The F word

A shoe fetish can be anything from a lust for a new pair to an avenue for acting out sexual fantasies. As the old saying goes, “if the shoe fits, wear it.”

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There are only a few celebrities whose last names are enough to inspire carnal fantasies. Pitt, Jolie, Farrell—hey, whatever floats your boat. For some people, their knees turn weak and their eyes roll with rapture whenever they hear the name Fluevog.

For the uninitiated, Fluevog (such a delicious name; floo-vog rolls nicely off the tongue) is a shoe company based out of Vancouver, and the last name of its founder and principle designer, John Fluevog. He’s made his indelible footprint in the fashion world by consistently producing unique shoes with a sculptor’s touch—swirls of stitching, fluted heels, twists of colour where you least expect it.

Fluevog operates outside of mainstream fashion, referring to himself as “an indie designer.” That may explain his cult following and why Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth and Perry Farrell are fans. While performing in Vancouver, freaky Marilyn Manson walked into Fluevog’s head office and demanded free shoes (he didn’t get them). Although Fluevog generally shies away from celebrity endorsements—“Why do I need these people to validate me?”—you may soon see the White Stripes and Dandy Warhols sporting his footwear.

Fluevog’s shoes are rock ’n’ roll fantasy. And they’re damn cool. And so is he. In town January 28 to visit his daughter, Britta, a NSCAD ceramic student, and to speak to the school’s fashion students, Fluevog emanates old-school cool; sporting a thin blond goatee, a fitted black parka and (of course) sweet, black leather boots, combined with an ageless air of confidence he’s earned after 30 years of designing funky shoes.

Influenced by an era when cars were king—Fluevog grew up during the 1950s, living with his family in a drive-through ice cream joint—he considers his shoes to be hotrods, a “combination of art and mechanics.” He also claims a celestial inspiration—the battle of good and evil—that could also describe the puritanical ’50s. Then came the birth of rock ’n’ roll in the mid-1950s, thought to inspire impure thoughts and (gasp!) sexual relations among unmarried youth. If Fluevog’s shoes starred in a movie, they would be directed by ’50s-obsessed John Waters. Think of former porn star Traci Lords sucking a lollipop in Cry-Baby or Ricki Lake’s outlandish bouffant in Hairspray. Gorgeous freaks who out-cool the school.

Although most of Fluevog’s shoes stay on the safe side of sexy, he edges into footwear that might raise more than just an eyebrow. His line of Grand National boots (named after horses), dip their toe into the world of fetishism, riding up the leg with corset-styled laces and tall, hoof-like heels. He admits there’s a raw sexuality in “stomping around. There’s something primal in the back of the brain, prancing and stomping about.”

The reality of Fluevog shoes—or any footwear, clothing, or jewellery that we chose to adorn our bodies with—is that they send a message to the rest of the world. You are what you wear. And when designers borrow from fetish fashions, perhaps it’s just a safe opportunity to explore another side of our selves.

Anneke Henderson believes that role-playing is just a part of urban living—a consequence of a consumer society that transfers fantasies and desires onto abstract objects such as shoes. A fashion designer and NSCAD MFA student studying women’s relationships with clothing, Henderson says that fetish is everywhere.

“It’s right in your face and it goes beyond shoes,” she explains. “But feet have always been fetishized. If we can’t see it and have it, that’s what we have the most desire for.”

In the early 1900s Sigmund Freud speculated that men develop fetishes as a way of dealing with their mother’s missing penis. Some psychologists think fetishism is a way to deal with sexual hang-ups. Valerie Steele, also known as the “high-heeled historian,” has written plenty about the subject. A Yale PhD and director at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, she suggests in her book Fetish: Fashion, Sex & Power, that acting out fantasies through clothing is healthy because it closes judgment on what society considers to be “natural” or “perverse.”

