Pivoting business plans and the lost collections of fall ’20 are essential topics of conversation for any of the shoe designers I’ve spoken with in the past few weeks.
But the single most mentioned theme I’ve heard from them? That they’re dreaming.
The world is a scary place right now, we all know. But that’s all the more reason for a bit of fantasy. History has shown that in times of crisis (wars, depressions, pandemics), artists often produce their most vivid works. The art and fashion of the 1930s was notoriously whimsical and escapist — see the imaginative works of Picasso and other Modernist artists or anything from the Surrealist movement of the time. It was also in the ’30s that Elsa Schiaparelli came to dominate fashion with her avant-garde creations. The Italian designer frequently collaborated with the likes of Salvador Dalí and Jean Cocteau and dressed screen stars like Mae West (undoubtedly one of the most imaginative actresses of all time when it came to fashion).
It was also during this era of global uncertainty and upheaval that Coco Chanel offered up the idea of liberating women from the corset, showing them an entirely new way of dressing that is still the backbone of the modern wardrobe.
Recently, fashion has been in the process of moving away from fantasy, towards a more utilitarian, unisex-focused aesthetic. The practical, uniform-like qualities of the latest collections will surely prove helpful with the more tangible logistics of the pandemic (as I moved through Paris Fashion Week in a constant state of paranoia, it was hard for me not to notice details like the surgical gloves and quarantine-worthy duvet blankets at Ricks Owens, easy-to-wipe rubber boots at Stella McCartney and of course Marine Serre’s masks).
But if history is any indication, it’s equally likely that we’ll also be entering a new era of fantasy fashion. Artists and designers are the interpreters of a society’s emotions, and right now they are picking up on the need for distraction, creativity and a little bit of beauty during this dark time. Even some of the fall ’20 collections — like Giambattista Valli’s crystal-covered beauty looks or Area’s crystal-covered everything — are providing some uplifting inspiration.
This week, shoe brands like Manolo Blahnik and By Far introduced coloring sets whereby fans and followers can print out sketches of shoes and bags and color. Both Jimmy Choo and Zyne have debuted shoe design contests for charity. All of these efforts show designers extending the therapeutic benefits of creativity to a wider audience.
In my own work-from-home wardrobe, I have been adhering to most of the same utilitarian dress codes that are collectively guiding us right now: Sweaters, slippers, leggings, jeans (I know I am in the minority on the latter). But this week, in the spirit of this push for creativity and fantasy, I began to pull out my most whimsical shoes — the impractical ones, the heels that I reserve only for special occasions and have only worn once or twice. They are even more impractical at this moment. But it feels incredibly uplifting to put them on, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
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