As an antidote to winter’s geometric and androgynous shoes, designers have introduced some delightful summer styles that are pure confection. We’re seeing a cupcake-like colour palette and easy, feminine silhouettes – block-heel pumps and sandals, mules and Mary Janes – that deftly sidestep being too sweet.
“There has always been an appetite for feminine shoes, but the extreme proportions of the past few seasons have overshadowed them,” ventures Jimmy Choo creative director Sandra Choi, whose spring/summer 2015 collection includes pearlised leathers and suedes in bluebell, yellow, pale green (Tinga, £1,150) and dusky pink. “We have a reputation for bold and geometric silhouettes, but every now and then we want to deconstruct and soften the look.”
Pastels are certainly this season’s most popular shoe colour. “Pale blues, pinks and mint greens work well with the white outfits ruling the runways and also look great on tanned legs,” says Net-a-Porter’s shoe buyer Ida Petersson, referring to styles such as Chloé’s scallop-edged, pale-pink pump (£350) and designs by Sophia Webster such as the Patti sandals with the leopard-print heel straps (£450). “Webster pushes boundaries,” she continues. “Her summer styles are feminine without being too prim, and she weaves a hint of pastel into her characteristically colourful and playful aesthetic.” Femininity prevails at Nicholas Kirkwood, too, where the designer’s inspiration is Japan. He combines a palette of patent pink, mint and yellow in the artful folds of his Origami bow-front heels and sandals (both £640).
“Metallics, pastels and fun prints can imbue almost any silhouette with an air of femininity,” agrees Katherine Yoo, a buyer at Shoescribe.com who describes Charlotte Olympia’s offering as possibly the most “fine tuned”. Inspired by a mix of Mexico and the Wild West and always one for whimsy, designer Charlotte Olympia Dellal has created a collection featuring sandals in a floral bandana print (Mansfield, £665) and dusky-pink suede (Spike, £795) with a cactus-inspired block heel.
For the most part then, notions of what constitutes femininity have evolved above and beyond blush-coloured ballerinas. Even Repetto, where dancers from Nureyev to Fonteyn famously flocked for their ballet shoes, has widened its repertoire to include plenty of heels, such as an elegantly simple Mary Jane (Belita, £300) and a block-heel ballerina (Paname, £265) with a cross-stitch pattern. And when Phoebe Philo at Céline performs a fashion volte-face and enters the fray with supersoft ballet-like pumps (from €550) with a block heel, it serves as a bold announcement that feminine shoes are an important new trend.
The block heel is also an increasingly important silhouette for British-born designer Paul Andrew, who recently became the first shoe designer to win American fashion’s greatest accolade – the $300,000 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. His Wing style (£785) in white python is designed to allow the wearer to stand all day long, if necessary.
Bruno Frisoni at Roger Vivier enthuses about the merits of the block heel too. “It is modern, youthful and suits every occasion,” he says, referring to a pink and yellow patent‑leather design (Décolleté U Cut, £545), adding that colour blocking is a way of keeping this season’s feminine shoes contemporary. Colour-blocked pastels and block heels are also evident in Manolo Blahnik’s collection, which includes a raffia sandal with a pom-pom-embellished ankle strap (Tumusa Pom Pom, £540) and a pale-blue satin pump with a bejewelled toe (Okkato, £730).
Footwear that tends towards dainty is typical of Tabitha Simmons, whose Daisychain design (£450) comes edged with a laser-cut eyelet pattern that echoes broderie anglaise. Her inspiration, she tells me, came from the 1975 costume drama Picnic at Hanging Rock, which features turn-of-the-century teachers and schoolgirls dressed in calf-length white lace day dresses. “But just because Daisy is a feminine shoe, there’s no reason it has to be paired with feminine clothes,” she says. Her block-heel sandal (Leticia, £365) in silver glitter is another great urban shoe, spot-on for navigating pavements in sweltering summer cities. “We introduced the block heel last year and it did very well for us. Now we are designing them in two heights and the beauty is that not only do they look good, they’re really practical too.”
Bionda Castana is another label renowned for its feminine aesthetic. “We design for cool, confident women who don’t want to change their shoes halfway through the day,” explains co-designer Natalia Barbieri, “which is why our 75mm height in either a block or kitten heel [Lama Polka, £395] is such a bestseller.”
Mules, too, give a hint of lift without sacrificing comfort and look great with an of-the-moment mid-length dress or pair of culottes. The proportions show off the lower calf and ankle and play perfectly to some brands’ strengths. Rupert Sanderson, who this season favours a delicate but sexy silhouette and colour blocking, has an ultra-cool pink and yellow metallic-leather mule (Gyda, £435) and it’s also worth singling out Pythia (£475), a sandal with a pink and brown jacquard block heel with a kaleidoscopic quality.
While Natalie Kingham, buying director of Matchesfashion.com, believes both flatforms and chunky shoes are here to stay, she also finds it refreshing to see sexy, feminine shoes becoming popular again. This season the retailer introduces two new luxury shoe labels – Olgana Paris and Malone Souliers. La Pièce Unique (£1,685) is undoubtedly the standout style at Olgana Paris. This powder-pink leather sandal features a 110mm heel and delicate dahlia detailing on the upper, expertly handmade by couture atelier La Maison Légeron. “I’ve always wanted to dress my feet in the same way I dress myself, using tailoring techniques that embrace both form and femininity,” explains brand founder and creative director Olga Djanguirov. “Sensuality and subtlety are integral to the essence of Olgana Paris.”
Of Malone Souliers, Kingham says: “We discovered the label at just the right time. Its vibrant colour palette and elegant silhouettes are beautiful and very contemporary.” It is the brainchild of founder Mary Alice Malone, an American-born shoe designer who studied at Cordwainers and set up a very smart atelier – decked out in midcentury-modern furniture and Lee Broom lighting – on Albemarle Street in Mayfair. Having also previously worked at lingerie brand Myla, Malone likens designing shoes to building a bra. “They’re both ultimately functional,” she explains, picking up a pretty mule. She pushes down on the centre of the insole to reveal a small piece of elastic – known in the 1950s as a “springulator” – that helps stop the shoe from slipping off. She is not one for embellishment: her aesthetic is about rich fabrics – non-exotic reptile skins, soft suede and metallic-pastel leather – and classic feminine shapes, namely mules, Mary Janes and sandals (mint and white Tammy T-bar sandals, £575).
Veiled behind a screen at the Albemarle Street shop, Malone and her assistant cut patterns, make prototypes and work on special requests, as the label also offers a made-to-order service, giving customers a Jermyn Street-style experience tailored specifically to women… and ultra-feminine shoes.