Sunday, November 28, 2010

Play with Your Clothes - Put Us On Platforms, Not Pedestals

Jean says: From time to time, we post a column called "Play with Your Clothes" in which we feature stuff we've either made from scratch or have re-worked. My contribution involves footwear, with which I am officially obsessed. Here I am at the Cooper Square Hotel on East 5th Street last year, wearing my ubiquitous clogs! No matter what I'm wearing, summer or winter, avid followers of our blog know I wear Dankso clogs about 75% of the time. They go everywhere, never go out of style and fit my feet! Another positive is the fact that they have a slight platform, giving me almost an added inch in height. This photo was taken a year ago and I'm still wearing the same pair -- the basic black leather version. Recently, however, I decided I needed a change. When I couldn't find what I wanted, I also decided to take matters into my own hands. (Moschino motorcycle jacket [hand-me-up from Jodi Head], Issey Miyake skirt [consignment shop], Stetson bowler hat [Pier Antique Show], Tokyo Boy patent coin purse [from Enz] chained to a Maurizio Tatuti shoulder bag, Missoni eyeglass frames and my ever-loving clogs.)

They make another appearance at the Bakelite show at the Hudson River Museum last June. (Tale 3 dress [Milan], Ignatius hat with denuded peacock feather [Philadelphia Craft Show 2009], Moss Lipow eyeglass frames, tons of vintage bakelite bangles, rings and necklace, 1950s plastic earrings.)

There's nothing they don't go with -- even jodhpurs! (August Silk cardigan, vintage jodhpurs, Ignatius hat [Philadelphia Craft Show 2009], vintage bakelite necklace and large cuff, Angela Caputi resin alligator cuff, Moss Lipow frames and Calvin Klein eyeglass chain.)

I was tripping the light fantastic in my clogs in July when Valerie and I went to Cooper Hewitt. (Ignatius hat [Philadelphia Craft Show 2009], black and white metal disc earrings, Kedem Sasson skirt [Rosebud in Soho], Eyeshadow shawl top, Moss Lipow glasses.)

Here's a shot of Old Faithful that I literally pulled off my feet to shoot. Considering that I wear them for work and play, they've held up remarkably well (just like their owner, I hope!). But variety is the spice of life...

On Halloween weekend, I was suddenly inspired. I wanted a pair of black patent leather Danskos that I could customize. Of course, when I didn't need them, they were available everywhere in my size. When I finally wanted them, however, it became a schlep. But the fashion gods were smiling that day, and I was in luck! Mind Boggler on the other side of town had my size in the basic open heel Sonja style in black patent leather. Here they are, fresh out of the box. They had no idea what mama Jean had in store for them!

They were bright and shiny and new, but they just weren't HIGH enough! I'm the one who was studying Frankenstein's footwear while the rest of the audience was cringing at his scars and neck bolts. In the 1970s and early '80s when platforms were "in", I was in my heyday. The higher the better!

I took my virgin patent leather clogs and my super-secret blueprints (scribbled to scale on newspaper with magic-marker and scotch-taped to the clogs) to an East Village Shoe Repair shop that was famous back in the 1970s and 1980s for making impossibly high punk rockers' boot and shoes. The boss was initially skeptical, but gradually got into it. He did a fabulous job interpreting my sketch to customize my footwear. Two days later, he asked me back for a consult before finishing the job. Here's the prototype on the counter, still covered in dust from the saw that carved out the "teeth". Notice the resemblance to my Halloween Jack-o-Lantern's smile, anyone?

