Editor’s letterThis month, our editor in chief wants to open your eyes to a little hotel in South Tyrol that’s setting the benchmark in hospitality for its efforts in the community. But first, we’ve an exercise for you to be getting on with.
The openerWe question the rise of the ‘instant library’ and skip the hangover with a tee-total cocktail. First up, getting in an upmarket lather, the capes and capers of Brazilian politics and why Ibiza is so Italian.
Talon showLife in the city can take its toll but there are ways to avoid getting your feathers ruffled. We sharpen our pencils and head to a life-drawing class where the models are birds of prey, bats or even wolves.
Stand and be countedGetting an accurate idea of turnout at protest marches is vital to our understanding of the public mood. We meet the people with the clickers.
My cabinetThe Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode’s executive president is helping to drive French fashion forever forward by focusing on education – as well as Paris Fashion Week, of course.
Cosy cornerWhen in Paris, the visionary designer heads for the tranquil – but suitably colourful – setting of her local bistro.
Obama armyChicago is now home to Barack Obama’s new political fighters. As the midterms approach, we head to the city to see how his legacy is shaping politics today.
Recovery positionKatrin Jakobsdottir is a rare thing: a scandal-free, left-wing prime minister who believes in compromise. She takes a break to spread the word about Iceland’s economic success.
Politics BriefingGermany’s immigration policy could get a lot more relaxed, while Canada struggles with controversial statues and economic woes beleaguer Turkey’s president.
Defence BriefingHas Iran found a way to circumvent sanctions when it comes to fighter jets? Plus, New Zealand’s pilots get a boost, the UK’s arms exports are taking off and Sri Lanka is becoming a focal point for defence in Asia.
Diplomacy BriefingWe meet Denmark’s ambassador to Silicon Valley and find out how Lithuania brands itself abroad.
Cities BriefingToronto’s mayoral race is heating up, Zürich’s mayor tells us what her city is doing right and one of Venice’s bridges gets a revamp.
Critical crossroadsA hard-won peace, falling crime and growing foreign investment are reasons to be optimistic about Colombia – but the age-old problems of inequality, corruption and coca production refuse to go away.
Let’s talk shopsIs it game over for stores, malls and high streets? Not according to these developers and place-makers who believe they have the formula that makes bricks-and-mortar retail work.
Amplifying the positivesAs a 30-year veteran of the music industry, Rob Stringer is intent that past mistakes are not repeated. The Sony Music CEO has no problem with dissenting voices in the workplace but is vocal about one thing: everyone needs to be in tune with the creative side of the business.
Made to lastRetailer Manufactum’s HQ suits the company, with its anti-throwaway ethos, perfectly.
Business BriefingLinkedIn for Spanish seniors, a Greek start-up reviving dead leaves and a San Francisco neighbourhood gets a new brand.
Tiger barmyOsaka’s Hanshin Tigers are the best-supported team in Japanese baseball despite not having won the league since 1985. And we don’t use the term ‘best-supported’ lightly: the romance of the sleeping giant draws fans from across the land. On game day we found a technicolour pageant of partisanship.
Smarter homesMeet the architects and businesses who are creating housing that’s affordable, sustainable and a pleasure to live in.
Brave new worldFor decades the Belice Valley was a byword for bureaucratic bungling in the face of disaster. Now, 50 years after a devastating earthquake struck the region, the bold aesthetic legacy that bloomed in its wake is finally getting the attention it deserves.
Counter cultureLA’s diners serve a healthy dollop of nostalgia but their architecture has modern relevance.
Architecture BriefingThe new designs making our towns and cities more exciting.
Thirsty workLong a refuge for passing idle hours in the sun, Bali is now proving a lively launch-pad for a new crop of drinks businesses. We meet the entrepreneurs.
Back to the futureThere’s more to the City of Angels than dive joints and cocktail clubs. The 1933 Group is safeguarding the future of Los Angeles’ bar scene by preserving its past, all while calling attention to the city’s forgotten architectural gems.
Food & Drink BriefingA tour of Turku, Finland, a Dublin coffee shop and our favourite new London local.
Korea diplomatFormer UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon talks about his life and legacy over a traditional Korean lunch.
A single planHe’s created a luxury behemoth from scratch and is determined to stay independent, outspoken and successful. Tom Ford talks sex, retail and trackpants.
Top to toeOur global review of the industry leaves no stone unturned – we’re not only interested in the cut of the cloth but the material gains made behind the scenes.
Little treasuresWe’re having children later in life, which (hopefully) means our bank balances are more handsome. The outcome: a lot of money to spend on our kids. And that’s why Le Bon Marché is going all out to lure the smartest big spenders.
