Ardent shoe enthusiasts will have noticed by now that there is a strong aura of nostalgia wafting through the ateliers of many of our best-loved designers. For some, of course, nothing but modern and edgy will do, but for others a deep dive into the archives of yesteryear is what fires up the creative spirit.
Ask Paul Andrew, anointed last year as the design director of women’s footwear (and now creative director, women’s collections) at Salvatore Ferragamo, why he has dug down into the Italian house’s archive, and he answers at once that “no lover of shoes and shoe history could resist the fatal attraction of Salvatore’s revolutionary models”. He calls his collections for Ferragamo Evolving Legend, and though they’re based on Salvatore Ferragamo’s original ideas, they are not, Andrew stresses, precise copies. “I have updated them partly because technology has changed the way we make shoes so much. We can no longer reproduce the incredibly fine hand-stitching, for instance, but in other ways we can do things we couldn’t before.”
Andrew has taken two of Ferragamo’s signature elements – the F Wedge and what he calls the Flower Heel – and incorporated them into this year’s autumn/winter collection. The concave F Wedge is one of Ferragamo’s most famous inventions, patented in 1947, the year in which he also won the Neiman Marcus award for style (at the time, the Oscars of the fashion world). Ferragamo devised it because he felt a pressing need to create something that had never been seen before, which would give the postwar woman a bolder, more confident gait. While many assume the letter F stands for Ferragamo, others speculate that the shape references the sinuous lines of the letter F or was inspired by the stern of the ocean liner on which the designer sailed to America. Andrew describes it as a “very underslung wedge”, but he’s modernised it, making it slightly higher and even more underslung. The result is a very distinctive shoe, indubitably from the Ferragamo stable and yet utterly at home in today’s world.
Andrew has also adapted the Flower Heel, which was shaped into four vertical columns with a slightly concave top and leaves an unmistakable flower-like print. Originally devised for some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, it was made from small cork cylinders covered in gold kidskin. Today, Andrew uses lightweight plastic with a leather, suede, fabric or special metallic coating. The shoes come in a variety of colourways, with the F Wedge models (now called the F Heel) starting at £575 for the pump and going up to £750 for the boot in black and gold or purple. The Flower Heel models start at £435 for the mule (which features the famous Salvatore Ferragamo Vara bow), while the Bow pump (also with the Vara bow) is £490, the Sock boot is £520 and the sandal £665.
Not one of Andrew’s creations but introduced this year as part of Ferragamo’s Limited Edition Creations capsule collection is the Indiana boot (£1,000). An original Salvatore Ferragamo design, it is an extraordinary over‑the-knee boot made from leopard-print stretch cotton with an upper that covers the entire foot; Azzedine Alaïa asked Ferragamo specially to remake it and it was put into production.
Meanwhile, Manolo Blahnik – perhaps the most revered of living shoe designers, and a man who prides himself on never following trends because he likes “the freedom of doing what comes to my mind and really inspires me” – is reviving two of what he considers to be the most iconic shoes from his long career. Both designs were the result of 1994 collaborations with John Galliano, who had just pulled off some career-making runway shows: one of fairytale princess-like dresses for spring, another his modern-day Japonisme collection – often referred to as one of the greatest fashion shows of all time and worth watching on YouTube. From the Japonisme collection there’s the Naro (£635), with fine straps and a high, slim heel that fans out at the base; it comes in black and gold, pink and gold or red and gold crepe de Chine, or in champagne and gold or silver on silver nappa leather. From the spring/summer show of that year, Blahnik has revived the Agatha (£615), a hybrid of a Mary Jane and a brogue. It has a high heel, a buttoned strap and a brogue-like toecap, all in a black and white glossy patent.
