When Net-a-porter's sale site TheOutnet.com hosts a Christian Louboutin flash sale, a pair of shoes is sold every nine seconds. All the shoes usually sell out within a couple of hours. This kind of ravenous purchasing behavior is unique to footwear, the site's director Stephanie Phair says: "It’s the fastest shopping we see. Women really do sit on their computers and have insane trigger fingers when it comes to shoes." The new film God Save My Shoes, which the Outnet screened this week, explores why women are so obsessed with shoes. Women's shoes account for 60 percent of the $40 billion worth of shoes sold in the U.S. each year — men's and kid's purchases aren't even half of that — and many of the shoes women buy are totally impractical and uncomfortable. So, why do we do it? What is it about shoes? The film's director Julie Benasra interviewed dozens of shoe obsessives and collectors, like Fergie, Kelly Rowland, and poker player Beth Shak (who has 1,200 pairs) for the film to find out why. Here, she explains:
Why a movie about shoes?
Initially it wasn’t my idea, it was the producer's idea. When he was shooting his previous documentary on the history of sneakers, he was looking at these guys with their crazy sneaker collection, and he was thinking: Men and their sneakers is one thing, but women and their shoes — it’s the next level. Men and their sneakers, it’s a smaller niche, but women and shoes, it’s 90 percent of women.
Were you worried about making women look overly materialistic?
I was. I was afraid that it could sound a little shallow at first, but there are so many layers that are really interesting in the shoe itself — the psychological aspect, the sociological aspect, the pop culture aspect. When the stiletto was invented in the fifties, that’s when Playboy was invented too. But for women, it doesn’t matter what their social level is, whether they can afford $800 Christian Louoboutin shoes or Payless shoes — the emotion, the obsession, is exactly the same.
But how much is there to say about shoes?
I realized there are so many layers, psychologically speaking, socially speaking, culturally speaking — there is this symbolism in shoes. It's a one-hour film, but it could have been three hours long, there is so much to say and so much I didn’t say.
The history of shoes is a rich one. I wanted to look into when men were wearing heels, and I think that stopped around the 18th century or something like that, but I didn’t want to do a film on the history of shoes. In the same way that today women feel empowered by high heels, when men were wearing high heels they were considered to be pretty high on the social scale. The best example was the king of France with his red heels — men that were considered to have a huge ego wore heels. Same thing for men that were wearing platform shoes in the seventies — they had a strong ego, too.
I thought the history about shoes that you did include in the film was so interesting.
I spent three or four hours at the Bata shoe museum in Toronto and every single thing [curator Elizabeth Semmelhack] was telling me was fascinating.
Especially those platform shoes women wore around the 1400s.
The Chopines — they look like prehistoric platform shoes. And 54 cm high! They had to walk with servants to help them on either side, which also shows that the family was wealthy.
Why do you think women wear heels now?
I think it’s a combination of two things — when you ask a women why do they love their heels so much? Two words come up: sexy, empowered. Because women feel sexy in their high heels, they feel empowered.
The curator at the shoe museum said in the film that she didn't think stiletto heels were empowering because if they were, businessmen and politicians everywhere would wear them, and they don't.
She thinks it’s more of a sexual tool than an empowering instrument. I believe it empowers women. Because you feel more feminine, you feel that you have more power. Also, you’re taller. When you feel taller, you feel stronger, you stand out. You feel more vulnerable, too — you cannot run, you cannot walk fast. It’s not practical obviously, no. A pair of shoes doesn’t change a man physically. High heels literally change you physically — the buttocks comes out, the legs are more muscular-looking, and you have to walk slower.
So you think women have to feel sexy to feel empowered?
That’s something that maybe has evolved — women nowadays are using their sexuality to their own advantage and they make use of it. Not in a negative way, but they feel empowered by that.
You also asked in the film what the difference is between men who design shoes and women who design shoes.
One of the first things I realized when I started this film is, why is it that all the big-name designers are men? And that’s fascinating to me — they don’t wear the heels, they don’t wear those shoes, and every single one I’ve met I’ve asked them, "Have you tried on heels?" And most did. A man, first, he doesn't care, he’s not going to wear them. Second he’s the one who looks at the shoes — he transposes his fantasies in the shoes. So obviously, he’s not going to make them comfortable. As Christian Louboutin says in the film, when someone fetishizes over shoes, it’s not flat shoes. A female designer will pay more attention to comfort. Obviously, a five-inch heel, no matter who it’s by, is not comfortable, no matter what. So it’s up to us how much we can take the pain.
Why do you think most shoe designers are men?
Even in clothing design most designers are men — the big names like Karl Lagerfeld, McQueen, and Jean Paul Gaultier, and all that, they’re men. I think historically speaking in terms of shoemaking, it was a man’s line of work, it was passed on from father to son. And it’s working the leather — it’s difficult work with the hammer, the nails, and all that, so there’s a historical tradition. I’m not sure if that has to do with designers being male or female.