Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

On the return of the clumpy shoes

My piece from today's Guardian

As I walked down Oxford Street a couple of weeks ago, my eyes slid to the left and I noticed a window full of sensible shoes, and they were quite nice in a modest sort of way. But in despair I saw the sign above the entrance: Clarks, the home of regulation school sandals, the shop where I was taken by my mother to have my feet measured and x-rayed with an exciting machine that could see through to the bones.

Alexa Chung in loafers Fashion disobedience … Alexa Chung wears Russell & Bromley loafers. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Yet peering further, I noticed that the shop was crammed with fashionable young people trying on footwear with low heels and rounded toes. Venturing inside, this startling vision was confirmed. All around were rows and rows of shoes that looked comfortable. My feet sighed with pleasure at the sight of them. They had nice straps to hold them on and the soles were airy cushions of padded leather. There was not a single pair of what the magazines call "fierce heels", shoes inspired by Chinese footbinding, designed to cruelly entrap the toes in sharp points and elevate the heels to such heights that walking becomes a hobble. There were no bondage shoes at all. Nor were there many ballet flats, those flimsy little numbers with papery soles, sending shock waves up your spine every time your foot hits the pavement, making your calves scream.

The shoes in Clarks had low, stumpy heels. They were visitors from a strange world. But were they in fashion again now? Not a single magazine article had proclaimed the death of the uncomfortable shoe. At London fashion week, models continued to wobble along the catwalk in vertiginous platforms and there had been no reports in the financial pages of the decline of Manolo Blahnik (who refuses even to make wedges) or Christian Louboutin. Yet the shop seemed to be minting money. I sat down next to an exquisite Italian woman in the kind of skinny jeans that are artfully folded around the ankle, requiring the centuries of visual acuity only granted to a country of people who can wear beige without looking like a geography teacher. She carried a Prada bag, and dozens of shoes lay all around her as she kept trying on more and more pairs. Every time she cast one off, I moved them towards me.


read on

Friday, 16 October 2009


Mimi Weddel and I shared a birthday. I'm always fascinated by the lives of those born on February 15. She was a New York model who breezed into Manhattan from North Dakota in 1941. According to her obituary, (she just died at the age of 94,) 'What she had wanted since the age of 16 was to put her foot on the bar of the Hotel Astor, to drink Brandy Alexanders on the St Regis hotel roof garden, to admire hats in Peacock Alley in the Waldorf Astoria.'

She was still going our on calls for modelling and acting jobs at the time of her death. She had a small part in an episode of Sex and the City. She went to the gym to stay fit, despite curvature of the spine but decreed that hats maketh the woman:

She shared an Upper East Side apartment, which she had bought cheaply in 1970, with her daughter Sarah, son-in-law, grandson and 150 or so hats, boxed and not, from the 1930s to the couture present. The film director Jyll Johnstone decided to follow Mimi around with a camera intermittently over 12 years, and called the resulting documentary, released in 2008, Hats Off. Hats On would have been more accurate. "Rise above it" was Mimi's motto, and she could rise to any headgear, however unlikely. There's a sequence in the film, in between Mimi's punishing gymnastics, tapdancing, singing and casting calls, when she takes a ride on the back of a motorbike, cool in jodhpurs, huntsman's jacket and boots. She's as elegant as Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, and almost as youthful, and she wears her visored helmet with elan. "Hats give you a frame," she said. "However dreary you feel, if you put on a hat, by golly, you've changed everything. I keep telling my daughter, my granddaughter, everybody, if you don't wear a hat, you're missing it. "


The full obituary is here