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Flats: A Brief History (PHOTOS, POLL)

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When people think about fashion and shoes, the stiletto most often comes to mind. Popular culture has ingrained in us that style equates to a high, high heel and one that is sometimes dangerously skinny. Full-disclosure: I love high heels. I'm only 5'4" so any extra inch helps. That doesn't mean though that I don't love, own and constantly wear flats. They are a universal.

Flats, after all, have been in style for millennia. Consider the flip-flop. One could argue that the flip-flop is a stripped-down, rubberized version of something the Egyptian pharaohs and queens wore thousands of years ago. Among the myriad after-life riches archeologists discovered in Tutankhamun's tomb were several pairs of flat shoes. The boy king himself was found wearing sandals that are, in essence, flip-flops. Of course, King Tut's are pure gold.

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Another historical must-have to withstand the whims of fashion is the gladiator. The ladder-like straps and ankle closure of today's popular sandal look very much like its ancient Roman archetype.

Women spent centuries afterwards navigating unwieldy heels like Renaissance-era chopines that sometimes reached heights of 30 inches. It was only a matter of time before women opted for something simpler and safer. By the 1800s, everyone was wearing soft, simple slippers that would look right on trend with today's ballet flat.

As a designer I'm obsessed with shoes of all shapes and styles from all cultures. When I visited India last summer I stopped at as many chappal stalls as I could. These flat, thong sandals come in every color, embellishment and style and, like the gladiator have a storied history. Even though chappals are technically fancy but functional thongs, they are so beautiful women wear them with their most elaborate saris. I have already spotted a few this season in New York.

Like the gladiator, chappals can be sexy. I think flats in general are sexy and sophisticated even though prevailing sartorial thought is that the higher the heel, the greater the femininity quotient. One of my favorite looks from our own collection is the Eddie ballet flat. It reminds me of something Audrey Hepburn wore in those iconic images of her in a simple black top and cigarette pants in the 1950s. It doesn't get more feminine or alluring than that.

Flats will be in full force for summer--ballet styles, gladiators, thongs, T-straps, embellished looks, espadrilles and trusty, beach-combing flip-flops. Expect the same for the following seasons with men's-style oxfords and brogues reworked for the modern woman who likes to walk confidently and, well, comfortably.

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