No longer mere accessory, shoes move center stage

LEANNE ITALIE
The Associated Press
Modified: February 22, 2013 at 3:32 pm •  Published: February 22, 2013
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photo - This Feb. 11, 2013 photo shows a shoe, designed by Masaya Kushino, and made with lacquered Japanese cypress wood, human hair, and lace, displayed at the
This Feb. 11, 2013 photo shows a shoe, designed by Masaya Kushino, and made with lacquered Japanese cypress wood, human hair, and lace, displayed at the "Shoe Obsession" exhibit at The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology Museum in New York. The exhibition, showing off 153 specimens, runs through April 13. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Shoes are so popular, in fact, that Hill cited recent data noting the average American woman owns nearly twice as many shoes as she did a decade ago — about 17 pairs.

"What we're seeing in a way is a kind of democratization of the kind of phenomenon that we saw in 'Sex and the City,'" Steele said. "At first it was just sort of some people who were really obsessed with high-end designer shoes. This has now spread."

Shoes, she said, have moved from accessories to fashion's main story "to BEING the main story, in part because designer clothes have gotten so expensive. So even if you're spending $900, $1,000 on a pair of shoes, something insane, that's less than you'd be spending by far than if you were getting a dress or something, and people seem to feel that it's more worth it."

Height, Steele said, "has reached this great moment," when compared to a decade ago. "We've gone about as high as most people can walk in shoes, unless you're Lady Gaga. That's about six inches, but some people can do higher."

Ban is one of them.

"I can go maybe 10 inches, but that's, like, standing at a cocktail party not moving. Anything for fashion," she laughed.

While a high toe platform to match rear height remains popular, with Ban and millions of other fashionistas, "we're starting to see a new trend toward what people are calling sexy shoes, by which they mean single-sole shoes instead of a platform, so I think that implies that the heel will get a little bit less vertiginous, and instead the emphasis will be on interesting materials and decoration, and different shoe shapes," Steele said.

There's no way to categorize popularity in shoes today. There's a range of heights, shapes and embellishments — feathers, crystals, beads, spikes, human hair made to look like the tails of ponies, molded and painted resins, painted python. All are included in the exhibition.

Linda Wells, editor in chief of Allure magazine, said in a New York Fashion Week interview that shoe trends are like fashion trends in general — you can find whatever you want: pointy toes, stiletto heels, high platforms, fancy flats, more masculine shapes.

"Everyone likes buying shoes. You don't have to take your clothes off or be a model size to wear them," Wells said.

Overall, Steele said, "high heels have really become the prime symbol of erotic femininity. However high it is, but the concept of the high heel, that's really important. It's such a powerful trope for women and for men."

Shoes, Steele said, are "fierce," but also feminine, high and often striving for that "Cinderella factor" that can transform the wearer. It's all "quite delightful," she smiled. "It just makes you want to run out and go shoe shopping."

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Anne D'Innocenzio, Nicole Evatt and Samantha Critchell contributed to this report.