Flat shoes with attitude

Androgynous in shape but with flickers of femininity, this season’s flats convey as much attitude as killer heels, says Elisa Anniss. Photography by Jobe Lawrenson

Clockwise from top left: Valentino Garavani calfskin shoes, £640. Carven patent‑leather shoes, £380. Christopher Kane leather loafers, £500. Lanvin patent-leather loafers, £640. Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane leather and cowhide creepers, £620. Grenson mock-crocodile Clara loafers, £225. Just Cavalli ponyskin creepers, £330. Robert Clergerie raffia, leather and rubber Latik wedges, £325. Centre: Adieu leather and ponyskin shoes, £445
Clockwise from top left: Valentino Garavani calfskin shoes, £640. Carven patent‑leather shoes, £380. Christopher Kane leather loafers, £500. Lanvin patent-leather loafers, £640. Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane leather and cowhide creepers, £620. Grenson mock-crocodile Clara loafers, £225. Just Cavalli ponyskin creepers, £330. Robert Clergerie raffia, leather and rubber Latik wedges, £325. Centre: Adieu leather and ponyskin shoes, £445 | Image: Jobe Lawrenson

Hallelujah! Shoes that are actually for walking and that don’t rely on vertiginous heel heights for impact are gaining traction this season. We’re seeing lace-up or slip-on flats – referencing styles from the 1940s to the 1990s – where the wow factor may be a distinctive platform, contrasting panels or vibrant colours and metallics, all of which distinguish this ultra-modern aesthetic as a compelling alternative to the classic ballerina or brogue. Many established brands have their own contribution to this cool and contemporary movement, but they are joined by two distinctive new designer shoe marques – the Paris-based Adieu and London label Purified.

“Women eschewing heels in favour of flats is more than a trend,” says Isabelle Guedon, who with her husband Benjamin Caron founded Adieu in 2012. “A page has been turned. It’s almost like when women stopped wearing corsets.” Adieu’s designs revolve around mostly 1.5cm low-heeled, black crepe-soled styles, loosely based on a creeper – an enduring favourite of subcultures from Teddy Boys to punks. In the offices above Adieu’s shop off Place des Victoires, Caron reminisces fondly about his youthful shopping jaunts to London when he would head to the King’s Road, Covent Garden and Camden in search of creepers. Downstairs the Adieu universe is set ablaze with modern flats, which at their brightest feature lace‑ups with vibrant lime or turquoise ponyskin uppers (£445), but are most popular in plain black (Polido loafers, £700).

A large proportion of Adieu’s female customers are sophisticated women in their forties. “Many of them are very feminine, ultra-cool and have a sharp fashion eye. They might wear Dries Van Noten or Marni and will think, ‘Why should I kill myself in high heels?’” explains Guedon, who before Adieu worked at Guy Laroche and Yves Saint Laurent and then became director of the textile design department at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs. “In Paris at the moment, there’s a feeling that it’s more interesting to wear flats than heels,” she continues, adding that French magazines have played a significant role in championing the fledgling footwear brand.

It’s no wonder then that Matchesfashion.com, Le Bon Marché, the new Marais multibrand boutique The Broken Arm, as well as Colette, that bastion of Rue Saint-Honoré cool, all stock Adieu’s shoes. “I personally can’t wear high heels,” says Sarah Andelman, co-founder and creative director of Colette, which has carried Adieu since the brand’s first season, “and it used to be a challenge to find sophisticated flats with a hip design and a sexy look. But now, helped by the explosion of couture sneakers, flat shoes have become more and more prevalent.”

From left: Marni calfskin Derby, £490. MSGM tasselled patent-leather loafers, £360. Paul Smith leather Costello loafers, £300. Purified x George Cox patent-leather Creeper 1, £375
From left: Marni calfskin Derby, £490. MSGM tasselled patent-leather loafers, £360. Paul Smith leather Costello loafers, £300. Purified x George Cox patent-leather Creeper 1, £375 | Image: Jobe Lawrenson

Also in Paris, at the Robert Clergerie headquarters on the Left Bank’s Rue du Cherche-Midi, creative director Roland Mouret says he adheres to the ethos of the brand’s founder: “that women should be able to walk”. Appointed to the position in 2011, the London-based designer has a long-standing connection with Robert Clergerie, the pair having first worked together when Mouret was 27. This season the collection includes what the brand describes as “edgy blocks”: Irvina (£395), a creeper-brogue hybrid, and Idola (£365), a slip-on with perforated kiltie detailing, both of which have black high-shine calfskin uppers. Although they appear to be quite chunky, the contrasting grey and black sole is remarkably lightweight. Added to this is Latik (£325), a wedge-heeled lace-up with a distinctive raffia upper. “The volume under the sole creates stability,” notes Mouret, who goes on to explain that while in the past Clergerie’s shoes were often teamed with Paris-based Japanese designers, today’s incarnations fit best with the kind of deconstructed, draped clothing typical of Acne, Dries Van Noten and Céline. However, given that high heels best suit Mouret’s dress designs for his eponymous label, he is reluctant to sound their death knell. “Modern women wear multiple styles, so these shoes don’t go against my design DNA,” he says. Erin Mullaney, buyer and fashion brand director at Avenue 32, which has seen a renewed wave of enthusiasm for imaginative flats over the past few seasons, adds: “Mouret’s designs are a fresh take on the Robert Clergerie classics and his Irvina style is a personal favourite.”

