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Report: France

France celebrates its passion for shoes

Le Lieu du Design

Shoes are a passion in France, especially in the fashion capital, Paris. An exhibition running until 4 November takes a look at France’s 150 years of shoe savoir-faire.


The Atelier Richelieu plays host to dozens of designers featured at the Paris exhibition: “Shoes – A French passion.” Two floors of men’s and women’s footwear – from casual to chic to just plain wacky – are on display for those passionate about shoes.

The President of the French Federation of Shoes, Jean-Pierre Renaudin, says this passion was the catalyst for the exhibition.

“The French, compared to other countries in Europe and around the world, spend the most of their hard-earned money on shoes,” said Renaudin.

“On average, French people buy between six and seven pairs per year. Germans buy four to five, Italians from five to six and us, around seven. So there is really a passion in France for shoes and we have a long history with this product.”

Catherine Hélaine, designer of Arch brand shoes, says it is not only passion, but the “French touch” that make shoes special in France.

“The French touch is a culture of quality and a very balanced line, whatever the brand,” says Hélaine. “There are few brands left in France. What makes the difference is the quality. The brand in and of itself is not selling shoes; it is selling spirit.”

Humans have been wearing shoes since around 8,000 B.C. The earliest shoes probably resembled a bag-like wrapping made of fur or skins. Later, the Egyptians and Greeks made leather sandals famous. These days, of course, there are a plethora of shoe options, and designers are constantly looking for innovative ways to create footwear.

One such example is Canadian designer Tanya Heath, whose high-heeled shoes feature a removable heel. Heath says women today are not only looking for fashionable shoes, but comfortable ones as well.

“There are a lot of women wearing flat shoes or comfort shoes and aren’t necessarily happy with the fashion impact that that makes,” says Heath.

“And even worse, there are women like me who are living their day around the shoe they left the house in. I thought, why is it that a woman has to adapt to her footwear instead of her footwear adapting to her?”

Quality and comfort are no-brainers for shoe designers, and most of them say that even the highest high heel is comfortable if it is made in the right way.

An entire section of the exhibition is dedicated to the making of shoes: a tutorial on the process from A to Z, different types of leather to touch, as well as a game to guess which animal produces which shoe material.

While quality is essential to a good shoe, most admit that having fun with footwear adds a little spice to life. Sandie Jancovek says her line of shoes, "Jancovek," is feminine and fun, like the strappy black high heel she has on display at the exhibition.

“[My line] is quite retro and fun,” says Jancovek. “I design girly shoes, which are not very serious, for women like me who are a little bit shy and prefer to show their shoes more than their [personalities].”

Many of the brands on show feature functional, ready-to-wear items, while other designers have used the exhibition to display their most extravagant shoes.

Among them are Rudolph Menudier’s towering heels, which show a face stitched into the toe with the tongue sticking out, and Raymond Massaro’s platform heels that resemble a pink basket of flowers.

So, is it true that you can judge a person based on his or her shoes? Tanya Heath says absolutely not.

“One thing that continues to astonish me is the diversity of women that I meet and the level of implication, the level of achievement, and the level of wonderful-ness that they have,” says Heath.

“So to reduce a human being to their shoes is the essence of superficiality. I don’t see myself as that at all. I see myself more as someone who would embellish what’s already there.”

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