November 20, 2012
trend ender – flatforms
Trend Ender is an irregular feature created to identify, illustrate and investigate the origins of current fashion trends, discuss when they’re fabulous and when they fail, and attempt to predict their demise.
Trend: Flatforms is a new portmanteau for a very old idea, platform shoes that place the foot on a flat surface, distinct from platform shoes with elevated heels. This may be the case of a trend ’emerging’ simply because someone came up with a spiffy new name for it. The identity of whoever coined the term is unknown, it seems to have entered the lexicon following the Spring 2011 collections.
Where it came from: As old as mud, many cultures around the world have carved wooden clogs to keep their feet off the dirt, from the pattens of medieval Europe to the geta of Japan. Flat platform shoes pre-date platform heels by a long shot. Actors in ancient Greece used platform shoes called korthorni to indicate who played the leading roles. Women also wore cloven platforms, sometimes of great height, which were more for sitting than standing. There are several representations of Aphrodite wearing such sandals.
In the Ottoman empire, very tall platform sandals called qabaqib, beautifully inlaid, were worn by women in public bathhouses to keep their feet off of the hot, wet floor. It is thought that trend for orientalism initiated the fashion for chopines in southern Europe in the 1500s. Styles of chopines varied across Europe – the abundance of cork in Spain lent itself to very visible, cylindrically soled shoes worn with shorter skirts. Meanwhile in Venice, courtesans wore stilt-like apparatus under longer skirts to create exaggerated proportions. Chopines worn by wealthy women were elaborate little pedestals meant to emphasize conspicuous inactivity more than height.
The flat platform form fell out of fashion in the west, but rose in the east. The 18th Century was the era of the classical geisha in Japan, where young geishas in training would wear a solid, block-like form of the geta called okobo. In the 19th century China, Manchu women wore platforms with teeteringly tiny footprints, some think as a more practical version of the fashion for bound feet among Han women. During the Qing dynasty, Empress Cixi wore bejewelled, platforms along with her long, precious nail guards.
Platforms clumped their way back west during the Second World War, as women’s fashions became more vertical. On the menswear front, the thick-crepe soled, suede “brothel creeper” was created, worn as a casual shoe by Western soldiors in the African desert, nicknamed for a popular pastime. Post-war in England, brothel creepers became the uniform shoe of the Teddy Boy subculture. In the 1970s, Malcolm McLaren merchandised youthful rebellion and sold it back to the kids. Much ted-on-punk violence has resulted due to shoes. It has remained a subcultural staple for the current generation of hipsters.
In 1971, Manolo Blahnik designed a sandal with a sole that resembled a brick for Kansai Yamamoto (source). Bringing the eastern aesthetic west using bold modern shapes, Yamamoto outfitted Ziggy Stardust and the pop culture flatforms were made iconic, and then mainstreamed. The 1970s clogged up.
Platforms dipped out of fashion only briefly in the 1980s before the current trend cycle began with designer (and former McLaren partner) Vivienne Westwood creating the Rocking Horse shoe in 1987. Subsequently, pop music made the platform trainer ubiquitous with the Spice Girls. Since then high-fashion platform heels have only become more elaborate, sculptural, cantilevered and bizarre. Flatforms, meanwhile, flicker in and out of consciousness.
When it works: Flatforms are an aggressively conspicuous fashion shoe. As such, they’re a daring buy for those who enjoy offending others with more classical – or old-fashioned – sensibilities. It makes sense that a directional brand like Prada is leading the flatform movement this season, with a monstrous post-modern mashup of okobo, chopine, and Baby Spice.
When it’s wack: flatforms will always have a whiff of Orientalism, prostitution, objectification, violent youth and dirty streets… they’re politically as well as proportionally incorrect, but maybe that’s the point.
How it will end: they’re still ascendant, being worn in various forms by fashion freaks like Elle Fanning, yet aren’t yet mainstream. I think the shapes of the soles will continue to get more abstract and postmodern for a few more years before they become utterly unwieldy.