Sunday, October 12, 2008

Step back in style: Join the celebrity fashion fad for vintage shoes -

Last updated at 9:27 PM on 12th October 2008

Collecting vintage shoes is the latest celebrity fashion fad. But what should you buy and where do you look?
CAROLINE COX, author of a new book on retro footwear, gives you the lowdown...

Collecting vintage has become an international pastime, but while sales of retro clothing are booming as never before, shoes have been largely overlooked. Until now.

In recent years, footwear designers have brought out collections inspired by masters of the past, and fashion icons such as Kate Moss have been photographed in vintage footwear, sparking frenzied interest in the originals.

Retro footwear: Walk in style

In the early 2000s, Miu Miu produced a collection paying homage to Terry de Havilland's Seventies' platforms, leading to a resurrection of the shoe designer's career.

Now, de Havilland's gorgeous pop-art python-skin heels regularly sell for high prices at auction.

Original vintage shoes by top designers such as Roger Vivier, Beth Levine and Andre Perugia are also becoming sought-after, hunted down by collectors from London to LA.

Cate Blanchett caused a stir when she was photographed at the Helpmann Awards in Australia wearing a fabulous pair of vintage limited-edition Roger Vivier stilettos, studded with Swarovski crystals and valued at more than £5,000.

Yet vintage shoes are in general still cheap compared with other items of clothing: you can pick up a pair of Chanel shoes for a fraction of the price of a blouse or a belt.

There are still plenty of retro shoes available, many of them by iconic designers, for relatively little money.

I spotted three pairs of Roger Vivier stilettos in a North London thrift shop for £20 a pair.

So, if you're fascinated by one-offs with a history, now is the time to start ferreting out beautiful vintage shoes, which are are still often undervalued.

Here, I pick my top six iconic shoes, and look at what makes them so desirable:

Salvatore Ferragamo stilettos:

Famed for the quality of his craftsmanship, as well as for the extravagance of his designs, Salvatore Ferragamo imbued stilettos with his own brand of Italian glamour.

His heels became synonymous with the sex appeal of La Dolce Vita for a whole generation of Hollywood stars such as Marilyn Monroe, who owned 40 pairs.

Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell showed off their footwear in Some Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

From 1956, stilettos became much higher after the Italians started to strengthen plastic heels by running an aluminium spigot down the shaft.

Perhaps the most famous pair of Ferragamos were the scarlet satin rhinestone-studded stilettos that became fused into our collective consciousness after their starring role in the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Unforgettably and inextricably linked with the stellar power of Monroe and the glamour of Fifties Hollywood, the original shoes sold at Christies in New York for $42,000 in 1999.

Collect because:

They're beautifully made and offer an instant, authentic passport to the glamour of a golden Hollywood age.

Expect to pay:

£10 a pair if you strike it lucky at a second-hand shop - otherwise £45 to £75.

Roger Vivier's Pilgrim pump:
Early sixties

This shoe captured the freedom of the early Sixties. Flat and square-toed, it was designed by Roger Vivier to be worn with short skirts.

In 1965, Vivier designed a striking series of Pilgrim pumps, as they were called, to complement a collection of Yves Saint Laurent's Mondrian-inspired mini-dresses. The shoe was so flattering, comfortable and easy to wear that everyone from duchesses to dolly birds immediately wanted at least one pair.

In one year alone, Vivier was said to have sold 200,000 pairs, with customers including Jackie Onassis, the Duchess of Windsor and Catherine Deneuve, who famously wore Pilgrim pumps in her 1967 film Belle De Jour.

Shoe designer Christian Louboutin says: 'Vivier's shoes spoke by themselves. He understood that a shoe has a bone structure and that has to be perfect. He covers his shoes with beautiful embroidery and embellishment, but underneath it all is a perfect plain pump with perfect proportions - pure perfection.'

The Pilgrim pump went on to be the most imitated shoe shape of the decade and its simple silhouette was used as a blank canvas onto which many designers projected their own fantasies.

Collect because:

They were the defining shape of a decade by one of the all-time great shoe designers, and they're associated with the sophisticated chic of Sixties Paris. They're still an untapped market, so can be picked up for reasonable prices.

Expect to pay:

£75 to £150.

Andre Courreges ankle boots:

The Parisian couturier made boots fashionable again for a whole generation.

In the early Sixties, they were seen as fit only for grannies: Twiggy described going 'through the whole winter with my legs frozen to the bone because you just would not wear boots, no one wore boots. Boots meant ankle boots, brown with a zip, the sort of thing old ladies wore'.

Courreges changed all that. His space-age ankle boots caused a sensation when they were shown in his 1964 Moon Girl collection - comfortable, easy to pull on and off designs in soft white kid - worn with minimalist white trouser suits and inspired by the first space walks by Russian cosmonauts.

Within weeks, shoe designers such as Kurt Geiger, Sacha and Ravel were copying the boot. Courreges was so infuriated that he banned the Press from his shows for the next few seasons.

