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.

Nice Shoes, Bitch

Candy Stud Pump by Christian Louboutin

She wasn’t supposed to be there, in front of the bagel shop a few blocks from my house. It was ten in the morning and this was the hour for young mothers overwhelmed by large strollers, construction workers grabbing a snack, or post-workout people stopping by with their dogs. I was part of the last group – still in running tights, a ballcap, and layers of sweaty performance wicking. I also had my dog Bonnie with me, who was at that moment giving me her best (and most unseemly) sad-eyed begging routine for a bit of whole wheat bagel. It was crowded. The day was warm and blue. The kids were loud. I was happy.

No, she was definitely not supposed to be there.

And yet she entered my vision and I thought she was lovely. A tall, elegant Asian girl in a soft gray charmeuse blouse with a knotted silver scarf and crisp black trousers. A lush black leather handbag was carried daintily in one hand, while large black sunglasses hid her eyes most mysteriously. She walked with a man in business clothes – they were together, but not together – like colleagues. Clearly he had never noticed a thing about what she (or anyone else for that matter) was wearing. I thought they were bankers or real estate agents or something. They were both completely out of place. I noticed she smiled a little to herself, in a quixotic, Mona Lisa sort of way. I admired her style but thought she was rather done up for the heat of the day. Why not loose that scarf, sister? Then I looked down.

The profile of the spiked toes hit me first. Shiny, sharp, and ferocious, they looked like Medieval maces for the feet; weaponry. These shoes were not to be fucked with in any way at all. One swift kick to the nether regions and that would be the end of that, Charlie. A perfect paradox of messaging, the toes sent out a warning while the stiletto heel sent out a come-hither. And the lacy sides barely peeked out from below the perfectly tailored trousers. I couldn’t look away.

Damn. Those shoes are fucking rad. Who is this girl and why is she here?

Amid a sea of snotty-nosed neighborhood kids, mothers gossiping, and the double-wide strollers steamrolling the sidewalk, she moved like a cloud of cool success and refinement. But those shoes belied something else: something dirty, captivating, and fabulous. No wonder she was smiling. Metal, leather, and lace. Phew! I was thinking this way as a fellow woman. Jesus, what kind of affect would these have on a man? I pity the poor fools.

As she walked further on I noticed the shockingly vivid redness of the signature soles, cementing the level of fearsome that I had anticipated. Dollar amounts started to pop into my head. Do I hear $950? $1050? $1100? With that kind of detail on a Louboutin namesake, who knew how high things would go? She kept walking, and I kept watching. I marveled how daintily she stepped. She was a pro; despite my years of practice I always feel like I still lumber a bit in stilettos, but not this girl. All of her weight was forward on the ball of the foot, which came down gently first, followed closely by the fall of the heel with only the slightest pressure. She could have been in pointe shoes. True, she walked slowly and a bit mincingly, (two things my long strut will not accommodate,) but she was graceful.

She was graceful, and she had a new pair of Louboutins that probably cost close to my monthly rent. I hated this bitch on principal.

She walked like someone newly in-love, except she was clearly in love with her new shoes. She moved pretending not to notice the insane luxury going on south of her own ankles, meanwhile every step magnified the evidence. These shoes were meant for the bedroom, or if worn out of doors at all, a cocktail party. They were definitely not ten-AM appropriate, nor work-appropriate, but she still wore them like any self-respecting woman who’s just spent a small fortune on high-fashion footwear.

Outwardly I seethed with jealousy, but inwardly I applauded the action. Outwardly I was completely cowed, but inwardly I wanted to commit assault and grand larceny.

Yes, I know how it feels to be this girl, but it’s been a very long time. It's a heady feeling to walk like sex on a stick, and its power is undeniable. I too know what that Mona Lisa smile is all about. So, is it the shoes I want or the feeling they'll surely give me? It's a question for lovers - of fashion and of life. And we're all fools in love, no matter how great the cost.

Candy Stud Pumps by Christian Louboutin - $965 at Saks Fifth Avenue

The Great Shoe Wake

I died for beauty, but was scarce

Adjusted in the tomb,

When one who died for truth was lain

In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly why I failed?

"For beauty," I replied.

"And I for truth, -the two are one;

We brethren are," he said.

And so, as kinsmen met a night,

We talked between the rooms,

Until the moss had reached our lips,

And covered up our names.