Downward trendKiller heels, once status symbols, are now conspicuously absent from fashion-show front rows (and runways). How did they become out of step with the modern world?
The new rebelsTunisia’s tumult battered its fashion factories. But the country’s designers have cut (and sewn) a new direction that’s selling from Paris to Japan.
On top of the worldWoolrich prides itself on its US heritage but the firm’s Japan division isn’t hiding in the shadows. The outdoor offshoot is using cutting-edge fabric and sharp design to reach new customers – whether they’re scaling a mountain or just demanding peak performance from their clothes.
History of timeWe speak to the CEO of the International Watch Company keeping the 150-year-old brand timely, how the company’s new production facility is more than just a workplace and why too much exclusivity doesn’t help anyone.
Heart of the cityAmi is the non-fashion brand – that’s super fashion. Its easy Parisian style has won over men and now it’s tackling the women’s market.
Feasting on the plateThe Argentine capital’s energy helps keep its citizens creative in the face of the country’s latest economic challenges.
Get out of townThis month we round up some fine spots for weekend jaunts, whether it’s a seaside stay in Japan, a reborn Massachusetts motel or a woodland retreat an hour from Paris. And for diehard urbanites there’s an electrifying Copenhagen hotel and a collection of upscale apartments in Prague.
All changeNew Zealand’s most populous city is having a bit of a makeover. And now a spate of new boutiques and restaurants are adding to its charm.
Always a surprise in storeHibiya Central Market is the soul of the shopping mall, where you can wander and linger among kiosks, perfectly edited fashion stores and unpretentious restaurants with a touch of old-school Tokyo.
Class of their ownTop-flight trainers and upbeat tunes to get you up and out, and tasteful homeware, thrilling reads and film tips if you want to cosy up at home as the evenings draw in.
The directoryWhere to sleep, eat and shop this month.
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Footwear / Global
Killer heels, once status symbols, are now conspicuously absent from fashion-show front rows (and runways). How did they become out of step with the modern world?
Historians often talk about hemlines but it’s shoes (and their elevated soles) that are the real social barometers. Heels are where fashion and politics converge. From Louis XIV’s four-inch talons to mid-20th-century stilettos and the 1970s platform, the heel reflects social attitudes and ideas of status, utility and sex.
It is telling then that the classic high heel, particularly on the court shoe, is noticeably absent from the runway today – and, perhaps more crucially, from the feet of those who sit beside it.
Paris Fashion Week was always marked by coteries of editors navigating Faubourg Saint-Honoré with the cautious gait of Philippe Petit in Man on Wire. Yet the fashion set have ditched the precipitous heel and are now striding the pavements in flats, chunky boots or en baskets (trainers). For the latter, the more podiatrist-approved, the better. Balenciaga’s bulky Triple S trainer or APC’s prescription-worthy kicks can nowadays be plausibly worn with an evening dress.
Preserving your metatarsal arch has become fashionable. But the demise of the heel also has a political dimension: the physical impairment that comes with heels is at odds with fourth-wave feminism and its emphasis on equality, independence and strength. “At the moment it’s about being firm-footed, grounded, androgynous,” says Georgina Goodman, a shoe designer who is an associate lecturer on the MA in footwear at the London College of Fashion. “The heel feels decadent. It just feels wrong at the moment – you need to be able to walk.”
Goodman made shoes for Alexander McQueen and designed one of the highest pair of heels ever seen on a catwalk – the Armadillo boots – but today her collection only features slip-on flats, trainers and high-tops. “Over the past few years I’ve seen a steady move towards comfort. It’s a move towards technical innovation too; sports technology is making its way into the mainstream.”
Goodman doesn’t think that the flat shoe has the political intent of a defiant Doc Marten boot in the 1970s but does feel that the trend for grounded soles has sprung from a political context. “It’s an androgynous movement that is being led by a very young generation who are all talking about being gender neutral,” she says. “It’s about saying, ‘We can be anything.’ Brands are having styles that go right across from size two to size 43.”
“Killer heels” are no longer status symbols. In fact, they can be the objects of derision. The sight of Melania Trump walking across a rain-soaked runway to board Air Force One in four-inch heels to visit hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico last October became an emblem of a lofty and unrealistic first lady with very little independence.
The high-heeled court shoe suddenly feels like the realm of trophy wives and ribbon-snipping royals. It implies that there is a car waiting or a large taxi bill in the offing. Instead, the sturdy low-heel boots that Maria Grazia Chiuri chose for Dior’s autumn/winter collection (inspired by student protest) summed up a more autonomous, practical elegance. You can run for a bus, flee from a mugger or walk home in the snow.
