Will high heels make a comeback in the post-pandemic world?

Sujata Assomull/Dubai
Filed on June 24, 2021

After over a year of ‘Zoom dressing’, where footwear played no role, we may just be getting ready to slip into stilettos again

Whether its celebrities challenging the Cannes Film Festival’s dress code of not allowing flats on the red carpet, or reports that New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo insisted women staffers wear heels to work, stilettos seem to spark debate. Fashion seems to have a love-hate relationship with heels. Pre-pandemic, there had been a move to more casual footwear. Sneakers were even being spotted at red carpet events and with luxury labels collaborating with brands like Birkenstock and Crocs, comfort-driven footwear was having a moment like never before.

Even Christian Louboutin — who once famously said that his six-inch (150 mm) stilettos were “a form of liberty” — has put his red sole hallmark on sneakers, platforms and kitten heels. But that does not mean it is time to hang up your stilettos, says Elisa Bruno, general manager, Level Shoes (the Dubai Mall-based concept store, and the world’s largest shoe store). “Marilyn Monroe once said, ‘Give a girl the right pair of shoes, and she can conquer the world.’ Many of us would agree that shoes can change the way we feel in an instant, and it’s not just about how they look and feel on our feet. It’s about empowering you to be the best version of you.”

Shoe mavens seem to be crawling their way back into heels. Yasmine Al Mulla, the creative director of YNM, is known for her envious shoe collection and recently collaborated with Italian shoe brand Rene Caovilla. “I have been moving toward mid-heels more recently,” she says.

Any heel that is between 50mm to 75mm (around two to three inches) is considered a mid-heel, it gives you an elevation but is comfortable. Al Mulla notes that all her recent shoe purchases are mid-heels. “I am wearing J’adior kitten heels in French Gray Mesh Cannage Embroidery. And my recent purchase is two pairs of Amina Muaddi Rosie crystal-buckle leather sling-backs.” Ask most brands and retailers and they’ll tell you, for now, the mid-heel is ruling fashion. “The mid-heel trend has its roots on the catwalk and stands as a reminder of the luxury world’s quiet determination to smarten up. It’s the perfect warm-weather sandal and easily transitions from day to night,” explains Level Shoes’ Bruno.

Pandemic or not, this is a key market for shoes, which is why cult accessory brands have been focusing on this market. Among the shoe labels that have launched exclusives for this market are By Far and Malone Souliers. At the end of last summer, Bulgarian brand By Far dropped four exclusive styles, all adorned with crystals, and just a few weeks ago, tied up with Fashion Trust Arabia (FTA) for a limited-edition capsule in two colours — pink and blue. These mid-heel mules were crafted with the last cut star that is the FTA’s logo. Valentina Ignatova, CMO and co-founder of By Far, says, “The Middle Eastern clientele is definitely a classy one, but always willing to have fun with new styles and materials.”

A brand known for their block mid-heels, By Far’s Ignatova notes, “Yes, we want to dress up and feel alive again, but we also need to take our time. Let’s face it, after spending months in slippers, no one is ready to move away from their comfort zone in a day. The success of the mid-heel thrives on the perfect balance between comfort and glamour, which everyone is looking for right now.” But she also believes that towering heels will make a comeback, especially in this region. “We do not doubt that heels will be on top of the wishlists of the Middle Eastern shoppers.” And the brand continued to produce high heels throughout the pandemic. “Women will always want to feel enticing. Even though we’ve had nowhere to go for more than a year, a high-heeled pair still felt like an appropriate investment.” Every woman knows there is no better pick-me-up than to walk tall in a fresh pair of heels.

The modern high heel can be traced back to the 1950s. In the years after World War II, when many women had spent years in utilitarian garb, Dior decided a “New Look” was needed. One that was all about feminine silhouettes, which were naturally paired with heeled shoes. Of course, for every Marilyn Monroe (her shoe of choice was the four-inch pump pointed toe stilettos), there is an Audrey Hepburn, known for her love of ballerina flats and kitten heels.

There is no question that the sneaker culture is growing and the ugly shoe trend seems to have reached new heights with Balenciaga’s lime green stiletto crocs, which made its debut at their Spring 2022 fashion show. These 150mm high clogs, as ridiculous as they seem, are a sign that fashion is betting on the comeback of stilettos. When it comes to footwear, there are no longer any rules to follow. “I believe that there is a market for each category. I have explored both towering heels enthusiasts and sneaker culture enthusiasts — two different worlds and interests,” says Al Mulla. As we look forward to dressing up again, nothing elevates your look like a pair of high heels. And if you are not ready to stride into a ‘new normal’, in a pair of sky-high stilettos, you can take comfort in knowing the mid-heel (be it the kitten or the block) has finally got fashion’s vote of confidence.

wknd@khaleejtimes.com