For the Roger Vivier Spring 2009 collection, designer Bruno Frisoni brought to life the One is Two theme in the form of a double-decker sandal...fabulous, flower-festooned, and unabashedly festishistic. A two-toned towering wonder, it is crafted from colorful exotic skins, wrapped in bejeweled buckles, and covered in colorful silk blooms, perfect - as the designer recently explained to WWD - for the journey "from the sofa to the bedroom."
(illustration via IHT.com)
However, what looks novel by today's prim standards actually descends from a long line of outrageous, impractical footwear, starting with high-ranking Egyptians of yore, and later with Roman prostitutes who could be identified by their high heels, and probably most famously during the Middle Ages when chopines were all the rage. An embellished slipper, it perched atop a carved wooden platform which randomhistory.com points out ranged in height from 7 to 30 inches in height, requiring the wearer to use a cane or servant (or both) in order to actually walk.
from left: 16th century Venetian chopines measuring an impressive 26" (metmuseum.org); late 16th/early 17th century wooden platform chopine covered with gold velvet, silver lace, ruched ribbons & a tassel (allaboutshoes.ca); a pair of 19th century mother-of-pearl inlaid Turkish chopine-inspired kabkabs (allaboutshoes.ca)
from left: Junko Shimada Spring 2008 flower basket platforms (family life); 1995 platforms designed by Rolando Segalin of Venice (allaboutshoes.ca); Ferragamo platforms from the 1940s (designboom.com)
17th century Venetians, in particular their flamboyant courtesans, so readily embraced chopines and their stilt-like qualities that traveler John Evelyn noted in his diary of 1666 that the shoes left women "half flesh, half wood." Even Shakespeare weighed in, writing in Hamlet: "By'r lady, your ladyship is nearer to heaven than when I saw you last, by the altitude of a chopine."
Like their predessors, Vivier's modern chopines still "conjure up aspects of the demi monde rather than "respectable" society," which is of course why we adore them. And should you succumb, the best place to show off your showy new shoes is undoubtedly at a decadent bash a la the splashy, sleazy retro-futuristic fetes in one of the Svedka ads.
- Lesley Scott
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