(CNN) – During last January’s Paris Fashion Week couture shows, luxury fashion house Schiaparelli unveiled an instantly adored new collection of golden corsets, cosmos-inspired designs and dramatic black and white silhouettes. But each runway look was offset by a curious detail: a pair of black sneakers with dagger-shaped gold nails (dubbed “couture claws” on Schiaparelli’s Instagram) or a set of toenails. carved into a pair of heelless slippers.
Last summer, the brand’s footwear had a similar embellishment, with a round toe featuring five sculpted limbs dipped in gold lacquer, and was recently worn by Doja Cat at the 2022 Billboard Music Awards on Sunday.
Doja Cat wore a head-to-toe Schiaparelli look at the 2022 Latin Billboard Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 15, 2022. Credit: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic/FilmMagic
But the French haute couture house headed by Daniel Rosebery isn’t the only luxury brand leaning toward an intriguing appreciation of feet.
In the last year, a number of couture designers have taken inspiration from toes. In May 2021, New York brand Khaite introduced its “Berlin slippers,” mid-heeled sandals that only cover the big toe. Milan’s AVAVAV brand became a viral phenomenon for its monstrous toes, from Ezra Miller’s demonic-looking “claw-toe” sandals to Doja Cat’s unforgettable chicken-foot thigh-high boots she wore to the Video Music Awards 2021. AVAVAV’s latest release, “very slimy feet,” is a pair of lime green over-the-knee boots with four huge toes that have proven to be very popular despite cost nearly $2,000.
AVAVAV’s lime green boots exaggerate the wearer’s toes for a surreal effect. Credit: Leonardo Casalini
“Designers love to take on a challenge,” Maria Bobila, Nylon’s fashion editor, said in a phone interview. “They want to turn something super polarizing and ‘ugly’ into fashion, making it a coveted piece.”
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For Bobila, fashion’s growing interest in exaggerating toes is the logical endpoint of the ugly shoe trend, an apparel obsession that has catapulted Crocs, Birkenstocks, Uggs and other functional footwear brands into the mainstream. haute couture fame in recent years through a series of collaborations with designers.
But the toe trend isn’t strictly limited to new designs. Search interest for the phrase “Maison Margiela Tabi,” a split-toe style inspired by Japanese tabi worker socks that debuted nearly 35 years ago, soared 66% this April, according to Google Trends. On TikTok, a hotbed for Gen Z fashion trends, the hashtag “tabi boots” has more than 17 million views, while “margiela tabis” has another 8 million. There’s also plenty of content on YouTube dedicated to unboxing these “funny camel-toed shoes,” as one Gen Z creator called them.
@lilytr4n_ Dreams do come true #tabi #maisonmargiela #tabiboots ♬ My dream – Tik Toker
After Margiela’s “tabi boot,” toe-centric shoes began appearing in a number of different designer collections, from Vivienne Westwood’s 2000 “Animal Toe” sneakers with peach-colored toes to milky white Celine pumps from 2013, complete with scarlet painted toenails. In 2018, Y/Project introduced a pointed stiletto that was reminiscent of the tabi silhouette, but with one big difference: a cutout that reveals the big toe. But it wasn’t until 2020, when Balenciaga collaborated with Vibram to launch a divisive FiveFingers bootie, that toe-focused footwear started to make the news. The boot was quickly endorsed by Rihanna and became a viral sensation.
Celine’s 2013 painted nail booties, photographed here by artist Isabelle Wenzel, were controversially made in only one flesh tone. Credit: Isabelle Wenzel
“There’s definitely an element of internet culture to it,” Bobila said of these surreal shoes.
“Toes are very polarizing. People find them disgusting, but it’s also a fetish. I think (these shoes) play into the memeification of toes.”
OPINION | ugly shoe fashion
Dr. Frenchy Lunning, professor at the Minneapolis College of Art Design and author of the book on the fashion subculture “Fetish Style”, agrees that the creations of Schiaparelli and AVAVAV have a clearly fetishistic undertone.
“They are turning the fetish into a fetish,” he said during a video call. “They’re fetishizing the whole fetish mystique, for humor and fun.”
A fetish, Lunning explained via video call, is when an object is given a special, often sexual, meaning. “Fetishizing in the erotic is an important part of the human condition. And because of that, objects load very easily,” she said. “Fashion is nothing more than the fetishization of clothes. It’s taking something and making it more meaningful in some way, plus there’s a sexy glow to being fashionable, right?”
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Shoes, in particular, bridge the gap between the world of fashion and the fetish. As well as being an accessory for podophiles (people who get turned on by their feet), shoes have long been instruments of agony and ecstasy in the industry. In 2015, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum devoted an entire exhibition to the idea that physical discomfort has long been an accepted reward for histrionic and seductive footwear. “Shoes: Pleasure and Pain” featured high-status shoes dating back to ancient times, such as an excruciating gold-leaf papyrus sandal from Roman Egypt, worn by the elite.
But fashion has often borrowed directly from the fetish community, from the London “SEX” boutique that Vivienne Westwood opened in 1974 to Thierry Mugler’s corseted black latex styles in the ’90s. And in the last year there has been a revival of fetish influence, coinciding with designers’ obsession with toes. During her performance at the 2021 MTV VMAs, Madonna opened up her camel-colored Burberry trench coat to reveal a leather ensemble and fishnet stockings. The next day at the Met Gala, both Evan Mock and Kim Kardashian upped the ante with full-coverage face masks. “Gossip Girl” star Mock paired a high-gloss black bondage mask with her Thom Browne suit, while Kardashian’s now-famous black suit was created by Balenciaga. Last fall, during Richard Quinn’s show at London Fashion Week, drag queen Violet Chachki wore a catsuit on the runway and a skin-tight dominatrix mask, with a submissive partner trailing behind her. Many of the designs that debut on the runway often find their way into mainstream stores, such as harnesses sold at H&M and corsets, which have become one of the top trends of 2022.
Violet Chachki (right) walks the runway with a submissive partner at the Richard Quinn 2022 show during London Fashion Week. Credit: Gareth Cattermole/BFC/Getty
“I am seeing a broader return to fetish fashion both on the runways and on the red carpet,” said Bobila. “I also think it’s interesting to see Julia Fox using her experience as a former dominatrix to incorporate fetish fashion into her public-facing outfits. Her outfit in the front row of the fall 2022 Versace show (an all-black latex suit with a floor-length latex ponytail) is a case in point.”
As a racier form of fashion begins to enter the “spirit of the times”, perhaps the most fashionable neckline to wear this season is the one between the toes.
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