Last week at the fashion shows in Paris I saw a woman who looked, to all intents and purposes, like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, tilting by at least 45°. Sensing that she was being quizzically watched, she straightened herself up, and took tentative baby steps to her seat, barely able to move more than a cobblestone at a time. It was Dita von Teese, a burlesque dancer who has achieved a certain level of fame thanks largely to her diligently maintained, cartoonish sexiness, which was certainly on display at the Louis Vuitton show, hoiked up on heels higher than the length of my hand. Three years ago I interviewed Von Teese and she claimed that she "literally" could not put her feet flat on the floor, having worn such high stilettos for so long. "So you stand on your tiptoes in the shower and stuff?" I asked. "Yes," she replied, with a solemn purse of blood red lips.
At the time, this seemed like confirmation of Von Teese's strange devotion to extreme, highly sexualized footwear, and, next to the rest of us in the room that day, decidedly unique. However, when I saw her last week, Von Teese's feet, while still defying basic anatomy laws, did not look quite so unusual any more. Many of the journalists at the shows had been complaining about the lack of obvious trends coming from the catwalks, but one look at the journalists themselves revealed quite an obvious one: fetishistic footwear.
This season has already been dubbed the one of "extreme footwear" but the prevalence ("dominance" is probably the more accurate if not exactly delicate word here) of shoes that can rightfully be described as fetishistic (defined by the Oxford English Dictionary with typical dryness as "an object ... which serves as the stimulus to, or the end in itself of, sexual desire") is remarkable. Grazia recently featured a whole page of what it called "shoots", which are basically ankle boots, savagely cut as low as possible and generally pointed of toe, giving one the look of a Bond assassin, flick knife concealed in the aggressive little tip. Patent leather is easily the most popular shoe material this season and heels are vertiginous (or, for some of us, nearly suicidal). Balenciaga's multi-colored heels wouldn't look out of place on a shelf of sex toys. Even those who you might think would be more averse to playing the sexual aggression card seem to be taking inspiration from sex shops.
Burberry has knocked out shoes for this season that wouldn't necessarily look out of place in a downtown speakeasy. Patent-leather ankle boots and silver platform stilettos seem a long way from tweeds and quilted tartan blankets. Even the icily beautiful Keira Knightley was photographed in Vogue two months ago wearing galumphing patent wedges with corset lacing up the side that, frankly, looked as if they were made for a transvestite prostitute. Go down the high street, from Topshop to Faith to Russell & Bromley, and there are shoes as sharp and scary as the ballet pump was sickly sweet. Next season looks even more extreme, with Chloe making shoes that can only be described as peep-toe rubber weapons, as well as Balenciaga's beaded heels that bring to mind the title of the Almodovar film, Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down. And now Agent Provocateur, the company that took seductive lingerie if not to the mainstream then at least out of the trenches of itchy perversion, is this month launching a range of shoes that it describes as "fierce and fetish."