Killer heels

The stiletto is an entirely modern invention. Until the middle of the 20th century, the scientific know-how that enables the weight of a body to be supported on an area no bigger than a 5p coin simply didn’t exist. In the 1950s, Salvatore Ferragamo and Roger Vivier began using the principles of engineering to produce an entirely new heel.
Maybe it is because the stiletto is so modern that it just won’t go away. There are two reasons for its popularity. It can empower even the girliest girl. Psychologically, it is the equivalent of a Dr Martens boot (“I’m tough”) mixed with a satin slipper (“I’ve got class”). And it brings sexual awareness: an American survey found that more than 70 per cent of women felt that their stilettos caused their pelvis to move differently, making them feel, well, sexy. This is to do with bearing; the psychology of wearing something capable of killing (think Jennifer Jason Lee in
Single White Female) makes slouching impossible. In stilettos, you walk tall, or not at all. And this infinitely sexual heel can tell many different tales: add satin ribbons and it suggests an 18th-century bordello; narrow spaghetti straps and it is a garden party. Put a stiletto heel on a classic court shoe and it is the epitome of the high-powered businesswoman.
In keeping with the question, “Is a modern shoemaker an engineer, a sculptor, or a mixture of both?”, contemporary designers such as Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin push the stiletto to the limits of height and slimness. In the right hands, it can be made to look as pure and perfectly engineered as a bird sculpted by Brancusi. Women buy pairs to display, rather than wear, like a work of art. As a player in the nostalgic costume drama that is the world of shoe design, the stiletto stands out as a truly modern object surrounded by the dross of fake historicism.

(First published January 2003)

Picture source. Louboutin.