Influences: The Winged Messenger

Jimmy Choo Kevan Sandal, $2495 at SaksEarlier this week, Susan Joy wrote a short piece in the New York Times about the trend of be-feathered, be-furred footwear that's just arriving for Fall. While the piece was a jaunty bit of topical "how to wear it", I kept thinking about these luxurious delights for the feet and their implications.

At the surface these shoes are just fancy (and fanciful) designs. A touch of frou for the feet. Since we're all wearing tighter belts and shopping the closet, why not go over-the-top with some fantasy somewhere? Indeed, these little flights will set you back a pretty penny; those feathers don't come cheap. But considering how valuable the first pair of winged footwear was, I'd say we're getting them at a bargain.

The first pair of Talaria or "winged sandals", were forged from imperishible gold by the God Hephaestus, the son of Zeus & Hera and the blacksmith of the Gods. In other legends the sandals are said to be made from palm and myrtle, with no wings at all. When Hermes was born to the Pleiade Maia by Zeus, he immediately became a precocious trickster, deft musician, agile athlete, and cunning thief. He was fast, faster than any of the other Gods, so Zeus gave him the enchanted sandals for his role as messenger.

Brian Atwood, Sanchez sandal - $1100.00

In the fourth book of the Aeneid, the Gods are upset that Aeneas has been distracted from his duty by a love affair with Dido, so Hermes is sent to him with a gentle reminder...

Hermes obeys; with golden pinions binds

His flying feet, and mounts the western winds:

And, whether o’er the seas or earth he flies,

With rapid force they bear him down the skies.

Hermes was also one of the few Gods who could move between the mortal and immortal worlds, sometimes guiding the dead through the underworld and across the river Styx. Since he moved so easily between realms and people, the sandals could only have been his.

Winged Mercury detail, from the Capitoline Hill, Rome

In the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, it is Hermes who guides Eurydice out of the underworld, only to have her remain there because Orpheus turns to look for her. In the poem Orpheus. Eurydice. Hermes, Rike describes him:

"the god of errands and far messages,

the travelling-hood above his shining eyes,

the slender wand held out before his body,

the beating wings at his ankle joints;

and on his left hand, as entrusted: her."

In Marcel Camus' gorgeous film Black Orpheus from 1959, Hermes is a streetcar conductor (fitting, considering that a streetcar takes travelers where they need to go) and friend to Orpheus. Later on, it is Hermes who tries to help Eurydice, and who also guides Orpheus to contacting her once she dies.

Diego Docini, Feather-Heel Pump $1220

As with all of the Gods, Hermes (also known as Mercury in the Roman tradition) can be your best ally or your worst enemy. Sometimes his tricky nature comes out, making things a general mess as he sits back and laughs. Thus, when "Mercury is in retrograde" we all need to be on our guard! So, while Hermes and his winged sandals continues to symbolize speed, travel, agility, athleticism, commerce, and communication, when he's in a bad mood he can mean just the opposite.

All of this symbolism makes the implications of this new flock of shoes even more interesting. The changeable nature of fashion, commerce, communication, etcetera? Yes, I'd say we're all familiar with that in spades. There's also the implication of femininity being equated to birds, as in "birds" - the slang term for a woman - and all of its ideas of exoticism, delicacy, and freedom.

The original winged sandals also wielded tremendous power. Perhaps the gods of fashion are giving us some extra oomph to get through our daily duties? Alright, so that's a stretch even for me. My first instinct regarding these shoes is to say "YES", and then back off a bit to hear myself say..."those are kinda silly".

Nicholas Kirkwood

Then what is going on here? Do the designers really think we're willing to spend $1000-plus on a little bit of feathered detail? Forget about the practicality issues, will these feathers and pelts even survive after one wear?

If they were trying to capture the essence of the friend/foe that is the Winged Messenger, I'd say: mission accomplished. These shoes are sexy, exotic, delectable, whimsical luxury at its best, and they'd surely garner a lot of attention. But would anyone take you seriously?

Don't look now, but I think the Gods are laughing.