Step out in a statement

2011-12-02 12:14

Back in varsity I dated a guy who had more than 200 pairs of shoes. I couldn’t understand any of it – and I secretly thought it was a bit suspect, after all he lived in Cape Town, one of the unofficial gay capitals of the world.

Fast-forward a few years, and my closet can hardly accommodate my growing collection of footwear. I have shoes at my place, my sister’s place, my grandmother’s place, and shoe stashes at places I can’t remember. I have graduated from buying a “nice” pair of shoes to a pair that makes an outfit and causes shoegasms.

Statement shoes are brazen and fierce – and more often than not border on ugly. But as irresistible objets d’art they will earn you curious onlookers and admirers.

For the past few seasons, men and women have been taking risks when it comes to footwear. It’s this daring streak that fuelled designers to step out of the box and be more creative and artistic with their masterpieces.

Local designer and self-confessed shoe-a-holic David Tlale has embraced the trend. “The past season’s trends of colour-blocking and prints have made people open to trying out new trends. Most have moved from being conservative to embracing bold colours and embellishments on their footwear.”

Statement shoes have been taken to new heights thanks to fearless designers such as the late Alexander McQueen with his Armadillos and Nina Ricci’s heel-less boots and pumps, which have been all the rage on stars such as Lady Gaga, Victoria Beckham and brewery heiress Daphne Guinness.

These creations are also fun, arty pieces. Most of the time they are impractical and uncomfortable, but what the heck, they are worth every callus and corn they may induce.

The footwear revolution has been all encompassing?– from flats to heels, boots, takkies and wedges, designers have come up with ways to make shoes stand out. They’ve taken to using embellishments, eye-popping colour or gravity-defying heels. And vintage trends dating back to Elizabethan and Victorian times have also found a place on the rack.

Prada and Balenciaga’s takes on the statement shoe saw decorations of embroidery, petals, bells, crystals, beads and flowers. Israeli designer Kobi Levi’s humorous and whimsical take includes cut-out heels, reverse heels and using eye-popping architectural designs.

SABC1’s Live music show presenter Bonang Matheba is five steps ahead. Every week on the show she debuts attention-grabbing pairs of shoes from her own closet bought from all over the world. “To me, a statement shoe gets more attention than the clothes you have on. It speaks for itself and looks incredible with absolutely nothing fancy on. It’s the kind of shoe that your man wouldn’t want you to take off during, well, you-know-what,” says Matheba.

“When I shop for a shoe, the height of the actual ‘heel’ determines whether I buy it or not. The design, pattern, also play a huge role but before I fall in love with it, it needs to be higher than four inches because the higher the heel, the sexier the calves.”

Many shoe designers have gone full-on OTT when it comes to the spring/summer 2012 season.

From Matheba’s favourite designer Giuseppe Zanotti to Yves Saint Laurent’s platform pumps with a futuristic wide-metallic plate, Prada’s turbo-charged stilettos, Balenciaga’s platforms with wings to Burberry’s suede fringed and heeled boots, Charlotte Olympia Kitty slipper featuring a cat’s face in gold stitching, and the freakish Christian Louboutin heels in pony hair to mimic a lion’s paw, these designers have really upped the stakes of exclusivity.

Shoe designer and director of the Footwear Design and Technology School of South Africa, Glyn Giani has his own theory on why this trend has gained momentum.

“Most shoe designers have realised that mass markets in China, Brazil and other parts of the world can produce their goods easily. Plus, customers are now looking for products that are exclusive and intricately designed.”

Giani adds that artistic value and extravagant embellishments are what drives demand because not every variation is for everyone. And it’s this particular uniqueness that is a deal breaker for choreographer and shoe-collector, Somizi Mhlongo, who compulsively buys shoes on a whim to add to his 1?000-plus collection.

“When I buy shoes, I want to feel like they’re custom-made for me. I need to feel like there’s no chance of seeing them on anyone else’s feet,” he says.

“Two or three years ago, people used to give me funny looks whenever I wore one of my crazy pairs of statement shoes, but now they’ve joined the club. I’m so glad that I’m fashion forward enough to know a good trend before it lands,” he says.

These shoe-a-holics don’t mind paying a pretty penny for their obsession either.

Fashion blogger Melody Motha recently bought herself a pair of Christian Louboutins for R11 000 while on a trip in Hong Kong.

“The minute I saw them, I fell in love. They are the most beautiful and expensive shoes I have ever owned and I didn’t even mind parting with the money,” she says.

Motha says she used to buy two pairs a month but has since stopped, realising she prefers quality over quantity.

Motha’s best friend, Soweto TV’s Lerato Kganyago also has a closet full of shoes that keeps expanding each month.

“I believe a person is judged by their hair and shoes so I always spend more money on those. Not only are they a great pick-me-up after a stressful day, but they also give you loads of confidence and good posture.”

Matheba has the same belief, saying: “It’s like wearing sexy, matching underwear underneath your suit when you go to work. It gives you the kind of confidence that no one can describe. Stilettos specifically make you feel sexy, confident, powerful and totally regal. Sometimes, they can be better than any man on Earth.”

Through all the pain, the falls (yes, I have been there a time or two) and the constant threat of grievous injury, the statement shoe will remain trendy for more seasons to come.

After all, what’s not to love about a piece of accessory that takes your outfit from plain to talking point?

If you have a pair of statement shoes, all you need is a simple LBD (little black dress) or a pair of jeans and T-shirt and you’re good to go – any where.

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