American Heels (2014)Bata Shoe Museum Toronto
The three contenders who took women’s footwear to new heights
Today, the high-heeled shoe trots across every fashionable street in the world, not to mention the catwalks. But high heels also have a long and complex history; did you know that heeled shoes date back to 9th-century Persia and soldiers in heeled riding boots? Later, the trend was popularized by Catherine de Medici who, at 4 foot 9 inches, wanted to stand a bit taller for her wedding day, thus bringing the the high heel to a mass audience.
But its a long way from these kinds of heels to the one that dominates today — the stiletto (meaning 'knife' in Italian). Characterized by a thin, long steel rod, metal tips, and a height that can reach up to 25cm, the stiletto is very much a 20th-century invention. But the question remains – who invented it?
There are three designers who, in their own ways, can all lay claim to the title of 'Stiletto Inventor'. So take a look at the designers who (literally) took the heel to a whole new level.
American Heels, 2014 (From the collection of Bata Shoe Museum Toronto)
Though he may not be the only father of the stiletto heel, he is recognized as the (patented) inventor of the cage heel and is also credited with reviving the cork wedge.
Shoe for Marilyn Monroe by Salvatore FerragamoMuseo Salvatore Ferragamo
Shoe for Marilyn Monroe, Salvatore Ferragamo for Salvatore Ferragamo S.p.A. (From the collection of Museo Salvatore Ferragamo)
Known as the ‘shoemaker to the stars’, Ferragamo adorned the feet of Eva Peron, Lauren Bacall, Sofia Loren, Marilyn Monroe and countless more, all at a time when stilettos started making their fashion debuts. Ferragamo may not have been the sole inventor of the stiletto, but he certainly knew how to publicize them by placing them on the feet of the right people at the right time.
Pumps (1920s) by André PerugiaThe Kyoto Costume Institute
Pumps, André Perugia, 1920s (From the collection of The Kyoto Costume Institute)
Perugia was one of the first shoe designers, during the modern patent era, to experiment with height and slimness – two major factors that would play a large part in defining the stiletto.
Shoes (1955–63) by Roger VivierPeabody Essex Museum
Shoes, Roger Vivier for Christian Dior SE, 1955-63 (From the collection of Peabody Essex Museum)
If you are a fan of the thin rod steel-as-a-heel stiletto, then you have Roger Vivier to thank for that. This French designer created the Aiguille heel which has appeared in more than one episode of Sex and the City. He upped the heel game when he increased its height from 6cm to 8cm, naming him the father of the modern-day stiletto heel. But it’s not simply a piece of steel and height that gives Vivier the stiletto award. His craftsmanship merged height with comfort – the true testament to the perfect stiletto.
So, who actually can take credit for inventing the stiletto? The verdict is still out as to whether that honor goes to Salvatore Ferragamo, Roger Vivier and André Perugia. There is no easy answer to this question, as each one of these designers have made significant contributions towards the birth of the stiletto heel, but the final verdict may be Roger Vivier who set the criteria of steel heel and height – giving us a 20th-century fashion marvel.
Shoes (Fall 2008) by Christian LouboutinThe Museum at FIT
Shoes, Fall 2008, Christian Louboutin (From the collection of The Museum at FIT)