comfortable shoes are here to stay

comfortable shoes are here to stay

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So, if sneakers and sweatpants were the twin fashion hallmarks of the pandemic, and comfort their lasting legacy, where do high heels and “fancy” dress shoes fit in our future?

It’s a tricky question to answer, says Bridget Veals, general manager of womenswear, footwear and accessories at David Jones. She says although women will wear heels again, it’s unlikely they will wear them as often or for as long a period as before, especially among the work-from-home set.

As lockdowns have eased, Veals says sneaker sales have not taken a dive, a sure sign that although we may be yearning to dress up, our feet are happy to maintain 2020’s enforced state of comfort. Though some styles are slowly regaining interest, Veals says that, instead of jumping straight into heels, this will be the summer of the chunky sandal.

And when we do wear heels, Veals says it’s more likely to be in the six-centimetre range – higher than a kitten, lower than a stiletto – except on special occasions where something like, say, a 10.5-centimetre Saint Laurent tribute is regaining interest.

“There are still key brands like Jimmy Choo, René Caovilla and Christian Louboutin where heel heights will remain high,” she says. “[The question is] how long you keep them on … it just makes you feel normal again.”

Online retailer Net-a-Porter has noticed a definite prioritisation of comfort even among its top-tier spenders, and is answering the call by stocking the original Birkenstock clog next season, as well as $2000 designer sneakers. And while it’s hardly scientific, the fact the site currently has 281 styles of sneakers versus 270 pumps is somewhat telling.

Net-a-Porter’s senior fashion market editor Libby Page agrees that heels, when worn, will hover between seven and 10 centimetres, with traditional purveyors of more “vertiginous” styles introducing 8.5-centimetre and even lower options in line with demand.

“We have adapted our buy to also reflect the new normal, without losing sight of the fact that our customer still loves fantasy fashion; it’s about getting the balance right,” says Page.

One Australian shoe designer content with our 24/7 love of sneakers is Vince Lebon of Rollie Nation, a brand launched in 2012 via a Melbourne market stall that sold an ultra-light twist on the classic flat, lace-up derby.

Rollie Nation's Vince Lebon: “I don’t think many people will go out of their way to look good and feel uncomfortable.”

Rollie Nation’s Vince Lebon: “I don’t think many people will go out of their way to look good and feel uncomfortable.”Credit:Kristoffer Paulsen

“The high-heel category is going to have a lot of challenges because they’re trying hard to [revive it] but they’re not changing anything,” says Mauritian-born Lebon, who grew up in Melbourne’s western suburbs and self-funded Rollie at age 27.

Lebon and I are chatting in an inner-Melbourne cafe. The city is fresh out of a four-month lockdown; drinking coffee out of porcelain mugs feels like a novelty. Around us, every single person is wearing sneakers. “People want to be comfortable now, it’s expected … until they revolutionise the comfort side of things, I don’t think heels are going to have the place they had,” he adds. “I don’t think many people will go out of their way to look good and feel uncomfortable.”

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Call it luck or good planning, Lebon had a range of casual trainers ready to go in June, just weeks before Melbourne’s second lockdown. He’s since added a more athletic style to the mix, and wants Rollie to make the kind of technical sneakers you’d find at Nike or Adidas. It’s a lofty dream but he’s better placed than many, having previously worked for Adidas’s New York innovation lab. He scored the gig after winning a reality TV-style competition off the back of a stint studying at the world’s most renowned “sneaker academy”, Pensole, in Portland, Oregon.

He built Rollie (the nickname he gave his wife, Kat, a former Qantas flight attendant) on the core principles of lightness and comfort. “It takes a lot longer to develop the shoes because it’s a lot more difficult to develop those two things and make it look cool,” he says. So, is Lebon implying Rollie would never make heels? “Only if the heel became that important that it was part of everyday culture and the way people live their lives.”

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