Et voila! Here's the finished product. They make me happy as a clam, although it is unclear whether they've elevated my social stature any. On their maiden voyage, I wore them to the Philadelphia Craft Show - an all-day event. When I was able to easily walk twelve blocks home from the Lower East Side bus stop that evening, it was a good omen. I've gotten lots of comments and questions each time I've worn them. Several women have asked me where they can buy a pair. I thought about going into production, but then I'd see myself coming and going in my neighborhood. Hopefully, I will have inspired fellow fashionistas to play with their clothes! (Valerie says: no sooner had I gotten over my Trippen envy [see our recent post in which Jean wears Trippen's black leather and black rubber version of Japanese geta] than she shows up with these, raising my envy levels all over again. They are so cool! It's true that people have been keenly eyeing her from a distance. I've seen 'em. It gives me some understanding of how John Kennedy might have felt when he said "I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris." [Young people will not get this, but our demographic will.] I want a pair of my own, but I can't wear clogs [my podiatrist recommends a more "stable" shoe for me] so I have to come up with something else. I think Jean should go into production. After all, if she doesn't, someone else will. And by the time she sees herself coming and going, Jean will have thought of something new to try.)

Jean continues: Readers should probably expect to see these clogs on steroids appear with great regularity in future postings. They add the finishing touch to simple leggings and a DKNY felted wool hooded coat. (Valerie says: Jean is too modest to say so, but in this picture she is doing her brilliant imitation of David Bowie doing Andy Warhol doing his rendition of Frankenstein standing in the doorway [see above photo].)

Jean reprises: DeeDee just had to get into the act.

Designing these shoes got me to thinking about the history of platform shoes. What women won't do to add a little height in a man's world! Here are a few fabulous facts I've gathered for curious readers and fellow lovers of platform shoes:

According to All About Shoes: Throughout history, people all over the world have sought to elevate themselves using footwear. In Europe, chopines from the 16th and 17th centuries stand out as the most extravagant examples of early elevating shoes. Thought to have been inspired by exotic footwear from distant lands, these impractical platforms were first embraced by the courtesans of Venice.

How's this for height? Get a load of these chopines! According to Harold Koda at the Metropolitan Museum, the chopine was developed in the early sixteenth century and was especially popular among Venetian women. The high-platformed shoe had both a practical and symbolic function. The thick-soled, raised shoe was designed to protect the foot from irregularly paved and wet or muddy streets. But the enhancement of the wearer's stature also played a role.

The Fashion Encyclopedia says: Chopines (show-PEENS), shoes with very tall wooden or cork platform soles, inspired what some consider the first clothing fad. During the High Renaissance of the sixteenth century, the fashionable, wealthy women of Venice eagerly climbed into these shoes, which ranged from six to twenty-four inches in height. Feet were secured to the pedestals with straps of leather or uppers (the part of a shoe above the sole) made of silk or other fabric. The tops of chopines were rarely seen; the shoes were more valued for their height and for the dainty stride they required of wearers. Towering on their shoes in glamorous long gowns, women who ore chopines needed the support of their husbands or maids to hobble the streets and royal courts of Venice. Chopines made Italian women "half flesh, half wood", remarked traveler John Evelyn in his diary of 1666, as quoted in The Book of Costume.

Before long, fashionable women of wealth throughout Europe were seen struggling to walk in chopines while supported by servants or chivalrous men. This picture and close-up show fashion victim and servant.

The craze for chopines in Italy coincided with the peak of attraction for extravagant dress during the 1500s, when almost every article of clothing was highly exaggerated. By the late 16th and early 17th century, Spanish, French, and Swiss women were also teetering fashionably on chopines. The fad (fads lasted a lot longer back then) never reached northern Europe.

Chopines were not an Italian invention. The shoes were a byproduct of the establishment of trade between Venice and the Near East, or southwest Asia. Although the true origin of chopines is not known, the tall clogs Turkish women wore in bathhouses or the pedestal shoes worn by actors on Greek stages in early history may have been the inspiration.

Chopines were used by the Manchus (people native to Manchuria who ruled China from 1644 to 1912) in China in the mid-1600s, who never adopted the footbinding practices of the Han Chinese, which can be dated back to the tenth century. The pedestals of Chinese chopines were much slimmer than those developed in Venice, offering women a footprint resembling that of bound feet and causing similar difficulty walking.

