Fashion’s foot fetish is alive and kicking

Fashion has a long, well-documented history of lusting after unhinged footwear. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, there’s a slew of new styles getting our toes out on the streets and runways.

It’s an unspoken rule in fashion that the weirder the shoe, the more we clamour for it. There have been umpteen examples of us falling down the eccentric rabbit hole when it comes to what we slide on our feet: Alexander McQueen’s Armadillo shoes hover at the top of the hotlist, JW Anderson frog slippers and paw heels are enough to cause audible gasps, while MSCHF’s big red boots” and cowboy crocs had moments in the spotlight recently. Newly appointed Alexander McQueen creative director Seán McGirr’s Lana Del Rey-approved hoof boots caused a stir at his debut show in March. Additionally, Balenciaga x Vibram’s FiveFinger boots and Hood By Air’s double-faced cowboys boots both deserve a spot in the unsightly shoe hall of fame. The esoteric allure of borderline grotesque footwear simply can’t be beaten.


Coperni, however, may have just earned the title for this year’s most divisive shoe. Enter: the label’s SS25 Resort line. Released last month, British-Moroccan model Nora Attal, a face becoming more frequent on catwalks across the globe, was lensed in the new-season garbs. In one image, she’s seen wearing a technical sports jacket, which doubles as a playsuit, with a printed shirt peeking through and reflective black sunglasses atop her face. Nothing out of the ordinary; a look It girls will undoubtedly flock to. Then, you pan down to her feet. The epitome of business up top and party at the bottom, there, in all their HD glory, are a pair of five-toe sneakers which are – wait for it – encased in jewels.

I’d be lying if I said the shoes didn’t immediately pique my interest. An obsessive need to own the crystal-toe flats consumed me, so much so that I sent the shoes to a friend and fellow shopaholic, who had a visceral and immediate aversion to them. Don’t you dare,” she responded, quickly followed by, No, you can’t. You actually cannot.” Her loss.


The individual five-toe trotters come in white, black and nude, and, as the lookbook shows, look great paired with mini-mini balloon skirts, crisp white shirts and rugby-style tops to balance the off-kilter, err-on-the-side-of-caution footwear. It’s a level of low-key carefree whimsy that could only be achieved by a person/​persons with an unabashed interest in serving the masses and averting societal norms. Coperni’s Arnaud Vaillant and Sébastien Meyer don’t allow the current fashion cycle to dictate or cloud their judgment when catapulting a new cult item into the mainstream. It’s this line of thought that ensured the signature Swipe bag came to fruition and, of course, Bella Hadid’s viral spray-on” dress on the SS23 catwalk became immortalised in fashion discourse. University, Silicon Valley and preppiness were on the brain when devising the SS25 Resort line, but their take on five-toed sneakers – a toe-curling model for some, shoe heaven for others (me) – proves our feet obsession has real legs.

In the past year, everyone from The Row to Christopher Esber and, of course, Alaïa released an array of non-shoe” shoes into the wild. Esber’s Minette ballet shoes were netted, mesh and festooned with crystals, giving new meaning to the term twinkle toes. The Row’s ankle-kissing sock mesh ballet flats allowed chic twentysomethings who live in Greenwich Village to get in on the action. Elsewhere, Alaïa’s netted flats, the style that launched a thousand shoefies” and sold out numerous times (there was even a waitlist for the waitlist, a PR once told me), has been released in a crystal rendered version in a moss-green, black, white – and mixed metal if you’re adventurous.


For those who want to show off more toe cleavage, the laminated fishnet styles are available in carmine-red, duck-egg blue, dance floor-ready metallic silver, black and nude. Rihanna, Jennifer Lawrence and Dakota Johnson are all devotees of the various models. See also: Schiaparelli’s gold, toe-dipped trompe l’oeil pumps and trainers, a more opulent offering for those devoted to the cause. Sandy Liang has even given the trend a coquettish spin, fashioning up ochre, crimson and black mesh flats.

