on in a brand that is now stronger than ever, thanks to creative director Bruno Frisoni. In 2001, Frisoni was asked to inject modernity into the rich heritage of the brand. First came sightings of the Belle Vivier buckle pump in fashion magazines. Then, new stores created a frisson of excitement, in Paris in 2004 and London in 2006.

“Our ambition,” says Frisoni, “was to create a brand, not to set up another shoe shop.” An art critic recently argued that Vivier shoes are high art, on a par with a Picasso or a Canaletto.

One does not need to “argue” for this, as if it were the matter of opinion. One need only show the shoes of the Roger Vivier to prove that they are art of the highest sort.

Menkes on Louboutin

Manolo says, the unsinkable Suzy Menkes she has written the story about the inimitable Christian Louboutin!

On the shelves of his tiny store (21 Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 75001 Paris) at the corner of a Belle Époque glassed-in gallery, Louboutin’s creations are on display: classic pumps scooping round the toes and poised on a thin 130-millimeter, or 5-inch, heel; sandals with playful pompoms where sturdy straps cross at the front; or operatic effects with lacy leather rings, echoing the years that the 13-year-old Louboutin went round Paris music halls showing his shoe sketches.

“Women don’t buy shoes – they look at themselves and their legs in silhouette – I saw that with the dancers,” says Louboutin, 41, whose nightclub subjects wore little beside their footwear.

There is a luxurious, oriental glamour to the boutique, where a curtain decorated with arabesques, mirrors with curlicue frames and a decorative screen bring a touch of the exotic. Born in Brittany but, he believes, with Tahitian blood in the family history, Louboutin has a penchant for the Middle East and has a vacation home in Egypt, on the Nile at Luxor.

How did Louboutin get from gawping at dancers to fitting his creations on classy beauties such as Princess Caroline of Monaco, Catherine Deneuve and Queen Rania of Jordan, not to mention Hollywood princesses Nicole Kidman and Gwyneth Paltrow?

He passed through two iconic French houses, Charles Jourdan and Roger Vivier, where he helped organize a retrospective and handled shoes with a history of being created for Marlene Dietrich in performance, for the coronation of the shah of Iran and for Christian Dior haute couture.

“It was working with Jourdan and Roger Vivier that made me realize that shoe design was a real métier,” Louboutin says.

Exactly!

This it is exactly what the Manolo has been saying at his humble shoe blog, that the designing of the shoes, it is the craft, the art, one that is indeed most difficult to master. This it is why the shoes they are the objects worthy of our attention, because they can, in the hands of the master makers, truly be the art of the finest sort, the things that may bring us great joy through their beauty.

As for how one becomes first attuned to the beauty and potential of the shoes, it frequently has the genesis in the childhood, as it had with the Christian Louboutin

Louboutin can trace back his original creative “click.”

“As a child, I was taken to the musée des océans, and I saw a sign of a stiletto with two thick lines through it – and it haunted me,” says Louboutin, claiming that his schoolbooks were filled with drawings of the “no stiletto heels in here” sign. The images of Helmut Newton and the wild clubbing years in the 1980s at the Paris Le Palace cemented his fascination with shoes. Maybe it is significant that, apart from the splash of vermilion, the colors tend to be rich purples, smoky blues and moss greens, as if captured in Toulouse-Lautrec’s night world.

But Louboutin also makes daywear, from calf-hugging flat boots to platform-soled espadrilles that he encourages summer brides to wear, rather than spindly heels in which they cannot dance the night away.

“Luxury should not be anti-progress,” he says, referring to women’s freedom. “My idea of progress is to make shoes not higher, but ever finer.”

This it is why the Manolo the humble shoeblogger he adores the work of the Christian Louboutin, because he understands the shoe and the shoe-making perfectly.

News Flash! The Stilettos Are “Hot”!

Manolo says, here is the very obvious news from the newspapers: Stilettos are Soaring in Popularity.

Stiletto heels force a woman’s back to arch, pushing her bosom out in the front and her rear in the back, further accentuating the feminine silhouette. Men like it, and so do women, says fashion historian Caroline Cox.

“Men like an exaggerated female figure. Stilettos also make a woman seem quite delicate because you have to balance (in the shoes). She might need a man’s hand,” Cox says.

“Women like them because they have a reputation of being glamorous and sexy. Women also get height, which makes them feel powerful.”

Cox wrote Stiletto (HarperDesignInternational), which traces the modern history of the ultra-high heel. She credits 1950s’ shoemakers Roger Vivier, Andrew Perugia, Salvatore Ferragamo and Charles Jourdan for rescuing women from the utilitarian wartime footwear of the previous decade.

Since then, stilettos have remained a fixture on the fashion scene, hitting heights in the ’50s and ’80s, and they’re soaring now. Cox notes, though, that the look of the modern stiletto is evolving from a witchlike pointy toe to a rounder toe, and Prada, a favorite among the stylish set, is returning to a thicker cone-shape heel that was popular 20 years ago instead of the narrower slope familiar to fans of Jimmy Choo and Manolo Blahnik.

In the 1960s, the heel was square, while in the late ’70s – as a backlash against the wedge and the clog – stilettos either had a punk-rock edge or they were disco sandals, Cox explains.

Manolo says, it is obvious, nothing can make the legs of the woman look better than the stiletto heels.

Also, the books by the Caroline Cox they are always worth the reading if you are interested in the history and the meaning of the fashion, and who is not intested in that?