Fashion Masochist: Surrealist Shoes

By Rachel Baker | Boston Magazine |

Marc Jacobs and I share a couple of things. One is a signature dance move involving lots of elbows and lots of shaking, which I discovered on a dance floor one glorious night in Provincetown last summer. Another is that we can both be showoffs (see above). So when Jacobs topped Balenciaga’s knee-high gladiator sandals and Prada’s sculptured pumps by sending backward shoes—“heel” sticking out from the ball of the foot, with nothing under the anatomical heel—down the spring runway, I couldn’t wait to strut them all over town.

[sidebar]THE EXPERIENCE Before getting my hands on a pair, I practice tiptoeing and falling gracefully into downward dog position. Yet when the shoes—in whacked-out purple and pink patent leather—arrive from the showroom, they’re miraculously wearable. I wouldn’t liken them to Mephistos, but they’re no less comfortable than any other 3-inch heels. And while I tend to wobble when I focus too hard or get overexcited, if I don’t think about it, I’m golden.

Parading in what Jacobs refers to as his Misplaced Heels, which I typically wear with a simple black dress or skinny jeans and a black top, I’m not the only person puzzled by the form-function disconnect. Everywhere I go—Walgreens, Pho Republique, the bank, Banq—I get the same reaction: “How does that work?” (At times, the query comes with a squealed “The crazy Marc Jacobs ones! In person!”) Of course, I have no idea. So I call up MIT structural engineer John Ochsendorf for some clarity. He compares the shoe’s design to that of the new ICA building, jutting over the waterfront. “We are accustomed to seeing a heel supporting the back of the foot, so this is a visual play,” he explains. “Does it work? Sure. Instead of support from a small column under the heel, the sole is stiffer and acts as a cantilever beam to support the heel. But a cantilever is inherently flexible, which will make the shoe springy and comfortable, too.”

Thus educated, I feel obliged to enlighten curious onlookers. What was previously answered with only a shrug turns into chat after chat with strangers about physics. But didn’t I pick a career in style and words to avoid exhaustive discussions on this sort of subject?

THE VERDICT Within days, I’m out of outfits that work with my Seussian footwear. And while I had considered investing in the surrealist style (in a toned-down shade), that would’ve meant becoming a full-time public-service science teacher. It’s a relief to be home from Whoville.

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