How did we get here? Well, toe-heavy footwear has dominated style conversation for a while. Cast your minds back to the omnipresent Tabi Swiper” tale, which dominated TikTok for days on end last September. A story that starts with one girl’s love for her Tabi Mary-Janes and a promising date, ends with one less pair of Tabi’s on her shelf, re-gifted to her date’s alleged girlfriend, after he stole the shoes on a second date. A chilling tale and, quite frankly, the stuff of nightmares. But the bizarreness of the story affirmed the OG toe-shoe’s resurgence over the past few years. The model, a traditional split-toe Japanese shoe, is embedded in the soil of fashion lore. First surfacing in 1988, the Tabi boot, a polarising two-toe design, was an invention of Martin Margiela. However, long before it entered the fashion world, the split-toe model was worn in 15th century Japan, a staple for workers that was thought to facilitate balance. In recent years, the IYKYK, fashion school niche shoe has gone viral, infiltrating all corners of the internet and circles.


So, what exactly is it about a non-conformist shoe that draws the fashion crowd like a moth to a flame? Lauren Cochrane, writer and editor, seems to think it’s the influence of the age-old aforementioned shoe alongside fashion’s fascination with finding the beauty in the ugly. Ha! FEET. I wonder if it’s a mixture of factors — fashion is always partial to the weird and the gross-out, and toes are definitely in that wheelhouse,” she says. The recent core-ification of every trend may also be to blame, and at the crux of our obsession with Vibram FiveFinger trainers, another style often seen on the fashion pack’s feet. It’s maybe also a trickle down from the end of gorp-core. And there’s the Tabi effect – the popularity of the cloven hoof shoe has no doubt given fashion brands ideas that experimental footwear is perhaps more sellable than it looks.”

Will Lauren be slotting her dogs into a pair of individually-allotted, toe-dividing footwear anytime soon? When hell freezes over. I’m toe-phobic, so I will not be wearing such shoes. The sight of the Vibram ones has caused me to move tube carriages in the past.” Another one bites the dust. But those, like Lauren, who won’t be tackling the gross feet obsession, will likely have to grin and bear the trend for the long haul. Wacky shoes, in general, are part of the trend cycle – we’ve seen massive ones, novelty ones, meme-able ones, meta ones recently – and these are just the latest version of the wacky shoe, with a gross-out element thrown in for good measure,” says Lauren. I don’t think they are a fad. Shoes and accessories generally seem to have the ability to go viral in a way that clothes don’t. See also: the pigeon bag.”

In fact, at the time of writing, another obscure set of footwear has just entered the arena. Marc Jacobs’ AW24 show in New York on Monday night was, as ever, a lavish affair. Cardi B, Lourdes Leon, Eartheater and Devon Lee Carlson were among the A‑list stars sat among fashion editors, while model of the moment and FACE cover star, Alex Consani, hit the catwalk. But the footwear stole the show. With a melting pot of iconic references from Marilyn Monroe to Minnie Mouse, fantastical silhouettes bounded down the marbled floor. Cartoonish flats with upturned points, much like fictional genie shoes, made an appearance in magenta-pink, azure-blue and monochrome hues, followed by surreal ecru strappy heels with a large surface area. For those not in the business of wearing heels, Marc concocted white brogues enveloped with sizeable, striking gems. Sure, it won’t please the toe-loving shoppers, but it’s a sign that bizarre and bonkers shoe trends show no signs of slowing down.

Marc is a very special designer, he’s a cultural observer so it’s always interesting to see his shoes each season because it’s never quiet,” says Amanda Murray, multi-hyphenate and fashion’s fairy godmother”, as one of her 122K Instagram followers dubbed her this week. It’s never diminutive; it gives us a peek through his lens on how he sees women at this time.”

Jacobs’s penchant for going against the grain in the face of quiet luxury-galore is what has – and continues – to make the fashion landscape all the more interesting, something which, Amanda adds, she hopes will never wane. It’s a great juxtaposition for the current landscape of luxury shoes, whereas, over the past 5+ years, most luxury brands have adopted a homogenised minimalist approach to shoes – it’s great to see the antithesis of that. I wish I could see more of that approach.” Marc Jacobs knows women and shoes – and the uglier the better seems to be the foolproof recipe. Despite the recent calls for quiet luxury, at the heart of it all, we simply want footwear that will literally stop strangers in their tracks – and by the looks of things, the ante has only been upped and the rise of the hideous shoe won’t be de(feet)ed.

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