- Emily Dickinson, 1862

I've been planning this funeral for months, years actually. Everything short of wreaths of roses and readings from the Psalms. If I had hardwood floors instead of carpeting I'd be pouring my shot of whiskey right out in honor of my fallen heroes - all six of them, in fact. To be fair, not all of these heroes are entirely fallen. Some are merely in ICU or in desperate need of hospice care just to manage the pain a bit. Is it their pain, or mine? I wonder.

I suppose I should tell you what I'm talking about here: shoes. Very beautiful, expensive, adored, and in another time frequently worn, shoes. Back when I worked in the luxury fashion industry I gathered together quite a collection. I'm not one of those people that builds a collection and then hordes it for myself alone; no, I share it with the world and display my affection (and appreciation) openly. Thus, these shoes have served me well and are now very close to death, if not entirely dead.

In all honesty, some of these do have some life left in them but I am concerned that if they emerge from the cryogenic stasis of my closet that they will disintegrate once they hit pavement. So what to do? How do you honor the life of a much-loved, once-luxurious set of footwear? Do you bury them in the shoe cemetary, burn them and scatter the ashes above Union Square, or perhaps commit sati upon their blazing pyre? I have no idea. But before I do anything, I think I should give them a mention here...

The Lou-Boos above are my very first pair from that illustrious house, and unfortunately I never wear them. This despite the fact that the style was on an episode of Sex and the City back in the day. (One of the few when Carrie was in Paris with Baryshnikov - can you imagine those stilettos on cobblestones? Me neither.) They're about a half-size too big for me and even with the anti-skid sole they are always precarious on the foot - like any second they could potentially go flying and impale the handsome head of a gentleman caller. This looseness makes them more than a little uncomfortable, and while I lament giving them up, I'm afraid they are just using up precious closet space.

These gold Celine sandals are likewise mere space-suckers in the armoire. Glittering, Grecian, shapely, sexy, and strapping, these shoes always garner compliments galore. This is a good thing that my toes appreciate because they hurt like the dickens when worn. Dickens? More like having a pair of rubber bands around your foot just below the arches, cutting off the blood-flow. Despite only having worn these all of three times, the insoles are completely unglued, rippled, and serve as a useles layer on an ultra-thin lower sole. I've been dying to throw these away, but my heart collapses at the thought of putting anything named Celine in the garbage.

Back around 2004-2005 chunky heels were in style and I definitely participated in this trend. Enter the next two pairs: a Mini-Damier Mary Jane and Mini-Monogram Cerise Pump, both by Louis Vuitton. I cannot tell you how much I adored these two in their time. The Mary Janes' straps are connected by small pieces of elastic which are now so overstretched that they could snap at any moment. Meanwhile, the pumps are scuffed, scratched, and stained with the residual damage of many many adventures, at play and at work. Both pairs are as loose as bedroom slippers (even with the heels) but are now beyond wearable. They're just embarassing. As far as disposal goes, these two are my Velveteen Rabbits.

Another oddity is this ultra-fabulous pair from Marc by Marc Jacobs. Entranced by their colorful polka-dots I had to have them so badly that I paid full-price for them, around $250, which was a LOT of money for me back then. (Hey, who am I kidding, it still is!) It wasn't until after I'd purchased them that I found that they were also in an episode of Sex and the City, but I can't remember which one. Retro, fun, and sexy, I still love the compliments I get on these shoes. They're still in really good shape, outwardly, but inwardly there's a few little issues. Okay, so I snapped one of the heels at one time; you wouldn't know it but for the six-odd angry-looking nailheads that the shoe repair drove right through the instep. I would have forgotten this myself if that shoe still had its insole, but it doesn't. They're also barely comfortable after about an hour, so they too go unworn.

Finally, remarks for the best pair of kitten heels that ever came out of the House of Dior. A saucy mini heel and a long pointy shape are paired with lush black leather, making these versatile and easy to wear. At least that used to be the case. The little "Dior" metal embellishment on the right shoe has come unhinged on one side so it starts to swing around as I walk. The overall condition is good though, but these too feel more like slippers than shoes and tend to flop on my feet. They've been re-soled and re-heeled umpteen times, but they're so lovely and adorable! It breaks my soul to conceive of stuffing these kittens into their dust bag and drowning them.

