The question of who truly invented the stiletto has long been debated by fashionistas and historians alike: While some say Salvatore Ferragamo is the mastermind behind the iconic heel, others credit French designer Roger Vivier with refining the modern stiletto.
Now shoe lovers can take a closer look into the shoe's history by visiting the exhibit "Roger Vivier: Process To Perfection" beginning May 9 at Toronto's Bata Shoe Museum.
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The first North American exhibit of its kind dedicated to Roger Vivier, shoe by shoe, the exhibit unravels the tale of the French designer’s life through his work and contribution to fashion.
The Huffington Post caught up with Elizabeth Semmelhack, senior curator at the Bata Shoe Museum and author of “Heights of Fashion: A History of the Elevated Shoe” to learn more about the new exhibit.
How did Roger Vivier first become a shoe designer?
After a career on stage didn’t work out for him, Vivier ended up studying sculpture at L'Ecole Des Beaux Arts. A family friend gave him a job at a shoe factory outside of Paris, where he learned the ins and outs of shoe design and realized he could make sculptures to be worn. He created shoes for people like Josephine Baker and Mistinguett from his very own custom made shoe shop.
Where did you first spot Vivier's connection with the stiletto?
When researching Vivier, I found all of his US patents that he did when working for Delman. What I find interesting, from a historical point of view, is that he became famous for inventing the pilgrim buckle shoe and he is associated with the refinement of the stiletto and you can actually see these at the beginning of his career.
When did Vivier truly make it as a designer?
Vivier's career was established in the 1950s when he became the shoe designer for Christian Dior after returning from New York to Paris. His interest in the architecture and the tailoring of shoes really spoke to Dior.
Did Vivier invent the stiletto?
Vivier is often credited with inventing the stiletto; he didn’t invent it, but he certainly did refine it. Who invented it still needs to be figured out. It’s more of a group effort: one person coming up with the concept for the shoe, the other person refining that concept. It’s give and take.
Which of his shoes was closely linked to the stiletto?
Vivier debuted the needle heel in 1954. And the needle heel is really slender. But one of the things a lot of people associate with the stilettos is the very thin tube. Vivier didn’t seem to be able not to do something architectural with his shoes.
When was the stiletto heel invented?
The stiletto heel was not invented until after World War II. Prior to the war, no designer ever attempted to create the stiletto because wood couldn’t support the weight of a woman. It would have been the equivalent of walking on chopsticks. After World War II you have the extrusion of steel allowing designers to make steel rods that could support a woman’s weight.
What impact did World War II have on Vivier's career?
When the war hit, he had to close his shop thanks to the restrictions on leather. After a short stint in the military, it wasn’t before long he was coming over to the United States at the request of Herman Delman in New York. The U.S. was not yet in the war, so he began designing shoes for Delman.
How else did fashion change after the war?
After World War II, there’s a reinterpretation of femininity that encourages women to shed the Rosie the Riveter image and be more feminine. The new curvy look comes into fashion along with the high heel. Women’s fashion is brought into alignment with male erotica. And so high heels are associated with that very curvy new look. But the actual stiletto -- the really thin stiletto -- only emerges when the very thin straight 'H-Line' silhouette debuts in 1953 and 1954. Instead of curves, women were described as having “stiletto slimness”.
What were some other milestones in Vivier’s career?
In 1953, he became extremely famous when he made the jewel encrusted shoes for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. It’s amazing to imagine a British Monarch receiving the crown in French shoes. Another milestone followed in 1955 when Dior granted Vivier the ultimate honor that he would give nobody else: He puts Vivier’s name on the shoe labels with Christian Dior: “Roger Vivier created for Christian Dior.” It’s a big coup in the fashion world.
Overall, what is Roger Vivier most famed for?
Among his many successes, he's best known for the refinement of the high heel, the pilgrim buckle shoe popularized by Catherine Deneuve, the thigh-high boot popularized by Bridget Bardot and the reintroduction of the platform shoe.
Check out the slideshow of some of the shoes featured in "Roger Vivier: Process To Perfection," which is on display at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto:
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