The absurd allure of too-smooth shoes

MSCHF left a gigantic digital footprint across the globe this week with the Big Red Boot, following in the smooth footsteps of Loewe and Bottega Veneta. Are we odd for liking shoes this even?

Clifford, you’ve got competition. This week, MSCHF went barking mad and unleashed the Big Red Boot, an entirely smooth, comically clunky shoe inspired by the ruddy rubber stompers from Astro Boy.

Taken for a spin across New York City by Sarah Snyder, the campaign sent the internet into a frenzy, blurring the lines between art and artifice. Priced at a cool $350, they’re set to drop next week, and while a lot of people think the BRBs have GTG, they’ll sell out in seconds because there are enough clowns (us included) out there.

You never design shoes to be shaped like feet,” the mischievous Brooklyn art collective said in a release. Big Red Boots are REALLY not shaped like feet, but they are EXTREMELY shaped like boots,” they continued cryptically, before uttering four little words that speak to THE FACE’s soul: They’re VERY red, too.“

It’s not the first time that MSCHF have made headlines for making mad shoes. In 2019, they filled a pair of Nike Air Max 97s with holy water” scooped from the River Jordan; in 2021 they shredded some Birkins to make the Birkinstock and last year, they recast those big shoes you wear after breaking your foot into a streetwear star.

But while the Big Red Boot might be MSCHF’s most perfectly level, flush and undented shoe yet, they’re not the only smooth operators out there. In a world of increasingly silly shoes – from JW Anderson’s frog spawn to Tal Maslavi’s cake loafers – there’s been an underlying trend of totally flat footwear.

So when did this all kick off? We can trace it back to 2016 and Balenciaga’s Speed trainers, those shoes that look like socks that Cardi B likes. Part pantaloon, part sneaker, the Speed was knitted and perched on top of a rubber sole, creating a seamless transition between sock and shoe. Fast fashion soon cottoned on, flooding the market with cheaper imitations; a few years ago, you could hop onto any tube and, after immediately and mandatorily dropping your eyes to the floor, be met with the sight of a strangely smooth Speed.

Smooth, though, doesn’t mean chunkless. Proving that too-smooth shoes don’t have to be streamlined, Bottega Veneta continued the trend for Fall 2020 with its Puddle Boot. Made with a sleek, continuous shell and built with a globular silhouette, the Puddle made a splash thanks to its lightweight feel, biodegradable fabrication and pretty palette of colours. Just last year, Bottega made a Knee High version, injecting the mould with some extra length.

And, yes, it wouldn’t be a proper look at frivolous footwear without talking about Loewe. Aside from the (deep breath) egg, balloon, frog, grass, tulip and soap shoes that the house has trolled us all with in the past, its collaborator Abraham Ortuño also brought the Daisy Duck shoe to SS23, so-called because it looks like the heel Donald’s girlfriend wears while kicking around in Disneyland. A round, childishly-designed, too-smooth shoe, it featured on the runway alongside similar efforts including FENDI’s dolled-up shoes and Balenciaga’s burnished boots.

Of course, smooth shoes aren’t an entirely new thing. Squint at the Puddle or the Big Red Boot and what you’re really looking at is a Wellington, albeit one that’s been beefed up to new proportions. Birks’ polyurethane shoes are also pretty supple, and fill in the holes of a standard Croc and you’ve got something that fits the mould. It’s all thanks to the use of polymers like TPU, creating a soft, flexible, crease-free look.

What makes shoes like MSCHF’s stand out, though, is that they’re impossibly smooth. In an age where we’re obsessed with NPCs, deepfakes and AI, too-smooth shoes blur the lines between cyberspace and reality. Skin-smoothing filters, flawless activewear, foldable phones, 3D-printed objects, perfectly plane plastic Elf Bars: we’re all shooting for a cartoonishly smooth look that makes us the main character in an anime, video game or metaverse server.

Sure, the Big Red Boots cost a bomb and are probably a nightmare to walk in. And yes, in a few season’s time, we’ll be over over rough, bumpy, jaggedy footwear instead. But for now, don’t resist the appeal of the too-smooth shoe. Go on, give it some welly.

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