In fashion folklore, skirt lengths traditionally reflected the zeitgeist, but in the 21st century it is heel heights’ turn. Flatter shoes have been on the rise for a while as the international collections echo ever-changing codes of femininity and feminism, with myriad variations being adopted as the practical, pared‑back and arguably more modern choice.
But this season’s flats leave simplicity at the door: they are anything but basic. Cut in rich materials – jacquards, brocades, velvets and lustrous satins – and decorated with everything from silk bows and opulent jewels to dense embroideries and intricate beading, flats have evolved from being a stylish but sensible option to an artfully sumptuous accessory.
There were numerous maximal takes on the catwalks for spring in an intriguingly unseasonable display of high decoration, where even trainers and ballerina styles came beautifully bejewelled. Fanciful flats popped up in Dolce & Gabbana’s Queen of Hearts-themed collection, inspired by the ornate style of traditional playing cards: curly-toed slippers (from £2,850) come in black velvet with metallic brocade and a gold filigree toe and heel with Swarovski crystals. Dries Van Noten used lush, colourful floral jacquard to take slides (£305) to a new level, and at Rochas flats (£540) were presented in rich sunshine-yellow duchesse satin topped with delicate gems.
But it was away from the catwalks that the call for a new calibre of desirable, decorative but (literally) down-to-earth footwear was answered first. When influential retailer and flats-devotee Alex Eagle opened her first lifestyle concept store in Knightsbridge in 2014, she introduced a range of eye-catching velvet slippers made in collaboration with men’s outfitter New & Lingwood.
“I’ve always worn men’s velvet slippers because I take a size 41 shoe, so it was a natural move to make them in smaller sizes for women. They are functional yet chic, and perfect when you’re constantly running from meeting to meeting,” says Eagle, who has since introduced a bounty of beautiful flats from brands such as ViBi Venezia, Le Monde Beryl and Sanayi 313.
It is Sanayi 313’s ornate, handcrafted mules that have set a new high for the superlative flat. Richly coloured, glossy satins – now in Klein blue, fuchsia, magenta and a host of metallics – are topped with dense relief threadwork featuring flora and fauna or mounds of lush passementerie. This season, there are stunning coffee-coloured Ragno silk slippers (£967) embroidered with silver bees, metallic-net Glimmer slippers (£1,020) covered with stars, and plush black Tramontana shoes (£695) embellished with opulent coils of gold cord.
The brand’s Turkish brand director, Serena Uziyel, takes inspiration from traditional Ottoman weaving, and she is not alone: many of these sumptuous flats are influenced by Moorish slippers. Roger Vivier’s rich-yellow suede Bab Viv mules (£870) are a take on traditional Berber footwear – albeit topped with a sparkling version of the designer’s signature buckle.
For women like Lily Atherton Hanbury – a former gemologist who founded Le Monde Beryl with her former colleague and fellow gem expert from Phillips auction house, Katya Shyfrin – the new generation of flats offers something that is both glamorous and eminently practical.
“I moved to London from New York in 2006, and prior to that it was heels all the time – for work, going out… I don’t think I wore flats at all. But in London there’s a tendency to walk everywhere,” says Atherton Hanbury. Her move coincided with having children, and after a fruitless search for a versatile flat “that feels really pretty with everything but can keep up with my lifestyle”, Le Monde Beryl’s collection, made in Florence and inspired by the classic slippers of Venetian gondoliers, was born.
Putting sumptuous materials front and centre for spring, the label has teamed up with Colombian artisanal accessories brand Mola Sasa to create mules (£305) in vibrant geometrics, but continues to make its core collection of stunning mules in a kaleidoscope of jewel‑toned satins and velvets.
The Florentine label Aquazzura may be known primarily for its glamorous, towering heels but co-founder Edgardo Osorio applies the same level of exquisite decoration to his flats. This spring, he has slippers (£590) in bright fuchsia with gold embroidery and a bejewelled gold heel, as well as ikat-fabric mules (£440) in lime or raspberry, decorated with fluffy pompoms. Accessories designer Paula Cademartori has satin mules (£580) in a mauve shade, as well as lemon sorbet and powder blue, lavished with crystals. Meanwhile, Louis Vuitton’s monogram motifs have been reimagined in beads and stones on elegant suede slippers (£685).
Even brands that have traditionally made their flats in leather or suede have begun to add sumptuous jacquards and silks to their repertoire. Italian accessories label Bougeotte, which made its name with beautifully crafted loafers, now has mules (€662) in rich, golden, embroidered satin. Palm Beach-based slipper supremo Stubbs & Wootton, meanwhile, has created opulent new slides in a chinoiserie silk-mix brocade (£445).
“The flat has evolved to encompass, in a curious way, both an understated elegance and also a much-coveted maximalism,” says footwear virtuoso Tabitha Simmons, citing embellished versions from Dolce & Gabbana and Gucci. Her own label’s opulent low-heeled styles – including glittery Hermione Mary Janes (£495) – are now among her bestsellers as women opt for flats over heels.
On a personal level, Simmons is also a convert. “Recently, I shifted to wearing almost exclusively flats during the day,” says the New York-based designer, whose collection includes delicious suede pairs topped with plush rose-pink ribbons (£460), as well as the “velvet tuxedo” Masha slipper (from £388). “At night, I do tend to still gravitate towards a heel, but there is something fabulously decadent about wearing a velvet slipper – it’s so easy and elegant. Many more people are wearing flats to formal events, and there are so many options out there to take you from day to night.”
It’s also effortless. “You can afford to wear something quite simple in the evenings and still feel smart,” Eagle says. “Even the most understated black trouser suit would have wow factor with slippers by a brand such as Sanayi 313, because their rich decoration becomes the focal point of the outfit.”
If heels were once the default option for women wanting to make an impression, then these new dashing flats are giving them a run for their money.