Emily's Style Notes: Céline’s Controversial Barefoot Shoe

What do you make of the design house’s latest statement-making accessory?

In her new weekly column, Emily Ramshaw, Assistant Fashion News Editor, starts a conversation inspired by the insiders and newsmakers shaping the fashion world now. Check back every Tuesday for her latest report.

Photo by Armando Grillo /

“It is linked to a drawing from the surrealist art movement – it’s about making something fun and unusual and breaking up a heavy or seriously feminine outfit,” Céline’s rep wrote in an email when I asked about the shoe’s inspiration.

I love this shoe, for making a statement, but also for being flattering in its odd beauty. Following Céline’s presentation in Paris, the blogosphere noted that it was only shown in white. Would this fly in the multicultural mosaic of Canada? I asked Ilya Parkins, a professor of gender and women’s studies at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, to weigh in. An expert in gender identity and fashion, Parkins recently released a book called Poiret, Dior and Schiaparelli: Fashion, Femininity and Modernity.

These shoes invoke whiteness as normative in the fashion industry,” she wrote. “They do this in the context of the history of surrealist images, which are really about fantasy and play. This gives white women, on a literal level, access to the possibility and tools for that kind of play…it ends up validating white women as expansive and idiosyncratic and complex, while women of colour, who can’t make the shoes’ trompe l’oeil effect work, don’t have the privilege of that kind of identity play…they can’t represent themselves in this really complex way…It’s about much more than single garments or accessories like this, so when people say too much is being made of it, they miss the point. The seemingly ‘innocuous’ individual items refer to much deeper currents in the social world.”

I’m not decrying the stacked heel yet, though. In daring to take a design risk, Céline has – knowingly or not – sparked a necessary debate. And it’s one that the fashion industry, with its powerful cultural clout, is uniquely poised to take on. What’s more, when we discussed the shoe in our meetings following fashion week, a few editors thought that Phoebe Philo was drawing attention to the normalcy that’s now associated with wearing heels – it’s as natural as being barefoot. Who knew a shoe could be so controversial?

What do you think? Join the conversation and tweet me at @EmilyJRamshaw and @FLAREfashion.

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An abbreviated version of this article appears in FLARE’s February issue.