Robert Clergerie was a true original who made his name by introducing brogues for women, playing around with masculine and feminine concepts and parallelogram heels. Current CEO Perry Oosting and creative director David Tourniaire-Beauciel have decided that the best way to move the brand forward is to look to its rich heritage, for although today some of his ideas may seem everyday, in the 1980s they were revolutionary. He saw the essence of the brand as slightly androgynous, though always with a touch of femininity. This winter’s designs reference the famous original brogues: the Jonko lace-up leather Derby shoes (£390), for instance, aren’t identical copies of Clergerie’s originals, but to anybody who knows the brand their inspiration is clear. Then there are the Jeanine lace-up raffia shoes (£390) – raffia shoes being another of the founder’s innovations – and a Clergerie take on the ubiquitous trainer, the velvet devoré Pasket low-top (£345), which is a perfect fit with the Clergerie DNA.
Sergio Rossi doesn’t “communicate” about its designers now that Sergio Rossi himself is no longer at the helm, but last year’s change of CEO, which puts Riccardo Sciutto in charge, has led to a rebalancing of the brand, shifting the emphasis from glitzy eveningwear to much more versatile daywear. It also led the designers to home in on designs from Rossi’s golden period in the 1990s, and to identify the plaque (a horizontal silver oblong on the front of the shoes) and the square toe as quintessential parts of the brand DNA. One of the driving imperatives behind Sergio Rossi is making shoes that are comfortable (which is what the label’s many fans love about it) without sacrificing glamour, so for this autumn/winter there is a wide array of flats. As Sciutto said when he launched spring/summer 2017 (the first collection of his tenure), “The flat is my dream. You can dress it up or down”. And there are some seriously showstopping styles, such as a studded slipper with an ankle strap (£895). There are also medium-heeled boots, either ankle-length or over-the-knee, with or without studs (ankle boot with studs is £1,300, over-the-knee, £2,300). All three have the Sergio Rossi hallmarks of the silver plaque and square toe.
Another Italian brand, Giuseppe Zanotti – just 23 years old and known for its high-wattage glamour – has also looked to some of its earliest designs for inspiration this winter. Famed for the high-heeled Harmony sandal from his first collection, Zanotti presents a version in burgundy velvet (£570) and another, called Harmony Sparkle, with a diamanté strap (£755). The extraordinary gold Picard sandal (£665), featuring a sensationally curved wedge, was inspired by a 3D silhouette of the Adele wedge, first created in 2012.
But nostalgia for times gone by isn’t exclusively the preserve of long-established brands. By Far is a new brand founded by Valentina Bezuhanova, Sabina Gyosheva and Denitsa Bumbarova, who, like many an entrepreneur before them, decided to make what they wanted but couldn’t find: to wit, shoes they love – and it turns out that what they love is a vintage vibe. Originally from Bulgaria, Bezuhanova and Gyosheva are twins and Bumbarova is a life-long friend. Today they split their time between Sydney and Sofia, but the shared aesthetic binds them together. As Bezuhanova puts it, “We take a lot of inspiration from past decades and vintage design because it echoes a sense of timelessness that we feel is desperately needed today in a world that overconsumes fleeting trends.”
They say they are “in love with the cool ’90s” and were much inspired by the late Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, as well as, more recently, by Sofia Coppola. The first shoe they designed – which is still going strong – was the Lady of the Evening sandal (€360), inspired by a vintage photograph of Lauren Hutton wearing a gold necklace, which is reflected in the sandal’s ankle strap. Today’s bestsellers are the lace-up Becca boots (€450) and the suede Iris mules (€360). The shoes are produced in a small factory near Sofia from top-grade Italian materials. A third of the production is made from deadstock leather, which is essentially leftover leather bought from luxury Italian factories. The designs couldn’t be called high fashion, but they have a cool appeal that has caught the eye of many a stylist and has led the clothing label Whistles to collaborate with By Far for a capsule collection of four designs: the lace-up Burlington boot (£335), slip-on Ledbury loafer (£235), Redchurch slingback (£235) and Chiltern tassel shoe (£245).
These then are just a few of the designers who are deriving inspiration from the past this season. As Paul Andrew of Ferragamo puts it, “To go forwards, I needed to look back.”