Has anyone else faced a similar predicament? How does one dispose of no-longer-wearable designer fashion? It cannot be restored or recycled or given away at this point, and belive me, no museum would want them. Apart from a sacrifice on the altar of fashion, I'm not sure what to do. Plus, I'm not sure the Gods would care - they aren't virgins after all!

Here's a drink to all my shoes, past, present, and future...

Angels Wanna Wear My...

There is an old saying that goes "red shoes are only for children and whores..." Well, I'm neither one nor the other but I still love me some red footwear! In fact, the statement runs entirely contrary to the mindset of a true fashion-lover; why be so limiting and so judgmental in one single statement? This sounds like one of those mid-century fashion dogmas a la "no white after Labor Day" and "handbags and shoes must match"... Ugh.

When I browse shoe stores I am instantly drawn to the red pairs. Maybe it's because red is my favorite color, or because I'm unafraid of wear it, or because I'm kooky and use my colors as neutrals, but there it is and I can't help it. There is just something about red shoes. Is it because they're sort of childish and impractical? Or is it the taboo of being so vampish and attention-grabbing on a body part rife with fetishistic implications? Or perhaps we were just brought up to love them? 

"Oh I used to be disgusted, but now I try to be amused. But since their wings have got rusted, you know, the angels wanna wear my red shoes." -Elvis Costello

YSL Rive Gauche, Fall 2003Not one single woman I know would turn her nose up at the ruby slippers, for instance. Talk about the shoes that launched a thousand ships! From the moment the Wicked Witch of the East's striped legs curled up and her shoes found their way onto Dorothy's feet, we all sat up and paid attention to our shoe wardrobes. Sadly, our own collections do not transmit in such technicolor glory, but every pair of red shoes we own lends itself to this fantasy. By the way, did you know that the magical slippers in the Wizard of Oz were meant to be silver, like in the book? The legend goes that Louis B. Mayer paid a visit to the set and realizing the power of the new technicolor format, he made the slippers ruby instead. Mr. Mayer, if you only knew...

Next year will mark the 70th anniversary of this classic film and to celebrate it, twenty fashion designers have been invited by

Warner Brothers and Swarovski 

to design  recreations of the famous ruby slippers. I'm never a big fan of these kinds of "redesigns", especially where they concern something so classic and iconic - it's just never as  fabulous as the original. But, when I read about this

in last week's

New York Times,

I started to think about the far-reaching influences of the ruby slippers in particular, and red shoes in general.

Jim Fixx's Onitsuka TigersOf course there's blue suede and black patent, but the most iconic shoes are the red ones. It makes sense since most every culture in the world uses red for celebrations and as a symbol of luck and happiness. It is thought that as humans, the color red encourages us to action and confidence, while it protects us from fears and anxiety. Add all of this to the power and confidence inherent in a well-made, beautifully-designed pair of shoes and you come up with a heady cocktail indeed.

But it's not just "fashion" shoes that are iconic; Jim Fixx launched an athletic revolution with his cherry red Onitsuka Tigers on the cover of The Complete Book of Running- a seminal work in the world of personal fitness. Think about it, without those sleek red beauties, would there have been Jazzercise or Jane Fonda Workout or spin class or bootcamp? I grant you it's a reach, but I'd be willing to bet that a lot of the world's current health and well-being is owed to a pair of red sneakers from 1977. 

And then there's The Red Shoes. This stunning Powell and Pressburger film from 1948 has probably inspired most of today's professional dancers and performing artists. Based upon a Hans Christian Andersen story about a girl who sees some red shoes in a shop window and has to have them, only to learn too late that the shoes are possessed and she will never be able to take them off again. Or, as Boris Lermontov explains in the film:

""The Ballet of The Red Shoes" is from a fairy tale by Hans Andersen. It is the story of a young girl who is devoured with an ambition to attend a dance in a pair of Red Shoes. She gets the shoes and goes to the dance. For a time, all goes well and she is very happy. At the end of the evening she is tired and wants to go home, but the Red Shoes are not tired. In fact, the Red Shoes are never tired. They dance her out into the street, they dance her over the mountains and valleys, through fields and forests, through night and day. Time rushes by, love rushes by, life rushes by, but the Red Shoes go on."