According to Wikipedia: Besides their practical uses, the height of the chopine became a symbolic reference to the cultural and social standing of the wearer; the higher the chopine, the higher the status of the wearer. High chopines allowed a woman to literally and figuratively tower over others.

During the Renaissance, chopines were widespread articles of women's fashion and were increasingly taller, with some examples over 20 inches high. Shakespeare joked about the extreme height of the chopines in style in his day by using the word altitude (In Hamlet, the prince of Denmark greets one of the visiting lady players by noting how much "nearer to heaven" she had grown since he last saw her — "by the altitude of a chopine.")

Surviving chopines are typically made of wood, or cork, and those in the Spanish style were sometimes banded about with metal. Extant pieces are covered with leather, brocades, or jewel-embroidered velvet. Often, the fabric of the chopine matched the dress or the shoe, but not always.

According to some scholars, chopines caused an unstable and inelegant gait. Women wearing them were generally accompanied by a servant or attendant on whom they could balance themselves. Other scholars have argued that with practice a woman could walk and even dance gracefully. In his dancing manual Nobilit√† di dame (1600), the Italian dancing master Fabritio Caroso writes that with care a woman practiced in wearing her chopines could move “with grace, seemliness, and beauty” and even "dance flourishes and galliard variations". Chopines were usually put on with the help of two servants.

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DRAT! I knew I forgot something -- that all-important ingredient, the human support system that Venetian ladies utilized. OK, OK, I don't have servants or maids or chivalrous men available at all times to help me navigate the streets and subway platforms of New York City, so I opted for slightly lower platforms on my clogs. (Valerie says: You can't walk three abreast on most New York City sidewalks anyway.)

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Another Holiday Gift-Giving Reminder:

This weekend, Social Tees Animal Rescue teamed up with the North Shore Animal League's adoption van to sponsor a mobile adoption event in Manhattan. Similar opportunities exist in your neighborhood. If you're not in the position to adopt a pet, then consider volunteering and/or donating food, bedding, towels, and cold hard cash! (Don't forget Valerie's advice that "cash is king"...and that your donation is tax deductible. At least, it is if you're donating in the U.S. We hope this is also true for our readers in other countries.) Please consider your local shelter when making your gift-giving list this holiday season. We can all help save a life.

Here's my favorite sweetie-pie, Armstrong, a pit bull mix born with a deformed right foreleg, so that the bottom of his paw faces upward. It doesn't stop him from being a loving pet. Even though he has to twist his entire upper torso just to walk, he compensates without complaint. His bad right paw is barely visible in the photo. (Click to enlarge.) If what Asian philosophers say is true (all truly beautiful things must have a flaw), then Armstrong is the most drop-dead gorgeous of all. The grace and fortitude of some rescue animals just blow me away.


  1. Your Blog's post is excellent and the posts are very relevant to my query, found very useful. Our online shopping destination is providing fabulous festive sale, Women Fashion Clothing, Baby Baniya's new collection of bags, Autumn/Winter fashion show in New Delhi India. Thanks for your informative post.

  2. Both of you have done quite a lot of research for writing this article, amazing painting and photographs to support it.

  3. I have found you through Fashion Forestry, and inmediately fallen in love with you.
    Un abrazo from Spain.

  4. It was a pleasure to meet you last night! As a shoe designer this post is incredibly inspiring thank you!

  5. Love the clogs. I used to have a pair when I was a teenager which I wore to death. But you don't see them here in Australia these days.

    Also, I've never seen anyone wear so many bakelite bangles at once! Spectacular. Love it.

  6. Thanks for directing me to this post. I love the altered clogs, I might have to get stuck into a few of my shoes that are in need of a little pick me up.

    I also very much enjoyed your feature on StyleLikeU.

  7. Oh, I just love the new soles you added to your Dansko clogs. They give them such a lift in every sense of the word. Love the bare feet in your clogs with an otherwise very winter-like outfit. That contrast is just fabulous!