King Louis XIV was the Anna Wintour of 17th century France. The Sun King, much like Wintour, had an unparalleled vision when it came to style, from his lavish garments to the grandiose Versailles. But his taste in shoes—heels especially—played a vital role both in transforming the public’s perception of France and establishing the foundation of the fashion industry we know and (mostly) love today.
Heels on shoes became a status symbol throughout French society as early as the 17th century. It was Louis XIV who demanded every heel be painted a bright scarlet red, which then gave not only the heels but also the color an undeniable touch of nobility. Christian Louboutin recently lost a lawsuit against Yves Saint Laurent for purportedly copying his signature red-soled heels—and rightfully so. Unfortunately for Loubi, it can be hard to claim rights for something that’s not yours like, you know, a color. But even though he lost, filing that suit makes his intentions of producing a red-soled shoe clear: Christian Louboutin wants red bottoms to conjure the same status that was held by the members of the French elite during the birth of the French luxury industry.
With the rise of the status heel gaining momentum, a new prototype emerged as the one that would revolutionize the future of all high fashion footwear: the mule. The name comes from the Latin mulleus calceus, meaning red slipper, which accurately describes the style of the shoe. Because of the ease with which a woman could take them off, it became a tool to tease and ultimately seduce men. The mule made a strong showing at the ready to wear fashion week this year in Paris, with Elie Saab presenting a sexy, open-toe leather version of the shoe. This contemporary display of the mule exemplifies their lasting influence on the fashion industry. Heels have long been objects of desire, attention, and power for women: where the shape is often described as a phallic symbol, where the design is made to turn heads, and where size does matter after all.
The wide variety of high heels available on the market today enables women to define their own personal style. These options complement the individual personalities that everyone tries to project, contrary to the criticism of high heels confining them to the limited role of sex symbols. Men, however, have very limited options in the heel department, yet the options that do exist are nothing short of fabulous. During its edgier, rock and roll era under Hedi Slimane, Dior Homme offered a 6.5cm heel in silver, gold, and patent leather that was sleek, but sexy most importantly. So, if you are a guy or girl, you owe it to yourself to go buy a new pair of clackers and revel in the sound they make walking across a marble floor, all while thanking the heavens for Louis XIV.