Collect because:

Many fashion pundits are tipping the Sixties for the next big retro revival, so get in first with some covetable originals, which also play a fascinating part in fashion history.

Expect to pay:

£75 to £200.

Terry de Havilland wedges:
Terry DeHavilland

The most fantastic Seventies platforms were wrought by the hands of Terry de Havilland - the self-confessed rock'n'roll cobbler who shod celebrities such as Bianca Jagger, Britt Ekland and David and Angie Bowie in his heels and wedges in pastel suede and metallic python skin, such as his green Dragon shoes.

Originally born Terry Higgins, he came from a shoe-making family in the East End of London. He once said: 'I'd be surprised if I'd got into this business if my dad hadn't been in it. I grew up watching shoes being made.'

He opened his first shop on the King's Road in 1972, irreverently named Cobblers To The World.

Like Biba, it was deliberately theatrical inside and became a mecca for rock stars and celebrities who bought 5in wedge shoes with ankle straps in peach, yellow, pistachio and blue snakeskin, and thigh-high, satin-lined black leather boots.

Spurred on by Miu Miu showing a collection of wedge designs almost identical to his originals, and by Cher popping into his studio to order 13 pairs, de Havilland relaunched his own-name brand and created a new series of wedge shoes for Frost-French's lingerie-inspired catwalk collection. The shoes stole the show and de Havilland transfixed a new generation.

Now, Sienna Miller and Kate Moss wear his gold and red python skin Bene and Margaux wedges and Amy Winehouse performs in his pop-art painted mules. All are modern versions of his original designs.

'The rock 'n' roll years have never really gone. My shoes have always appealed to flaunters. They're not for the faint-hearted,' he says.

Collect because:

Is Kate Moss ever wrong? A genuine dose of pure Seventies glamour - and easy to walk in, too.

Expect to pay:

£150 upwards, although some pairs have changed hands for £800 at auction.

Manolo Blahnik cone heels:

The cone heel was perfect for the power-dressed woman, combining height with comfort in a way the stiletto did not.

Invented by designer Maud Frizon, the cone heel was for the woman who wanted to show she was glamorous, but would not stand for being messed around - glamour with a hard edge.

As such it summed up the mood of the decade, with its materialist ambitions and business mantras. Blahnik captured the imagination of the era - most of his styles sold out as soon as they were launched.

He had many high-profile fans including Jerry Hall, who accessorised her dramatic Antony Price gowns with Blahnik's black suede heels and wore his flat gold leather thongs while sunning herself on Mustique.

Blahnik cemented his status in TV's Sex And The City when fashion fanatic Carrie Bradshaw was mugged and famously pleaded: 'Please, sir. You can take my Fendi Baguette, you can take my ring and watch, but don't take my Manolo Blahniks.'

Collect because:

They're glamorous yet practical and encapsulate the spirit of the age. Relatively easy to find now, but won't always be so.

Expect to pay:

£75 upwards for original Manolos, but Eighties cone heels can be bought for a fiver.

Christian Louboutin Very Privé:
Still in production
Glittery Very Prive

Painstakingly designed and beautifully made, this is a future collectable from the man who put sex back into shoes.

Christian Louboutin is the shoe designer of our era and his footwear stands out from the crowd, partly because of its uncompromisingly sexy, almost fetishist qualities, but also because of the famous bright red soles.

The idea came when the designer was working on a collection influenced by Andy Warhol and his use of bright, highly saturated colours (pictured below).

After the initial designs, Louboutin felt something was missing and noticed one of the assistants painting her nails with bright red varnish.

He took the bottle and painted the soles of the shoes with the gloss so that although some of the shoes looked demure on the outside, once a woman was walking they gave a flirtatious flash.

This became his trademark and is the only form of advertising Louboutin has ever done - it's subliminal, subversive and sexy, like the shoes.

Louboutin nominated the Very PrivÈ as one of his favourite designs, explaining his love of very high heels: 'My long-time love of the French showgirl and stage performers means I design a lot of very high heels that lengthen the leg.

'People ask me "How can I walk in these heels?" and I answer with the best compliment I remember from a woman who lives in Paris. She said: "Since I wore your heels, Christian, I know Paris. Heels permit me to take the time to look at things."

'High heels give you time to think, to look at your surroundings - and they permit men to stop you. Women should live to the rhythm of high-heeled shoes!'

Collect because:

Louboutin shoes aren't produced in great numbers, but are kept and cherished by their army of admirers, so there won't be huge numbers of secondhand pairs in years to come.

Louboutin is the name of this decade, and they are instantly recognisable.

Expect to pay:

£375 to £400, though the crocodile skin versions will set you back around £2,000.

* Extracted from Vintage Shoes by Caroline Cox (Carlton, £25). © Caroline Cox 2008. Available at all good bookshops. To order a copy, visit

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