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Killer Heels review: a fun history of the fashion for high heels

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 December, 2014, 12:10am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 December, 2014, 2:10pm

Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe
edited by Lisa Small
DelMonico Books-Prestel

Shakespeare mentions high heels in Hamlet, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg praised them, and designers from Christian Dior to Manolo Blahnik have bewitched women and men with their versions. Killer Heels is a luxurious, fun and sexy look at the history of high heels, and it manages to be eye candy and thought-provoking, too.

Based on an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, the book contains several essays and more than 100 luxurious illustrations that trace the history of heels from ancient Greece and Turkey to the modern streets of New York and Paris. Greek actors used thick-soled cork shoes for greater visibility onstage, and during the Ottoman empire women used a type of clog for slick bathhouse floors. That supposedly inspired the chopine of 16th-century Venice, and one delicately embroidered pair from that era shown in the book could still attract attention at a party today. The book is dominated by pictures of heels from the past 100 years, and designer Pierre Hardy notes a common theme there: "People love a high heel because it is not natural. It is a cultural object connected with seduction, power, and sexuality."

A pair of Salvatore Ferragamo heels from 1938 is like a happy, coloured layer cake for feet, while the Rapaport Brothers' Satellite Jumping Shoes from 1955 has a pair of springs, presumably to launch the wearer even higher.

There are kinky red leather, thigh-high boots with heels from Paris in the 1920s and the untitled nude "Gaga Shoe" from 2012 that has tiny men clambering up the sides of the shoes.

Many of the modern examples are a mixture of fashion, art and architecture. Iris van Herpen's "Beyond Wilderness" is constructed to look like a black mass of twisted roots, while Roger Vivier's "Blue Feather Choc" is wildly elegant.

Killer Heels is bound to please any fashionista, but men who take a peek may also find the answer to the age-old question of why women need so many pairs of shoes.

Associated Press