A metaphor for one's commitment to their art and passion, with more than a soup

ç

on of a warning from Doctor Faustus. The story presents a choice: do you choose art, or do you choose life? As Lermontov sternly tells one of his dancers: "You cannot have it both ways. A dancer who relies upon the doubtful comforts of human love can never be a great dancer. Never."

Christian Louboutin Feather Ankle-Wrap D'Orsay for Fall 2008So what is a girl to do? On the one foot, red shoes are powerful and glamorous while on the other foot they're troubling and leading the wearer into mischief. The beauty of this connundrum is that red shoes carry both messages; they're beauty and beast in one. Totally intrepid and not for the passive wearer, they demand attention, action, and daring, even if that daring can cause some problems. Above all they require a certain amount of commitment to oneself and one's fashion prowess. You want to wear the red shoes - you don't want them to wear you.

Red shoes make me happy. It's all of the messaging and metaphor of innocence, sex, art, glamor, and life rolled into a single pair of shoes. But more than that, they seem to just smile at you from the shoe box as if to say "you know when you put me on you're going to have a fabulous day..." A box of promise just waiting to happen. Isn't it nice to know you own a pair?

Footnotes

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Yes...these are the ones...Sheesh! I've been looking at my posts, and so many of them have been so self-indulgently...well, non-style-oriented, that I felt I needed to get back to some fashion. And while nothing current is really racing my motor, I thought I'd dig out one of my favorite old stories...

This post was originally written about a year ago, about a real evening I was having with my friend Lee... This is a true story, every word, and it's so good that I've dug it out of the archives to share with the current P&C crowd. Okay...so P&C wasn't even around a year ago, but I was doing some writing, and it was good! This one is actually about some really great shoes - the kind I can't wear lately, so it's indulgent just to think about...

******************

On Friday night I was sitting in Gold Alley, just outside of Bix, having a cocktail with a close friend. People were gathered for the after-work drink, and since it was a nice night for February, people stood, drinks in hand, on either side of the narrow alley. On the opposite side, a group of friends enjoyed each others company, and soon a fabulously chic couple approached and were welcomed by all.

“Look at those shoes she has on…” my friend said to me. The woman in question was wearing incredibly steep stiletto heels, very bare – just a toe strap, and for that extra bit of sex, a strap of leather circling the ankle. Either the shoes were steeper than her usual, or this woman was a bad heel-walker – she could barely make the five steps from the cab to her friends without showing her shaky, uncertain footing to the entire street.

“Well, she can hardly walk in them.”

“Yeah – but look at them!”

“Yeah, they’re hot, but someone should have told her they’re the kind of shoes one only wears at home.”

“YEAH! With NOTHING ELSE on!”

“Exactly!” We both laughed. “I have a pair of shoes like that – my first *real* high fashion shoes I bought at a sample sale when I first started with the company. A pair of John Galliano corset-pumps. Remember those? They lace up the toe? So hot.” Ah yes. My John Galliano corset-pumps in sultry soft black leather with a delicate, skinny, little sharp heel. Sex on a stick. I went on to tell my friend the story of the shoes. The John Galliano pumps were in size 9 ½ and had been worn by a model during a fashion shoot, and due to the scuffs, could not be sold. But they could be sold to me at an employee sample sale for only $40.00. I admitted that I was afraid of them at first – they were so high, such skinny little heels, so vampish, I didn’t know quite what to do with them. I was new at my company and this had been my first sample sale, and my first pair of uber-expensive shoes (albeit purchased at considerable discount.) I think I may even have blushed at the thought of not only having them in my closet, but actually putting them on and wearing them. Our in-house fashionista-shop-aholic giggled at my uncertainty about the Galliano corset-pumps.

“You know,” she whispered to me with a conspiratorial smile, “they never even need to leave the house!” At the time the idea made me blush even harder, but I was younger then, and didn’t know so much.

Somehow or other, this shoe-y anecdote led to another and another, and I fondly remember some shoes I had purchased when I was studying in France, almost ten years ago. The first was a pair of Sketchers sneakers. Yes, I will admit to owning and wearing Sketchers in my student days – I’m not above it. (I also had Airwalks when I fancied myself a “skater girl”, but let’s leave that out, shall we?) Well, these Sketchers I bought in London, somewhere on Carnaby Street but I don’t really remember. They were lavender, but opalescent lavender, and very shiny. Sneakers were huge in the late 90s, and I saw these and had to have them, my “Euro-Club Barbie” sneakers.

