Extreme Footwear

Contributor Cheryl Wischhover is based in New York and has much to say on the subject of shoes:


The author in her first heels

My obsession with shoes began in quite an unlikely place: my mother’s closet. While she is an ardent feminist, a political junkie, and an unrepentent atheist, she is most decidedly NOT fashionable, nor the least bit fashion-conscious. She worked as a registered nurse when I was young, and I would watch her don her spotless white leather shoes everyday.  Whenever possible I would clomp around the house in these monstrosities, enjoying the bit of lift the thick rubber sole provided. Once I hit puberty I begged and pleaded for heels, only to be stonewalled with the statement, “But Cheryl, they’re so uncomfortable.” This marked the beginning of years of arguments with my mother regarding my fashion choices (the story of my brief foray into goth, tattoos, and Doc Martens is best left for another time).  My wish was finally granted, and for the occasion of my Confirmation I was allowed to buy a pair of high heels. They were eggplant leather with 2 inch stacked blonde wooden heels, and a bit of moccasin stitching along the front. I will never forget these shoes as long as I live, and I wore them all over the house, loving the height, loving the way they changed how I walked.  From that point on I was a confirmed shoe junkie, and have devoured fashion magazines like a woman possessed.  I could rhapsodize endlessly about the various shoe moments in my life, but the gracious owner of this blog is expecting a discussion of design, so I’d best get there…….

While handbags used to be the accessory focus for designers (“It Bag”, anyone??) shoes have not-so-quietly taken center stage in the past few seasons. Heels have steadily gotten higher, with 5 inch heels now the norm. I have indulged in a bit of schadenfreude and watched rather gleefully as one willowy gamine after another has toppled on runways because of these exquisite yet impractical creations. Height is not the only aspect that designers have been pushing. Embellishment has become more fanciful, proportion is skewed, and tasteful restraint is nowhere in existence. Many have theorized that designers are rebelling against the current depressing economic environment and doing what fashion does best: providing a fantasy, an escape from a mundane existence, and ultimately, mood enhancement.  The architectural, emblazoned, bejeweled beauties that follow are the stuff of fairy tales, and art in their own right. Most importantly, they are damn fun.

Alexander McQueen, Spring 2010

Alexander McQueen is British-born and looks more like a soccer hooligan than a fashion designer. His Brit fashion cred is impressive, having worked on Savile Row at the age of 16, as a costumier into his 20s, and finally completing a Master’s in Fashion Design from St. Martin’s. Many heralded his Spring 2010 show as the standout of the season. I personally found the clothes inaccessible and garish, but the SHOES….my mouth was agape. Witness for yourself:

Of note, these shoes are 10+inches in height, a record everywhere, except possibly the world of shoe fetishism. The so-called lobster claw shoes garnered the most attention. I think they look hoof-like, and quite otherworldly. The mirrored mosaic pair are my favorite of the group. The hoof shoes were also shown in technicolor snakeskin, and battered leather with thick metal plates. They completely transformed how the models walked, into a careful lope that was not quite human. The metallic aqua stunners in the center look fluid and amorphous, like ectoplasm that could shape-shift at any moment.

Olivier Theyskens for Nina Ricci, Fall 2009


Olivier Theyskens is a Belgian-born designer who reportedly wanted to be allowed to wear princess dresses as a child. (He certainly is one of the prettier men I’ve seen, mustache and all.) He dropped out of fashion school after a few years and put out an eponymous collection. He then designed for the now-defunct Rochas line to much acclaim, and is currently at Nina Ricci, where it is rumored that it will be his last year with the house.

The shoes that Theyskens sent down the runway for Fall 2009 have a unique feature. Actually, they are MISSING a feature:

While some of the shoes sported a spindly heel in the back, it was for show only and came nowhere near providing stability (or even touching the ground for that matter). Gaudily decorated in glitter and satin and shine, these heelless shoes are sculptural, strong, architectural. Amazingly, no models fell on the runway. Apparently they are weighted heavily in the front and provide counter-balance. However, they require that one walk on her toes the entire time without leaning forward or backward. Those of us for whom grace and balance is an issue, proceed with caution.  Despite the avant-garde sensibility of these, there is a slight tranny feel to them that is appealing. Tongue-in-cheek by Theyskens, perhaps.

John Galliano Spring 2010

John Galliano is one of my favorites, always sporting a rakish little mustache and with a penchant for wearing pirate-inspired gear on his runways.  He was born in Gibraltar (does that make him Gibraltan? Gibraltese? Gibraltaresque? No matter….) and he is a graduate of St.Martin’s in London. He has designed for Givenchy and is currently the creative director of Christian Dior. He still also does an eponymous line, and thank goodness, for look at the fruits of his labor:

While possibly not as kooky and unique as the previous examples, I could not exclude them. I sigh with pleasure at the sheer unabashed girliness of these shoes. Those dainty gumball pearly heels look like they could snap off. The juxtaposition of the little nuggety heels with the tough, heavy platform in the front is inspired. And the ornamentation! I’m swooning. Bows and satin and dotted swiss and feathers all on one shoe? I need to get my hands on these, if only to try on briefly. Pardon my gushing, but these shoes are aesthetic perfection.

Shoes of course serve a practical purpose, of which I don’t think much explanation is required.  However (and this is directed at those with an XY chromosome) they can be transformative. They sculpt a woman’s legs into a masterpiece of lines and musculature and curves.  They require a certain confidence and physical prowess. They are marvels of engineering, artistry, and design. So when my mother asks me (as invariably happens when I show up somewhere with yet another new pair of shoes) “Cheryl, do you really need more shoes?” my reply is always, “Hell, yes.”

4 responses to “Extreme Footwear”

  1. Kindra says:

    Well said! Cheryl, I do believe you have a future as a fashion journalist….

  2. […] Cheryl’s passion for shoes can only be matched by my love for cars.  My watch fetish comes an intimately close second. Watches should not only do the practical job of telling time, but must also showcase innovation and engineering excellence. I’m less about glittering trinkets of affluence – what stokes my fire is that which is symbolic of the free-thinking artisan’s guiding philosophy. I desire the manifestation of triumph over convention. […]

  3. […] fabulous fashionista and fellow shoe-gal @CherylAnneNY recently wrote an excellent blog post on Extreme Footwear for the Fashion Segment of Martin Smith’s Mannamaker blog. I was particularly interested in […]

  4. […] Many heralded his Spring 2010 mannamaker.com […]

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