Balancing On A Thin Line

The high heel is losing its popularity. But has it lost its power?
Photo Credits: Shoe campaign for one of my shoe lines, Marskinryyppy.
February 22, 2024
Alas, the tapping of high heels in the evening has been taken over by silent, low, lenient and temperate rubber-soled shoes. Sneakers—which were worn decades ago only strictly to and from work, for the gym or for a casual day—are now ubiquitous, within the office and for an evening out. Fashion articles are being written about why even the once notoriously high-heeled-clad French women no longer wear heels. Whether their disappearing act is in part due to #MeToo aftermath, shifts brought about by Covid like working from home, or any inconvenience they may cause, the glory days of high heels seem tragically long gone.

BUT HERE’S WHAT I’VE GOT TO SAY.

Roger Vivier, pioneer of the high heel, once referred to these playful pinnacles as a “tool of unstoppable seduction.” He well understood they hold a power MUCH too great to deny—a power no flat (or mid-heel), no matter how embellished, can claim. Flirtatiously high heels automatically make its wearer “un spectacle.” History, and the experience of anyone who has worn stilettos, proves that the high heel holds a formidable power and strength in and of itself.

Given the high heel’s association with fetishism, some feminists critique potential objectification of its wearer, reinforcing its harmful stereotype. And yes, the fetishistic aspects of the “talon” are undeniable. Fetish porn terms such as “straps,” “patent” and “tight-lacing” have carried over to stiletto footwear. Phrases describing the effect these pedestals of poise have on its wearer, like “thrusting forward,” “perking up,” and “hoisting,” have also crossed over from porn. And I might go on to list a few more words that describe the way these seductive stilts reveal the foot, as in “toe cleavage,” “backless,” and “peep-toe.” Sundry books elaborate on this particular angle of the high-heel phenomenon. But what we forget or may not realize is that the term “fetish,” actually, originally denoted something believed to hold supernatural power.

As a child, I’d always been intrigued by the high heel. And how couldn’t I, intuiting all too well just how it changes everything—the wearer’s body language, their state of mind, their attitude, behavior and gait, their muscle tonation, and the way they walk (which in heels is more a sway, a strut or a sashay). Fundamentally, the high heel can define the way its wearer FEELS. It lifts; it emphasizes all the right sinews; it elongates the legs (and who doesn’t want longer legs!!!!); it imbues the wearer with a certain understated or overstated sense of female sensual puissance, or prowess. For the love of Feminine Ascension, what else could we Femmes ask for?!?!

For me, as I would think for most kindred Femmes, my first high heel was a sort of rite of passage, and an implicit becoming a woman. High heels are what a chrysalis is to a butterfly. To wear these elevating enchanters means to be transformed—in the way we occupy space and move, the way we are regarded and the way we feel. They increase our height and make us feel richly feminine and special. Now, THIS is empowerment.

No, no, the wearer of the saucy stiletto is NOT, as some may say, being objectified. Rather their body is being self-objectified, self-posed for view, and purposely self-soliciting any and all gazes, rightfully so. Its wearer is displaying themself, precisely because they want (and feel they deserve) to.

So what has followed the “fuck-me” shoe?
Obviously, the “don’t-fuck-with-me” shoe.


But why be afraid of being sexy? Why shy away from our innately alluring allure? A superior aspect about being female or feminine is the ability to be overtly sexy. Sensuality is playful, creative, delightful and exciting. There is no stigma in that. And even though the first to wear high heels were men, curiously (and I might say, proudly!), they were appropriated and are still to this very day worn predominantly by ‘Nous Femmes du Monde.’ I would say that is a Grand Feat.

For those still of the opinion that pumps of prowess objectify, I bring to the stand the “Femme Fatale.” Here is a seductress who brings destruction and excitement to the man whom she allures. She is beautiful and at the same time dangerous. And I rest my case with a reminder, the Femme Fatale is never NOT wearing high heels.

Unfortunately, nowadays, it feels as if the idea of luxury and true elegance is linked only to the past. And lately, there seems to be no revolution in fashion anymore—no breakpoint, no crossroads—where suddenly a radical change occurs and nothing is as it was before. The icons of yore are no longer born: the jean, the loafer, the trench, the stiletto. Since the turn of the new millennium, fashion is only continuously repetitive. Everything in trend is a rehashed, reinterpretation of what was once revolutionary.

As a former women’s shoe designer and one that specialized in stiletto heels, my initial approach to designing was always more artistic than technical. However, since a stiletto in itself is a free-standing structure with an interior and exterior—of hard and soft pieces manipulated with heat and high-power machinery—it was crucial for me to consider and study the precise proportions and technical architectural aspects of realizing every design. A creative idea had to follow certain paradigms given the last and heel selection, the nature of the materials, the structure, the stitching, and the closures or lack thereof. I loved being surrounded by all the leathers in the factory and welcoming the possibility of unexpected changes. I’d try on a prototype (strut in it and feel it out, of course), cut off or paste on pieces and revel in the idea of the finished product.

WHERE AM I GOING?

It’s our human instinct to seek out and be attracted to beauty. Whether beauty is in the form of music, art, fashion, or design, we are all trying to search for meaning, for something that moves us, for something that calls up our deeper emotions and intuitions.

Even though we can talk of a high-heeled shoe as an object apart, it has a very specific reason to be worn. And this reason is to EMPOWER.

So, what do you think the high heel means for the future?
Photo Credits: Various shoe campaign images for one of my shoe lines, Marskinryyppy.

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