Some sexual fantasies aren’t always easy to understand. If you listen closely, you can hear Freud rolling in his grave, laughing with smug glee over www.abusedshoes.com. The site is a mine of photos of shoes being destroyed or defiled in various ways. Photos are divided into categories—scuffed, distressed, broken, burned, torn, etc. Warning: You may be brought to tears by the destruction of a pair of $700 Swarovski crystal-embedded Dolce & Gabbana sandals (brands and prices of destroyed shoes are listed). Most of the stories revolve around the escapades of Kitty—who we rarely see from the knee up—as she pumps the gas pedal, deals with an annoying headache, throws her co-worker into a hot tub for eyeing her $300 heels.

Most of us just get a fluttery feeling from buying a new pair of boots. Fluevog believes that our lust for shoes might be a simple matter of body image: “Everyone looks good in shoes. You don’t have to have a stylin’ body to look good.” Ah, but he may be wrong; even the 10 little piggies aren’t safe from Nip/Tuck, the TV drama about plastic surgery. In a 2003 National Public Radio piece, Karen Michel interviewed Suzanne Levine, a clinical podiatrist in Manhattan, who offers a US$2,500 toe-shortening procedure for those who desperately need to fit into their pointy Manolo Blahniks. One patient wanted Levine to increase the size of her heel because her feet kept slipping out of her Jimmy Choos. Another requested toe liposuction at the demand of her fat-phobic boyfriend (Levine suggested a boyfriend-removal operation instead).

This may seem absurd, but who hasn’t traded blistered heels or pinched toes for a pair of desired treads? Henderson suggests that we attach unrealistic hopes and expectations on shoes and clothing. “It may be a transference of pain into pleasure. It’s like the corset. There actually may have been some pleasure in wearing them.”

Perhaps this is why corsets sporadically appear on the catwalk and in pre-Kabbalah Madonna videos. Mostly we associate this restrictive piece of clothing, along with the spike or stiletto shoe, as the uniform of a dominatrix. Stilettos, which literally mean “sharp daggers,” are a sexy juxtaposition of fragility and toughness. They also symbolize power, and as one dominatrix says in Fetish: “It pushes up your ass. Also, you can use your high heel as a torture item.”

Sometimes it’s the subversion of familiar, innocent symbols that sends the most powerful messages. Henderson points out that in our post-modern society, pink no longer means ”soft and fluffy” (think of singer Pink). But one of the most incredible examples is Tokyo’s Harajuku neighbourhood.

In this pedestrian area, the biggest tourist attraction is the kids who hang out there. What started out as a small group of fashion trendsetters in the mid-’90s revolting against the influx of American fashion designers has evolved into its own technicolour scene. Captured in photographer Shoichi Aoki’s popular book and cult zine Fruits, the area is a parade of every hair colour, clothing style and bizarre make-up application imaginable. Evolving almost daily, some of the recent trends include painted whiskers and fun-fur suits inspired by favourite Manga characters.

Gothic Lolitas are considered to be one of the darker subsets of the crowd. Pick them out by their frilly turn-of-the-century dresses, black lace crinolines and corsets. The look is fairly benign, but when a teenage girl accessorizes a tiny Alice in Wonderland dress with a pair of knee-high platform boots, the message, by Western standards, borders on perverse.

Although Harajuku is a culture-specific phenomenon without any political subtext, expect that to change once it hits North American streets. Gwen Stefani, arguably one of music’s biggest style trendsetters, hired four Harajuku-inspired dancers to appear in her videos and at all public appearances to promote her first solo album, Love, Angel, Music, Baby. According to January’s Rolling Stone magazine, Stefani first gave “a shout–out” to the Harajuku girls’ “wicked style” after visiting Tokyo in 1996, and dedicates a song to them on her album. It’s just a matter of time before young North American girls, unaware of the irony, start emulating the Japanese Harajuku style.

It’s tough to be unique in this world. Both Henderson and Fluevog agree that we should take some time to scrutinize our fashion and footwear—what “shout-out” are we giving to the world about our own emotions, thoughts, fantasies?

“Whatever it is we do, we think about it first,” Fluevog says. “We set parameters once we wake up in the morning. We always think ahead of time before we sleep with someone.” So why would our shoes be any different?

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