Saturday, February 11, 2017

Shoe Designs Based on Pre-16th Century Creations:
Sandals (Part I)[1]:
Wearable Art

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

Many modern shoes designs are based on shoes that were designed for a specific purpose - be it ease of wear or to overcome a particular environmental hazard. The difference is that with modern floors, pathways and roads and cityscapes, the environmental hazards for your feet have largely been removed, allowing the modern designer to exaggerate or heighten the simplistic designs to yield more complex environments for your feet.

This post centers on shoe designs that appeared before the 16th Century that have now morphed into a more modern appearance by shoe designers less focussed on functionality and more focussed on the shoe as a wearable art accessory. Caroline Cox’s book - Shoes: A visual Celebration of Sixty Ionic Styles [1] - provided some of the images below and was also the source for most of the commentary.

Etro Spring/Summer 2011. These robust platform sandals lasso an almost nude foot with a series of leather and embellished straps [1].

An open shoe design that exposes the foot, the sandal not only appeals to people who have a foot fetish-ness, but also sub-consciously it evokes a notion of nudity, thereby eroticizing the foot.

Shoe Designs Based on Pre-16th Century Creations: Sandals (Part I)
Acts 12:8 of the Bible states: “And the angel said unto him, ‘Gird thyself and bind on thy sandals.’ And so he did.”

The sandal was one of the earliest forms of footwear that human beings wore to protect their feet. The first use of the term sandal was to describe a form of foot-ware in which the sole of the shoe was held onto the foot by means of simple leather, rush stalks or woven papyrus straps. Sandals date back to the Ice Age and many civilizations have versions of the shoe, such as the braided zori in Japan and the paduka in India. Clearly, it was a shoe more suited for a moderate to warm Mediterranean climate such as was found in Egypt, the Middle East, Greece and of course, Italy.

Zori sandal with rice straw.

Paduka sandal.

Sandals also revealed a person's social status, distinguishing the barefoot slave from the pharaoh, who employed his own sandal bearer for important ceremonies and who wore leather sandals in preference to woven straw or palm sandals.

Egyptian Beni Hassan painting shows men wearing thonged sandals.

In Ancient Greece both men and women wore sandals, with styles ranging from heavy and practical versions to lighter with more decorative and intricate designed versions.

Ancient Greek sandals.

Roman sandals were unisex in design, with soles of cork and leather straps or laces. Soldiers wore caliga - a form of sandal with a leather sole and nails tapped into it in order to create a pattern of the ground that identified the legion to whom the wearer belonged.

Caliga sandal.

The fashionable rather than the functional sandal disappeared until the 1920s when it reappeared as a form of beach fashion with the launch of the French Riviera as a fashionable destination. By the 1930s designer André Perugia was responsible for moving the sandal from the beach to the dance floor, after creating a range of high-heeled sandals for evening wear. One of his most renowned designs was a pair of gray leather Louis-heeled peep-toe sandals for celebrated dancer Josephine Baker in 1928 based on her trademark turban.

Josephine Baker [1].
This American stage performer stunned 1920s Paris with her dare-to-bare custumes and cutaway sandals.

The term sandal was now habitually used to describe a shoe in which the foot was visible and the straps were conspicuous. It was in this era that the seductive nature of the shoe began to be most apparent, particularly in the hands of David Evins, who was a footware designer to the stars. Evins’ most famous design is tabular, strapped, multicolored, pavé wedge sandal worn by Claudette Colbert in the film Cleopatra (1934); other customers included the Duchess of Winsor, Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly.

Claudette Colbert in the film Cleopatra (1934). Note her feet.

From the 1930s through mid-1950s, Italian shoemaker Salvatore Ferrangamo was responsible for creating some of the most extravagantly experimental sandals. Designs included the “Kimo” of 1951, a sandal with an interchangeable gold, red, or black satin ankle sock and high-cut, interlaced straps made of burnt-gold soft leather.

Salvatore Ferragamo presents his creation: 'kimo', a sandal with a colored leather sock.
Photograph courtesy of David Lees (1951).

He also created the “Vtrea” of 1952-54, a gold soft leather slingback sandal with tapered wooden high heel and a vinyl peep-toe strap decorated with pearls, pink glass and topaz beads.

Sandal, 1940. A high heel and platform sole in kid-covered cork, designed by Salvatore Ferragamo (Italian, 1898–1960)

The strappy sandal maintained its popularity between the 1930s to 1950s; in the latter era designs that were prominent were T-bars and slingbacks giving the feet a “nude” appearance that matched the femininity of eveningwear inspired by the “New Look”.

Slingback sandal [1].
Pink suede “Amanda” sandal with leather corsage by Givenchy (2003).

By the end of the 1960s the practical sandal was revived once more by the hippie movement that began to influence mainstream fashion. Young people in North America, Europe and elsewhere advocated a return to simple life, leaving behind the excesses of the space age 1960s. The flat earthbound sandal made a re-appearance. The Birkenstock sandal launched in 1964 perfectly catered to this new market, with its contoured foot bed made out of layered cork and strong thread – it became a badge for the environmentalist, particularly due to its sustainable sole.

In the 2000s, the humble Birkenstock underwent a major rebranding exercise and a series of limited editions were seen on the feet of such celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston.

Gwyneth Paltrow wearing Arizona black Birkenstock sandals.

After being revived during the heady days of the 1970s disco by Andrea Pfister and Kurt Geiger, the high heeled strappy sandal remains a popular evening and summer shoe, from Manolo Blahnik’s gold leather “Sizzle Sandal” of the 1990s through to Jimmy Choo’s red satin thong sandal of 2003.

From Left to Right [1]: (i) Ankle-tie sandal. Fashioned by Andrea Pfister in bronze leather with beaded toe straps (1990); (ii) Flamboyant sandal. By Christian Lacroix in purple satin silk and multicolored calf leather.

From Left to Right [1]: (i) Minimalist sandal. Black velvet sandal with fixed strass chain by Vera Wang (1997); (ii) Platform sandal. A typically maverick constructivist design by Pierre Hardy covered in multicolored suede (2010); (iii) Butterfly sandal. Yves Saint-Lauren’s patent leather sandal uses a motif to give a symbolic flight to the feet (1983).

[1] C. Cox, Shoes: A Visual Creation of Sixty Ionic Styles, New Burlington Books, London (2012).

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