The Stiletto Nazis

Top Stories

The Stiletto Nazis

Why are the Cannes Film Festival authorities insisting on high heels on the red carpet?

By Vir Sanghvi

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Published: Fri 29 May 2015, 2:03 PM

Last updated: Sun 26 Jul 2015, 4:36 PM

FORCED TO CONFORM: Actress Emily Blunt thought the heels-only rule was disappointing, but still showed up sporting a pair
FORCED TO CONFORM: Actress Emily Blunt thought the heels-only rule was disappointing, but still showed up sporting a pair
I know you will find this hard to believe, because I was completely gobsmacked when I read about it. At this year's Cannes Film Festival, they prevented women from entering screenings if they weren't wearing heels. Yup, you read that right. They had positioned stiletto Nazis outside the main festival hall and if women dared turn up for a premiere or even an ordinary show in flats, well then, that was it. They were told to go to the shops and buy a pair of shoes that had a decent heel. Only then would they be allowed to enter the festival hall.
Predictably, a lot of people were outraged. The British filmmaker Asif Kapadia (yes, he is of Indian origin) was flabbergasted when they created a fuss about his wife's flats. Actress Emily Blunt was asked what she thought of the heels-only orthodoxy and she broke with the standard Hollywood line that you never diss the festival to say that she found the rule 'disappointing'.
I can't, for the life of me, figure out why the Cannes Film Festival is imposing such an idiotic rule. The one time I went to the festival, a couple of years ago, I was told that gentlemen were required to wear conventional evening dress on the red carpet. This meant a white shirt, black bowtie, and dark evening suit. I was too frightened to risk deviating from the dress code, but when I got to the red carpet, I noticed David Hasselhoff brushing past me. He was wearing a black shirt and an outfit that might be considered 'black tie' among lifeguards, but which certainly did not conform to the festival's regulations.
Nobody stopped Hasselhoff. Nor did anyone act as though he was improperly dressed. In fact, the photographers went crazy shooting photographs of the Hoff in his uniquely-conceived dinner suit while the rest of us, who had dressed according to the rules, quietly skulked in without unduly bothering the paparazzi or the festival authorities. Later, inside the cinema, I noticed many people with multi-coloured bowties, coloured shirts and other such deviations from the dress code. Some guys hadn't even bothered with dinner jackets. They wore normal suits.
BREAKING THE RULES: (L-R) At the Oscars, Russell Crowe's tie went against the black tie code; so did David Hasselhoff's shirt earlier at Cannes, but no one batted an eyelid
BREAKING THE RULES: (L-R) At the Oscars, Russell Crowe's tie went against the black tie code; so did David Hasselhoff's shirt earlier at Cannes, but no one batted an eyelid
So, I was surprised by this year's heels-only fascism. If the newspaper reports are correct, then, presumably, the stiletto Nazis were placed at strategic spots near the red carpet. And these heel-watchers stared intently at the feet of all the women who entered - in the manner of deviant foot fetishists - before checking the height of the heel.
I have mixed feelings about dress codes. One of the reasons I became a journalist was because I could not bear the thought of having to go to work in a suit and tie. Journos can wear jeans to the office, and nobody cares what we wear anyway. But, at the same time, I am always annoyed by people who turn up at nice restaurants in shorts and demand to be allowed in. Similarly, I cling to the old-fashioned view that if you are travelling in the front of the aircraft, you should make a little effort and not arrive at the airport in a sleeveless string vest.
In the East - and for the purposes of this column, the East begins in Dubai and ends just before Hong Kong - the demands of the weather have made us abandon the old dress codes. There are few restaurants that now insist that men wear jackets or ties. The definition of evening dress has also been relaxed to allow ethnic variations. The phrase 'smart casual' is particularly ugly, but it makes a certain amount of sense: you can be relaxed in your dressing as long as you don't look sloppy. Certainly, it is better than the 'stupid formal' that used to be the rule in the old days when men wore ill-fitting suits and nasty ties in an effort to respect a dress code from the early part of the 20th century.
Even Hollywood has redefined the black tie. If you watch the Oscars, you will notice that fewer and fewer men bother with the old rules of black tie. Many will prefer midnight blue to black for their dinner jackets (midnight blue fits within the traditional definition of black tie, unless you're going to dinner at Downton Abbey). Many guys will throw away their bowties and wear &normal ties - just as long as they are black. Sometimes the consequences can be disastrous. When Russell Crowe &won his Oscar for Gladiator, his tie looked so strange that I wished he had come in costume and pretended to be a General in the Imperial Roman Army. But, for the most part, it works. The Oscars still seem as glamorous as they have always been.
Robert Mitchum
So why has the Cannes Film Festival handed over the red carpet to foot festishists?

I have to say I am utterly bewildered. After all, Cannes made its reputation not on the basis of how people dressed but by the way in which they undressed. The festival first hit the global headlines in the 1950s, when a swimsuit-clad minor starlet threw herself at Robert Mitchum, then one of Hollywood's biggest names. Those pictures were flashed around the world and put the Cannes Film Festival on the map.
And, when the festival is not on, Cannes is full of fat cats who wear white jeans and flowered shirts open to the navel. After all, this is the Riviera, not the Bourbon court at Versailles. Informality is the order of the day.
My guess is that some moron has been put in charge of the red carpet and has got a little carried away. Perhaps, by the time you read this, the festival directorate will have apologised and withdrawn the heels-only rule.
If not, then the Cannes Festival is in trouble. A film festival that worries about how high the heels are on the red carpet more than it worries about the films it screens does not deserve to be taken seriously. 

More news from