Over at Matchesfashion.com, buying director Natalie Kingham agrees this style of chunky shoe feels fresh and modern again. “The way to wear it is very similar to the 1970s Teddy Boy styles – with great tailoring,” she says. Crediting Céline’s Phoebe Philo as a pioneer with last spring’s fur-lined take on the classic Birkenstock, Kingham adds that almost every designer has their own signature flats this season, from Carven’s black patent double-monk shoes with a wedge sole (£380) and Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane’s black pointy rockabilly lace-ups with tiger-print cowhide panels (£620) to Lanvin’s black patent loafer with oversized tassels and kiltie detailing (£640). “Right now a chunky or masculine shoe makes any outfit feel modern,” she tells me. “It also has the obvious appeal of being super-comfortable. Women aren’t prepared to compromise comfort for fashion any more and if you are travelling a lot, teetering around on heels can look silly.”

The London label Purified is enjoying similar acclaim. The brainchild of Dominic Webster and Simon See, the brand launched in 2012 with a design produced in collaboration with George Cox, the Northamptonshire makers of the original 1949 brothel creeper. Interestingly, its platform soles have the appearance of solid crepe, yet they’re filled with ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), which makes them lighter than expected. With a slim, feminine last, they come in a nude leather and patent version or a variety of snake-print finishes (£375).

“Purified was instantly picked up by our avant-garde customer who shops for ready-to-wear brands such as Toga, Rick Owens and Haider Ackermann,” explains Net-a-Porter’s senior shoe buyer Ida Petersson, who says the creeper silhouette has been on her radar for the past few seasons (she spotted many pairs on the front row at the Paris shows last October). “I’m a huge fan of heels but I converted to flats almost immediately when I saw the Purified collection. It epitomises this season’s androgynous trend and each design is easy to wear, slick, cool and flattering.” For those who like their flats androgynous in shape but with a flash of femininity, Net-a-Porter also has black high-shine monk-strap loafers with gold snake buckles by Valentino Garavani (£640).

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Other Italian brands have also embraced the trend: Just Cavalli has pointed leopard-print lace-ups on a creeper theme (£330), while at Marni, where avant-garde ensembles are expected, there’s a chunky black-sole Derby in calfskin (£490).

As to established British designers, Christopher Kane offers his take on Jermyn Street with slip-on leather loafers with a rubber sole and brogue detailing (£500) from Matchesfashion.com. Then there’s Giles Deacon. In the past he used Christian Louboutin and Gina shoes for his catwalk shows, but collaborated with Northamptonshire brand Grenson for both his autumn/winter 2014 and spring/summer 2015 presentations. He explains that its borrowed-from-the-boys styles are not just practical but also highly relevant to his elegant yet attitude-filled collection, which calls for cool flats more than killer heels.

Traditionally a men’s shoe brand, Grenson introduced its women’s line four years ago. “We saw demand from the partners of existing customers, who loved our shoes but found the men’s fit too wide,” explains creative director and CEO Tim Little. Making women’s shoes required the factory to tool up with expensive new lasts, but the investment paid off: now there are 25 women’s styles with a dedicated following, particularly for styles with contrasting 3cm white-wedge soles such as its tasselled Clara loafers in white, black, tan or scarlet mock-crocodile (£225).

Grenson has also produced designs exclusively for Shoescribe this season. These include a black/gold (£325) and metallic magenta/black (£315) leather brogue on a thick black sole. “This trend is inspired by the 1970s punk era,” explains head buyer Magali Ginsburg, who adds that the colour palette ranges from dark to glittery in order to appeal to even the most feminine clientele. Other brands at Shoescribe embracing the trend include Attilio Giusti Leombruni (burgundy leather brogues, £255), Paul Smith (leather-fringed black Costello loafers, £300) and MSGM (chunky tasselled loafers, £360). These styles allow women to wear fashion-forward flats that convey just as much attitude as killer heels. “The magic words are comfort and masculinity,” she says. “After all, who said that you couldn’t be cool and comfortable at the same time?” Wise words indeed.

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