On the spring/summer catwalks, many of the shows rippled with ruffles, lace and longer, dressier skirt lengths, signalling that a fresh, more feminine aesthetic was on the way. Footwear’s ode to femininity was even more overt. Hawaiian hibiscus prints, Chinese floral fabrics, silk rosebuds, leather poppies and all manner of cultivated and wild blooms broadcast loud and clear that possibly the most feminine statement of all – florals – is set to dominate women’s shoes this season.
Wildflowers that spring to life in Sicily in summertime inspired Dolce & Gabbana’s extravagant booties and sandals. They came adorned with a kaleidoscope of patent leather marguerites, gerberas and peonies (Keira sandal, £1,350). These abundantly embellished pieces are the result of skilled workmanship: the Vally boot (£5,250) took 50 hours to make, with every single flower crafted by hand and carefully applied to the upper using golden studs or faceted cabochons and embroidery.
The breadth of this newfound fascination with floristry made an immediate impression on Ida Petersson, senior buyer of shoes at Net-a-Porter, when she visited fashion capitals last autumn. “I walked into showroom after showroom and saw florals repeatedly interpreted in new ways, from Christian Louboutin’s vertiginous Hawaiian-esque Ha Why Luna sandal (£1,395) to embroidered wellingtons (£1,255) and floral-painted Stan Smith-style white sneakers at Saint Laurent (£335), a brand usually known for its rock ’n’ roll aesthetic.”
Other casual shoes being injected with fresh femininity include Gucci’s iconic horsebit flat mule (£380), which comes in a duchesse floral fabric. Fabulous floral-printed leather espadrille booties (£270) can be found at Loeffler Randall, which looked to traditional porcelain for inspiration, while Giuseppe Zanotti’s simple black espadrilles (£300) have a colourfully bohemian floral embroidered toe (more exuberant florals feature in Zanotti’s LA-inspired Lottie collection, which includes black open-toe shoe boots, £1,000, with studded metallic abstract blooms).
In April, Hong Kong department store Lane Crawford launches an exhibition called The New Romantics. “It speaks about fashion’s movement towards a prettier, softer aesthetic,” explains Kim Bui Kollar, director of fashion and special projects, adding the current crop of floral footwear plays beautifully into this overarching theme. “This trend allows designers to show us that cool can also mean pretty, and I can see it lasting beyond spring/summer 2016.” She singles out Paul Andrew’s poppy-strewn black satin Haijou heels (HK$9,995, about £900).
Paul Andrew has really gone to town on florals this season, with dozens of styles that feature flowers (Blossom heels, £795). “I’ve always been drawn to floral embellishment, which may be something to do with my British upbringing (the designer’s father was upholsterer to the Queen at Windsor Castle), as decorative arts are an ingrained part of my heritage. I thought it would be interesting to play with three-dimensional applications, pushing the envelope to create something modern and even futuristic with flowers rendered in metallic and mirrored leather.” For his Lotus Flower heel (£695) he drew individual patterns for each of the three pieces that together comprise a single flower. The pattern was then transferred to leather, which was individually laser cut and hand-stitched onto the upper. “With the Bijoux booties (£1,195) I worked with this amazing artisan embroiderer in India who hand-applied organza flowers onto a nude-coloured mesh upper. The idea was to create the illusion of weightlessness on the foot.”
“While many brands use flowers in their collections, what’s interesting is how many also used 3D appliqué to build textured flowers into their designs,” notes Jasmin Sanya, shoe buyer at Harvey Nichols. She spotlights Tabitha Simmons’ hand-embroidered Meadow collection, inspired by pastoral scenes from her Cambridgeshire childhood, in which she uses raffia to replicate different wildflowers – daisies, buttercups and red campions – on linen in an open-toe platform sandal (Dusty, £545) and pretty platform wedge (Calla, £545) with an ankle strap. At Harvey Nichols this season is London label Malone Souliers, which has fabulous black suede sandals embellished with glittering blue and purple flower details (£775). Manolo Blahnik, an avid gardener who adores flowers and plants and always sneaks them into his summer collections, has unsurprisingly gone all out this summer, with light-as-a-feather open-toe ankle booties (Clinzia, £1,225) with an organza flower-embroidered mesh upper displayed alongside a carnation-printed version of his most iconic court shoe (Hangisi, £680) at his new 1,000sq ft Burlington Arcade boutique. Carnations reappear at Oscar de la Renta, whose single ruby carnation on a seafoam Lola pump (£658) is simultaneously simple and impactful.
Brocade costumes worn by Spanish matadors were the inspiration for Alexander White, one of London’s newest shoe designers, who uses complex techniques to apply the patterns to mesh (Brianna Floral, £425). “Working with mesh is always difficult because it breaks very easily if it isn’t lasted with absolute care,” he says of the fuchsia and cerulean floral print. “It is made more challenging by the weave of the plastic as this can distort the pattern.”
The cherry blossom flourishes in Rupert Sanderson’s new collection (£645) were informed by a 1970s-style floral bathing cap the British designer spotted in a shop on Rue Saint-Honoré. “Flowers are a natural extension of the 1970s trend we’ve seen everywhere,” says Net-a-Porter’s Petersson. “It started with ready-to-wear and now it’s permeating accessories.” It’s an observation that’s played out at Sergio Rossi too. “Bohemian chic was my source of inspiration this season when designing the floral embroidery on the Cancun wedge [£995],” explains creative director Angelo Ruggeri. “The pattern evokes a dreamlike nature and it seemed a fitting way to reinterpret the most iconic shoe silhouette of the 1970s.” Floral prints inspired by the decade also light up Laurence Dacade’s striking Happy Flower ankle boots (£556) and brogues (£490), while Bruno Frisoni delved into the Roger Vivier archive for its graphic 1970s vibe. “I love the retro look of the print,” Frisoni says of Chips Flower (£545), a flower-power wedge, and skate shoe Sneaky Viv (£820), the brand’s first trainer. “The skater silhouette is very street but the bohemian, pop art-like florals bring something sexy, feminine and fun. Romanticism in fashion is gaining momentum this season, so why not flowers?”