'Killer Heels' looks at the history of high heels
Dec. 10, 2014
"Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe" (DelMonico Books-Prestel), edited by Lisa Small
Shakespeare mentions high heels in "Hamlet," former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg praised them and fashion designers from Dior to Manolo Blahnik have bewitched women and men with their versions. "Killer Heels" is a luxurious, fun and sexy look at the history of high heels, and it manages to be eye candy and thought-provoking, too. It's on shelves for the holiday shopping season.
Based on an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, the book contains several essays and more than 100 luxurious illustrations that trace the history of heels from ancient Greece and Turkey to the modern streets of New York and Paris. Greek actors used thick-soled cork shoes for greater visibility onstage, and during the Ottoman Empire women used a type of clog for slick bathhouse floors. That supposedly inspired the chopine of 16th-century Venice, and one delicately embroidered pair from that era shown in the book could still attract attention at a party today.
The book is dominated by pictures of heels from the last 100 years, and designer Pierre Hardy notes a common theme there: "People love a high heel because it is not natural. It is a cultural object connected with seduction, power, and sexuality."
A pair of Salvatore Ferragamo heels from 1938 is like a happy, colored layer cake for feet, while the Rapaport Brothers' Satellite Jumping Shoes from 1955 has a pair of springs, presumably to launch the wearer even higher. There are kinky red leather, thigh-high boots with heels from Paris in the 1920s and the untitled nude "Gaga Shoe" from 2012 that has tiny men clambering up the sides of the shoes.
The images are interspersed with interesting bits of history: According to legend, the men of Louis the XIV's court used the talon rouge heel as a status symbol, and the trend began when a partying group of noblemen had the heels of their silk shoes stained red from bloody streets near slaughterhouses. But Napoleon and Josephine later frowned on the implied message of higher status from high heels and chose flat-bottom shoes for their official look.
Many of the modern examples are a mix of fashion, art and architecture. Iris van Herpen's "Beyond Wilderness" is constructed to look like a black mass of twisted roots, while Roger Vivier's "Blue Feather Choc" is wildly elegant.
"Killer Heels" is bound to please any fashionista, but men who take a peek may also find the answer to an old question: The book definitively explains why women need so many shoes.
Follow Kevin Begos on Twitter @kbegos.