I began thinking about the high heel aka the stiletto recently after purchasing a new pair and wearing it to work instead of my usual ballet flats. Shoes really do help make the woman, I decided, as I sailed through the day on a cloud of compliments from coworkers and customers alike. Internally, I felt more put together, confident and attractive. The practicality and comfort of ballet flats were always a selling point for me. I do not like to be hindered or distracted as I go about my day. Flats allow me to zip around at a fast pace from task to task without a care.
When wearing heels, I move slower, more tentatively out of necessity, in order to stay upright. They give me the erect posture my mother insisted upon by pulling my shoulders back from their natural hunched forward position. This of course is nothing new, women have worn heels for years in order to achieve just this effect, that of improving the posture and as a result the figure.
If we were to break down the overall effect a woman gets from wearing heels, it would consist of these individual components; heels simulate standing on your tip toes thereby elongating the legs, thrusting the bust forward, the calves and thighs are accentuated as the muscles of the legs remain activated in order to maintain an upright stance. In heels, the tummy is relegated to the farthest regions of the abdomen, the bottom lifts and the hips perform wide sways from side to side. In totality, these effects produce an instant boost to a woman’s sex-appeal both physically and mentally.
So who do women have to thank for this amazing invention? As it turns out heels have been worn in one form or another since 4000 BC as evidenced by hieroglyphics found on the walls of Egyptian temples and tombs. Chopines ca. 1400-1700 made out of wood or cork, embellished with leather, jewel embroidered velvet or brocade were first worn by Venetian courtesans and patrician women alike.
“Stiletto” is an Italian word meaning small metal dagger, referring to the steel rod encased in every heel of any significant height . The present day form of stilettos were invented in 1954 by Frenchman, Roger Vivier. Born in 1907, Vivier studied sculpture and drawing at L’Ecole des Beaux Arts in France. His studies in sculpture and his passion for the theater would later inform and inspire his work in shoe design.
Vivier was introduced to the business of shoe making when a friend offered him a job at a shoe factory where he learned the basics of the craft. He subsequently began designing shoes for actors and theater artists of the day such as Josephine Baker for whom he signed his first custom shoe, decorated with sequins and tassels. His first studio was opened in 1937 at 22 rue Royale in Paris. At this point, Vivier designed for large shoe companies such as Delman and Bally among others.
During the war, Vivier moved to America to work for Delman. When leather rationing reduced shoe sales he became an assistant photographer to George Hoyningen-Huene of Vogue. He returned to Paris in 1947 and continued to draw sketches for well known shoe manufacturers. In 1955 through 1962 he worked for Christian Dior. Printed on every shoe he designed for the house of Dior was the inscription “Christian Dior crée par Roger Vivier” making Roger Vivier the only designer name that Christian Dior agreed to have printed alongside his.
In June of 1953 Roger Vivier garnered more acclaim by designing the gold kidskin pumps studded with 3,000 garnets for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. After the death of Christian Dior in 1957, Vivier began collaborating with Dior’s successor, Yves Saint Laurent. The square heeled pilgrim buckle pump debuted in 1965 in the acclaimed Yves Saint Laurent “Mondrian” collection.
Catherine Devenue wore Vivier’s pilgrim in the movie Belle de Jour released in 1967 and the design became an instant best seller and remains timeless and chic to this day.
Roger Vivier influenced many of today’s luxury shoe designers. Christian Louboutin apprenticed with him for a time and Manolo Blahnik heralds him as a master craftsman. Vivier died in 1998 at the age of 90 doing what he loved best, designing shoes to the very end. The Roger Vivier brand was purchased two years after his death by Diego Della Valle the CEO of Tod’s. Mr. Della Valle appointed French-Italian accessories designer Bruno Frisoni to revive the brand. Today, Roger Vivier’s spirit is channeled in Mr. Della Valle’s designs. The iconic silver pilgrim buckle has come to grace accessories of every kind from sunglasses to clutches.
Creations from recent collections are being worn by a new generation of artists and actresses alike. Vivier’s legacy of luxury and fine craftsmanship continues. As he told Vogue in 1984, “to wear dreams on one’s feet is to begin to give a reality to one’s dreams, and to nourish the hope that they will bring on other dreams”. With such rich history, there is little wonder as to why stilletos still bring about the intended effect, which has always been to enhance a woman’s allure.