Woman to Woman: Toe-to-Toe

Elsa Schiaparelli shoe hat

True fashion design geniuses are always thinking, conceptualizing, and pushing the envelope. They have been singled out by the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and have been the subject of one of their major exhibitions. In just a little over one week, the Costume Institute (http://www.metmuseum.org/  ) will unveil “Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada: Impossible Conversations”. According to the press release, “Iconic ensembles will be presented with videos of simulated conversations between Schiaparelli and Prada directed by Baz Luhrmann, focusing on how both women explore similar themes in their work through very different approaches”.

Miuccia Prada Spring 2011 Collection

The two iconic designers from two different eras not only share their Italian heritage, but their pioneering out-of-the-box thinking, artistic creativity, and often unorthodox approaches through which they routinely challenged conventional ideas of taste and beauty (“Ugly Chic”). Miuccia Prada once said, “I make ugly clothes from ugly material. Simply bad taste but they end up looking good anyway.” – 1995, referring to the season’s “bad taste” collection, featuring such styles as Formica check design, which evokes the look of 1970s polyester. They have greatly impacted the fashion landscape and continue to do so, particularly in the case of Miuccia Prada whose collections, like them or not, are always influential.

Dali inspired “lobster dress” by Schiaparelli

Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) was influenced by the Dada and Surrealist movements and had many collaborations with Salvador Dali. She is long considered to be one of the most important figures in fashion between the two World Wars, along with her greatest rival Coco Chanel, whose legacy was celebrated by the Costume Institute in 2005 with its blockbuster exhibit, “Chanel”. Undeniably, Gabrielle Coco Chanel is still considered to be one of THE most important, influential designers of the 20th century, as she revolutionized the way women dress. According to Harold Koda, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute, she proposed an “elegantly conceptualized modernism” and in “creating a wardrobe for herself, Chanel invented an idea of the modern woman”. “The very name, CHANEL, remains synonymous with uncompromising refinement and seductive flair.”

Chanel cap toe pumps

I dare say, if more women took her design philosophies to heart, and perhaps heeded some of her innumerable sage quotes, there would be a lot more well dressed gals out there. Many women overthink, overdo and completely miss the point. It’s really not that complicated. As she succinctly put it, “Simplicity is the keynote to all true elegance.” By the way, I am not trying to portray the late great designer as a saint; she certainly had her faults, flaws, and failings. But when it came to style and fashion, she knew what she was talking about.

Some of CC’s most memorable quotes which are worth keeping in mind:

“Women think of all colors except the absence of color. I have said that black has it all. White too. Their beauty is absolute. It is the perfect harmony.”

“I imposed black; it still going strong today, for black wipes out everything else around.”

“Luxury is the opposite of vulgarity.”

“A woman can be over dressed, but never over elegant.”

“You can be gorgeous at thirty, charming at forty, and irresistible for the rest of your life.”

” “In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.”

“Fashion is architecture: it is a matter of proportions.”

“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion has to do with ideas. The way we live. what is happening.”

“A woman with good shoes is never ugly.” (Unfortunately, there have been a lot of shoes out there that are not only Not good, they are downright UGLY).

“Elegance is refusal.” (I would hope that elegant women everywhere “refuse” to buy these horrible shoes).

“Fashion is meant to become unfashionable.” (Mercifully, many of these horrendous styles quickly disappear in order to make way for the next ‘flavor of the month’).

“Fashion fades; style is eternal.” (So true, and while styles, especially shoe styles, may come and go, in my opinion, there is nothing more eternal and more enduring than the cap toe pump popularized by the iconic designer. She also said, “A girl should be two things, CLASSY and FABULOUS, and these certainly fill the bill).

Originally created in nude leather, finished off with a black cap toe (see above photo). Mme. Chanel was well aware that these were not only completely versatile, (a perfect neutral which went with everything), but amazingly leg lengthening. Unsurprisingly, the House of Chanel has presented endless variations on the theme through the years.

Chanel espadrilles

 There are square toes, pointy toes, round toes, sling backs and closed pumps. Also delicate, wafer thin soles and hefty platforms, ankle straps, t straps, and Mary Janes. Heels in every shape, width, and height, from demure Sabrinas to mile high stilettos. In CC’s words, “Luxury must be comfortable otherwise it is not luxury”, so thankfully, there are uber comfortable ballet flats including some that are infant and toddler sized (the tinier the cuter). Not to mention perfect-for-summer rope soled cotton espadrilles, which are $395 and available at Chanel boutiques. I have even seen screen printed t shirts emblazoned with the iconic shoe. As for color, they have been shown in every shade and color combination imaginable. The best are still nude, white or off white, accentuated with the signature black toe. In terms of material, they are constructed of leather, suede, satin, cotton, hemp, metallic, and nubby hounds tooth weaves.

Phoebe Philo for Celine cap toed pumps

Chanel once observed, “Hard times arouse an instinctive desire for authenticity”. I completely agree that the best, most classic versions are still the originals – some dating back decades. They can be found on EBay, at vintage stores, on vintage websites, and even at thrift shops if you’re lucky. Of course, you can always buy current updated versions at Chanel boutiques and select stores around the world. But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been fantastic interpretations by other designers, which stay true to the originals but are different enough to be highly distinctive. For example, for fall 2012, Phoebe Philo for Celine changed it up by substituting burgundy for the traditional black cap on her pointy toed white pumps with high sculptural heels.

Manolo Blahnik boots for Ralph Rucci

And then there are the insanely fabulous boots expressly made by Manolo Blahnik for Ralph Rucci’s fall 2012 collection (they are available by special order). In clear plastic, the heels and tips are constructed of either water snake (in a muted multi-colored shade), or velvet (fig, petrol, and black). They perfectly accessorized what I believe to be one of Mr. Rucci’s best, most well restrained collections to date. It is one that perfectly illustrates Chanel’s beliefs:  “Simplicity is the keynote to all true elegance”, “Black has it all. White too. Their beauty is absolute. It is the perfect harmony” and “Fashion is architecture: it’s a matter of proportions.”

Cap toe Yosi Samra Two-Tone nude and black ballerina flats
As I always love a bargain (but only if it looks far more expensive than it is), I have to mention Yosi Samra’s fold up two-tone leather ballet flats with top stitching at the elastic line, which come in a drawstring pouch (http://www.yosisamra.com/ ). They are available in white, nude, and red with black cap toe, and in a variety of metallics, $66- $70. But, in terms of price, nothing can beat Dexter’s Claire $29.99 scrunch flats available at Payless, http://www.payless.com/  which explains why they are pretty much sold out at stores  and on line. That said, depending on your size, you may get lucky and find them somewhere.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.


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