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The Quiet Revolution: Single sole shoes are back

Designers have written a new manifesto of elegance for spring. This brand new vision of the future is a statement in understatement, and the single sole pump is the silent killer to nail the trend, says Rena Niamh Smith.

Browse street style snaps of the very fashion forward in the major fashion capitals and you will have noticed a new uniformity in shoes. Keep a keen eye on the catwalks and you will spot the same thing. Elegant, grown up and sleek; anyone who is anyone appears to be sporting a single sole. Shoes with a distinct lack of any type of platform have been spotted from the cobbles of Somerset House to pavements of Paris, New York and Milan and beyond. This return to base is more than just a coincidence, it’s the defining feature for 2013.

It is about mentality as well as style. “I only make single-sole shoes,” Manolo Blahnik told Vogue.com. “They transform the way a woman walks: in heavy platforms like truck drivers, in my shoes like ballerinas.” From Alaia to Zanotti, it’s all about a wafer thin slice between your foot and the floor. There were the wedges at Burberry, which keep the pointed toe for a zingy angular look. Round toe styles at Sophia Webster and Nicholas Kirkwood seem all the more fresh with this lightness, an airy quality.

The most classic shape of all, the pin thin stiletto with a pointed toe, has made a strong comeback across the board. Saint Laurent Paris showed black pointed pumps as part of the classic house look. At Stella McCartney, they take on a futuristic vibe with a holographic texture. Valentino’s version is plastic fantastic with the house signature studs. It’s not the first time single soles have been big news, but when a mood shifts like this, it is usually a response to things being the other way around for a little too long.

The YSL Tribute launched a thousand tributes. A platform sole, round toe shoe with tall stiletto was the go-to shape for everyone from Kate Middleton to Lady Gaga; the height seemed sculptural, the thick sole was fashion forward. Remember how Mrs Beckham in particular seemed to never be seen out of the things? Currently, she is working the slimmer sole. A chunky platform is looking as defunct as the “Yves” in Saint Laurent.

The fresh look of a single sole is the quickest way to set you apart for spring. Given the comfort of platforms, the high street might not be so quick to pick up on this one. Sophie Dee is a shoe buyer at New Look and she doesn’t see platforms going anywhere soon. “One of the girls that we would aim towards would always wear a massive heel for a night out”, she says.


Take note: ditch sky-high talons while you’re at it, smartest of all are the lower, midi-height heels. The architecture of a single sole with clean, unfussy lines sums up all the necessary edge to a daytime or evening look. Yasmin Escheref, editor at Net-a-Porter.com, sees it as a missing link between fashion and good taste right now; “it’s about refinement”, she says. It goes without saying that what goes around comes around with trends. Single soles are almost too big a feature of footwear to be named as something new. But what is fresh this time around is the way it is being matched with other grown up, pared-back classics and offset with something more boyish.

It’s a sure sign designers are taking cues from the 1990s once more, and that decade was as much about minimalism as they were about grunge and mooching around listening to Nirvana. And 2013 is about minimalism of all different kinds. Designers have made tailoring and luxury sportswear a focus, discarding opulence and exaggeration in favour of making statements in structured simplicity. Tailoring in particular emphasizes technical skill over a smoke and mirrors approach.

Shedding the career woman vibe it once had, the trouser suit is enjoying the spotlight again, and this time it’s sexy. And by sexy, we mean streamlined, pristine perfection. At Chloe and Givenchy, jackets were lapel-free, colours were muted. Of his final, slick minimal collection for Balenciaga, designer Nicolas Ghesquière told Style.com, “It’s the most sensual collection I’ve ever done.”

Think of how a pair of pointy pumps offsets slouchy faded jeans; a fresh white shirt with the sleeves rolled up to reveal delicate wrists, tailored jacket thrown around your shoulders. It’s the kind of nonchalant attitude French women like Carine Roitfeld have been oozing for years. It is the fine balance between restrained lines of tailoring or wafer-thin pumps and the curves of a woman’s natural silhouette that makes this kind of sexy make sense.

Doll days are over. It seems curiously dated for a girl to get strapped into the tightest bandage dress, wear a mask of makeup and balance on the most sculptural and hoof-like of heels. Instead, unfussy, lighter-than-air shoes are key to nailing a sexy tomboy vibe. Smartest of all, the lower heel heights mean these are shoes you can actually walk in. No mincing steps here: grab your handbag clutch style in one hand and stride with confidence, a pared-down look takes a special kind of guts. Power to the pump! Never has girl power gone more grown up.

- Rena Niamh Smith

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