MAX BLAGG SURVEYS THE SUMMERY SIDEWALK
Spring is a languid memory, the summer heat bears down, and one of the few pleasures for this Englishman caught in the Fahrenheit storm is the multitude of female feet, those glorious pedals, bared to the sun and the day, braving the unforgiving concrete of New York pavements. Those feet change mysteriously with the seasons, and curiously seeking answers to the burning question of what will be adorning women’s feet on the simmering streets, this flâneur went directly to the source, to the pulsating heart of haute pedestrian style, Midtown Manhattan, where sumptuous shoe salons are strung like pearls, a Mecca for those who love shoes more than they should. And those shoe fanciers are legion, trekking and tripping here daily, north from the triangle below Canal Street or south from the peaks of Darien.
This summer’s footwear brings life and breath to the molten streets. There are sandals so delicate that their straps seem like sheer strips, feathery lines delicate as silken thread, so finely wrought that songbirds have been known to mob their wearers’ feet, mistaking the laces for worms or nesting materials. Yet they are sturdy enough to hold the bold feet in place as they stride across the earth, receiving Mother Nature’s ionic charge over a larger area of the sole. Greater contact with the planet means the women of summer are more electric. And as if this charge of ions were visible, neon shades shimmer, disco greens and banshee blues, and the tropical colors you might encounter on a coral reef. One cluster of sandals seemed to resemble a cloud of parrot fish floating by, laces waving as delicately as undersea plants.
The extraordinary displays of gorgeously appointed feet put me in mind not just of fish but of the produce displayed in the Food Halls at Harrods, a similar cornucopia of delightful gifts for the eye, with much food for thoughts of salad days: toes pink as boiled shrimps, nails red as summer radishes, leather as lively a green as fresh lettuce. The mouth waters at such summery concoctions: the green flash, like a passing meteor, of Nicholas Kirkwood flats, flesh pink Jimmy Choo wedges with a tiny zip up the back, sandals by Manolo Blahnik in bright gold that conjure Patmos, bronzed feet striding across those warm, flat rocks by the blue Aegean. And there are wedges everywhere. Louboutin’s wedges produce a little shock at first sight, so accustomed is the eye to Christian’s ice pick heels, but there are plenty of those as well.
I had thought that the legendary Elsa Schiaparelli (whose fabulous confections are currently on display side by side with Muccia Prada’s at the Met’s Costume Institute) first elevated a humble espadrille into a wedge, but this fashion innovation was actually the invention of another Italian genius, Salvatore Ferragamo. When certain crucial components such as rubber and steel were commandeered by Il Duce’s rather second-rate army due to wartime shortages, Ferragamo fashioned a solid heel from cork, a pure invention mothered by necessity, and the wedge has bobbed up and down on fashion’s fickle wave ever since. This year it is riding high again, and the number of elevated Amazons strolling the avenues has only increased.
However closely connected with the earth you’d like to be, you should never go barefoot in the city. Save it for the soft sands of summer, because all manner of tiny hostiles lurk on the fetid concrete of urban sidewalks, some capable of attack through the tiniest cracks in the skin. Urban barefooting is sheer folly, whether you’re a hippie or a contessa. Fortunately, there are mani-pedi salons on every corner, busy giving feet the attention and pampering they deserve. Even though it is inordinately healthy to expose your feet to the air throughout the season, and avoid closed shoes entirely, attention must be paid. Good heel and arch support is crucial, otherwise that walk down Fifth, or down the staircase to the beach at Montauk, can seem as arduous as the road to Lourdes.
This summer’s shoes flaunt nearly naked feet, and for this interested observer, toenails were made to be painted, and while pink or even black seems to be the height of fashion now, for me the color that becomes them most is red, blood red, shocking red, Barnett Newman red. Few things are more alluring than a scarlet nail winking from the tiny aperture of the peep toe. Nothing is closer to bliss than a summer evening, sitting on the sand, quietly observing toes whose red nails, gleaming like tiny shields, lightly dusted with sand as golden as the champagne being poured, illuminate the beach. See you there. BG