Teetering on the brink

It’s rare for an A-lister to sound the death knell on a trend—that honour usually goes to a footballer’s wife. But, Gwyneth Paltrow may just have done it this week. After a month of tireless promotion for her new flick, Iron Man, wearing a selection of the most downright precarious heels known to womankind, even the most trend-indulgent among us have had to wonder whether the backlash has begun.

To be fair to Paltrow, it is not entirely her fault—she has spent most of the past few years avoiding being photographed.
But she can’t have failed to notice that in the past 18 months super-high shoes have been flogged almost to death by celebrities and fashonistas alike. So it isn’t surprising that when she did want to be photographed, she resorted to the default red-carpet footwear setting of ultra highs. And then some.

Last month at a Manhattan charity benefit Paltrow wore her first shock-worthy S&M-style heels, then last week in Berlin she staggered down some steps in a pair of 18cm shoe boots one day and teetered on a pair of lacy platform stilettos the next. One pair required an aide for her to lean on; the other pair was accessorised with an uncomfortable look that, I’m guessing, said: “OK, I’m late with this trend, and it’s not entirely me, but I’m going to persevere.”

In recent seasons high heels have been growing at a staggering rate, with celebrities seemingly daring one another to go higher and higher. Towards the end of 2006 Christian Louboutin and his trademark red soles were regularly name-checked not just in Vogue, but in the tabloid press too. Heel heights became a story in their own right. From Nigella Lawson in her 15cm fetish shoes back in 2004 to exacting descriptions of the towering heels Victoria Beckham wore to the Cruise/Holmes “Welcome to LA” party last year, stories are now regularly and spuriously spun around shoes and heel heights. The result has been that any two-bit celebrity who wants to be photographed now knows that she need only strap on some platform spikes with nosebleed potential and coverage is pretty much guaranteed.

But there are signs that a quiet backlash is beginning. Celebrities who don’t want to be associated with a limo lifestyle have turned their back on heels.

Indie poster girl Alexa Chung favours Chanel two-tone pumps and has been seen recently sporting Russell & Bromley schoolgirl loafers. It is a shoe that demands a gamine leg and a well-turned ankle and, as Chung no doubt knows, it is far harder to pull off than no-brainer 18cm heels.

Russell & Bromley are quietly chuffed with the success of their Chester loafer, as it is known. “We’ve had that style for 25 years and it used to be a bit of a mum’s shoe, but recently it has become one of our best-sellers and younger customers are buying it,” says a spokesperson.

Meanwhile, Lily Allen has freshened up her look with blonde hair and flat pumps and, although Carla-mania is draining, Mme Sarkozy did reawaken our consciousness to the sartorial excellence of flat pumps.

On the London high street, which is gearing up for the annual battle of the surprising summer must-have, several flat shoe styles are already in the running. Moccasin shoes are in contention again; this time not boots but slip-ons that are not too dissimilar to Chung’s loafers. Gap has scored a hit already with its selection of gladiator sandals designed by French shoe genius Pierre Hardy. Yes, we’ve seen the shape before, but it is the first time a designer/high street collaboration has fixated on a simultaneously affordable and flat shoe.

So what of the future for high heels? On the European catwalks for next autumn heels still prevail, but there are subtle signs that the mood is changing. Alexander McQueen, once a devotee of the super-size, killer stiletto, chose to style the entire second half of his autumn collection with heavily jewelled and perfectly flat slippers. They looked beautiful and if the high street takes his lead, there may well be even more options for those wishing to swerve the heel wars.

But, in the meantime, let’s sit back in our new flatties and watch Eva Longoria and the Beso crew, Sarah Harding, Alex Curran et al, totter their 18cm super-size heels right over the tipping point into style oblivion.—Â

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