Elizabeth Semmelhack, who curates the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, argues that the heel has never wielded any actual power. “What kind of power is it?” she says. “Power through sexual desirability can’t possibly lie with the person. In any case, if power is really signified by high heels then men would be happy to wear them.”
Semmelhack’s book, Heights of Fashion: A History of the Elevated Shoe, tracks the heel from its origin in 10th-century Persia (where it was worn by male horsemen) to the courts of Louis xiv (who wore red-soled four-inch heels), through the Second World War and to the present day. She argues that heels were first sported by men and adopted by daring women who donned male garb. It was during the Enlightenment that fashion “was pressed into service” to divide men and women.
“Heels became synonymous with fragility, irrationality. They signified women’s desirability, their idiocy,” says Semmelhack. More recently they were taken up by pornographers. “[The high heel] is about hyper-sexualisation. There’s a reason we wouldn’t be comfortable with the Queen of England or, say, Hilary Clinton wearing a high court shoe.”
Semmelhack believes that the recent convergence of comfort, fashion and feminism may have truly dislodged the high heel’s footing. “I think it’s possible that the MeToo movement and the increased status of sneakers may really challenge the position of the high heel,” she says. “There’s a sense that when you see a woman walking in high heels she is vulnerable.”
There is evidence that this shift in attitude is changing the retail landscape. While certain demographics remain more committed to the heel than others, in some markets the classic high heel is stumbling. According to the NPD Group’s Retail Tracking Service, sales of high heels declined 11 per cent in the US in 2017 (trainers increased by 37 per cent). In the UK, Christian Louboutin’s profits plummeted from £5.8m in 2016 to £1.1m in 2017. Designers are changing how they balance their collections. “While shoemakers used to portion 80 per cent of their collections to the high heel, today it’s more like 20 per cent and the rest is flats and mid-heights,” says Goodman.
Certain brands have seized the moment. Utilitarian shoemaker Teva has seen a surge in popularity: its Velcro sandal has been featured in other labels’ catwalk shows and the brand has benefited from collaborations with agenda-setting retailers such as Opening Ceremony.
Meanwhile, the 244-year-old German sandals-maker Birkenstock has seen a swell in business in recent years. The Neustadt-based company, which pioneered orthopaedic footwear in the 19th century, sold 25 million pairs of shoes last year and reportedly posted record profits of €70m in 2016. The brand has gained a hallowed place in the industry: it is loved by legions of sandals-and-socks stalwarts while also being coveted by the fashion set.
“In the past decade the comfort and general feeling of wellbeing that Birkenstock stands for has simply been discovered by more and more people,” says Yvonne Piu, CMO of Birkenstock, who has helped oversee collaborations with the likes of fashion designer Rick Owens. “In earlier decades, footwear did not predominantly consider wellbeing, comfort or quality, so women were more likely to favour and wear high heels. In today’s society of Generation Y, both men and women are hungry for exactly these values. The urban youth have started viewing Birkenstock from a different angle.”
Piu says that the Birkenstock team has experimented with heels and platforms but decided against them. “We determined that it goes to the impairment of functionality and we waived implementation.”
Heels have not disappeared from the red carpet altogether (though last year the Israeli actress Gal Gadot did her Wonder Woman premiere and subsequent tour in flat sandals). For many workers, court shoes are still considered office attire. In fact, despite all the talk of female empowerment, a 1.5-inch minimum heel stipulation still exists in many employee dress codes, including for airlines.
No one expects high heels to disappear altogether; they are good for dancing and often give women a posture and gait that makes them feel glamorous. Yet super-high, unstable heels that restrict movement and inflict pain do not reflect the general mood in a post MeToo era.
Flats are in fashion but they are also indicative of a social shift. Just as women donned sporty Oxfords during the emancipated 1920s and a blocky low heel during the Second World War, the grounded, ready-for-anything androgynous shoe embodies the contemporary zeitgeist – and modern necessity.
Key moments in heels’ history:
1599: Shah Abbas sends Persian diplomatic mission to Europe and men embrace the Near Eastern heel.
1701: Louis XIV of France is painted by Hyacinthe Rigaud in red heels.
1947: Salvatore Ferragamo designs an “invisible heel”.
1963: Roger Vivier debuts his “Virgule” stiletto.
2010: Céline’s Phoebe Philo walks her autumn 2010 catwalk in a pair of white tennis shoes.