Obviously, being the girl that I am now, and was then, I shopped a great deal when I was a student in Paris. I knew where to find stuff, like the best selection of vintage leather jackets on Rue du Temple. The Temple area is the part of town where one shops for either vintage clothes, club clothes, or drag queen clothes. It was at this time when the trashy club girls at the Sorbonne were wearing these crazy sneaker-pumps one could purchase in the Temple area. Huge sneakers with big wedge heels. All the girls were wearing them. I thought they were the ugliest things I'd ever seen.

I met a good friend while I was there, Lora, who introduced me to all of the sophisticated Bohemian things I truly needed to learn about while living in Paris. Things like hashish, great sex, clubbing, and Miles Davis. For hours we would sit in each other’s rooms and talk about culture, politics, our friends at home, books, music, and men. All while smoking endless Marlboro Lights, drinking wine, and listening to “Ascenseur pour l’echafaud” – even to this day, I cannot listen to that album without being completely transported. Lora and I had a friendship of the kind that develops in these kind of study-abroad situations. Deep, rich, fulfilling, and intense. She knew me so well, while hardly knowing me at all. The shopping was therapy for me, she could see it, and she disapproved. Lora had also seen the sneaker-pumps in the Rue du Temple and warned me that if I ever came home with a pair, she would be slapping me on the first flight out of CDG so fast my head would spin. "If those ever start to look good to you, it's time to go home!"

It was a difficult time for me then, I was sad to be away from my friends, and I was going through a heavy-duty 20-year-old dose of “what does it all mean?” while lodging in a large, empty, old dorm room of the Cite Universitaire. (Lora dared me to pull myself out of my funks *without* going shopping…sometimes it worked.) I grant you, this dorm room was larger than my first apartment, but never so warm. It did look out on the Parc Montsouris, but it was full of drafts and street noise. I do think of it fondly though, just as I think of our fellow dorm residents from around the world. There was Mehdi – an Algerian living across the hall from me with a collection of hookas that were put to good use on the weekends, and also Lora’s neighbor Kuaku – an utterly stunning African man who nearly puts Taye Diggs to shame. Kuaku was from Central Africa, although I don’t remember his country, but he had also lived in London, and practically everywhere else. Lora also had an in-dorm boyfriend at the time who lived the coolest of cool lives: photographer by day, DJ by night. At one time on a rainy day he asked me if he could take a nude photo of me. He said he got inspired, me, the rain, he couldn’t resist. Of course, Lora would come with me for moral support. I thanked him, but demurred. It was a strong will I had to resist a charming French photographer, asking to take sexy photos of me. One of the biggest regrets of my life. Why wouldn’t I want pictures of myself, naked, in the middle of a parc in Paris at age 20? Like I said, I was much younger then, and didn’t know so much.

Anyways, back to the shoes. I visited London and of course went to Carnaby Street and got my Euro-Club Barbie Sketchers. I also went to Underground Shoes and purchased an absolutely TO DIE FOR pair of funkadelic London swinger shoes. Picture it: stacked four-inch heel with a slight flare at the bottom, a half-inch platform, and a lace-up Oxford style…and, wait for it, they’re pony leather, in a zebra print. So fabulous. (This was a good few years before Austin Powers too, so it wasn’t like everyone was buying them then.)

I still have these shoes, by the way. They’ve made it though the past years tucked safely in their original Underground Shoes box. They’re so outrageous and utterly precious (and not to mention slightly small) that I never wear them above once a year.

I returned to Paris just before flying back to the States, and quickly went to Lora’s room to show her my new shoes from London. Instead I found Kuaku. I was so excited about my new shoes I had to show him…

“Look Kuaku, I bought them on Carnaby Street!”

“Well, I could tell you bought them on Carnaby Street…”

“What do you think – aren’t they great?” I asked him, whole-heartedly and eagerly waiting for some kind of validation on the outrageous shoes from the beautiful African.

“Well, Ann Marie?” He began in his sweet accent, “Well, they’re zebra…” I waited a beat and considered what he was saying. He held one of the shoes in his hand, staring at it in semi-horror. I didn’t put two and two together to realize that he probably thought I’d killed his childhood pet from the bush and made a pair of shoes out of them. Being the oblivious and insensitive budding fashionista that I was, I replied with:

“Yeah! Aren’t they fabulous!”