Purple Revolution

My first prince

Memory: I am 16, my best friend has moved to Paris, her family relocated for one year due to her father’s research. I miss her. The time of year: spring, April. My parents allow and help me to arrange a 10 day visit to my friend’s house. I fly over during the Passover holiday. I’m excited. I arrive at their house, receive a loving welcome from her and her family. After a short Parisian brunch my best friend and I go for a walk. “We will soon be back, we just want to go for a walk around the block” we tell her parents, “Shelley is too curious, she wants to see just about everything,” my friend explains. The streets of Paris are a living museum to me; at that time I studied at an Art boarding school in Jerusalem, I literally ‘lived’ inside renaissance painting and medieval art and sculpture. So I just had to stop at every corner, alley, church, courtyard. The short ‘around the block’ tour turned into a long and magical day… we returned at 10pm, I believe just a few minutes before her parents, who are the coolest parents in the world, were about to freak out. This was way before mobile phones were popular, they were not even in my spectrum of awareness.

Purple Paris

That same day, or perhaps it is the following day, we go to the Virgin record store in the Champs Elysees. The huge store is like wonderland to me. I am mesmerised by its size and endless rows of records, cassettes; music was everywhere.

I buy 4 cassettes, I am almost sure they include Led Zeppelin, Susanne Vega, Peter Murphy and one I remember for sure: Purple Rain by Prince.

Today’s charming Prince

When I listen to Prince’s music today I fly back in time to the Art boarding school I went to during high school years. I spent a lot of my time daydreaming about the future (which I guess includes this exact moment too) and finding our way through hidden openings in the school’s fence, to explore hidden corners in the hills around the school’s compound. It makes me wonder how similar that imaginary future is to today’s reality, was I loyal to the hopes and dream of the girl I was?

Prince’s shoes?

As a footwear designer today I wonder what shoes I would design to echo Prince’s creation, life, vibe, existence, music.

One almost immediate influence Prince’s death might have will be in the popularity of purple. We’ve been seeing purple all around us the past few days; from a NASA-tweeted picture of a nebula in honour of the Purple Rain singer to people lighting purple candles in the streets. For a minute; purple is everywhere. We might be seeing this influence on large or small collections. Purple has hardly ever been a mainstream colour in fashion, let alone in shoes. How will this come about? You can see more of these magnificent gestures here. Get ready to be struck by ultra-purple!

I felt like examining this idea on a sandal that has many stripes. The gladiator sandal was a natural choice to play with colour gradation.

Uncoded-Steps Purple-gladiator footwear
One gladiator sandal; lots of purple

Purple for Kings and Princes

And how would this work for a commercial footwear company? It is a little complicated due to the large number of materials used for its creation – it would mean stocking almost 10 colours of leather for the upper. Most companies which do not make custom made shoes, but have a production line, even a small one, would choose to avoid such a process and to use a small number of materials per style. From my personal experience if you’d dare to ask such a task from a manufacturer she or he would prefer to avoid it, to choose a sandal that production would be more straight forward.

Another option is to create the sandal from thick leather that has not been through the final stages of colouring and finish; this would allow you to dip colour the leather to reach the exact shades; a delicate work bringing this sandal almost to the level of one of a kind art item – a work process which isn’t for everyone…

It is more likely that we will see purple used for details such as insock, eyelets or laces. On the other end of the ‘purple spectrum’ we might also see it as a strong and clear statement: purple shoes! Perhaps produced in small quantities.

Uncoded Steps Prince shoe design Gabbiano Tannery-C
Natural pigment at Gabbiano’s ecco leather tannery, Italy. Photo by Shelley Lewis
Uncoded Steps Prince purple boots Gabbiano Tannery C
More at Gabbiano’s Tannery; natual pigment on the floor. In the background: purple boots :)) Photoby Shelley Lewis

We want heels!

Among the many things Prince was known for, wearing shoes with heels was one of them. Heels for men have been flirting with the outskirts of fashion for the past few years, remaining in the blurred boundaries of avant-garde. Rad Hourani who was the first designer ever to create a haute couture unisex collection, a collection he presented in Paris in January 2013, has been wearing them for years and recently we’ve seen them in Dior’s AW 2015 collection. So they’ve been gradually moving from a more avant-garde brand to a more established one; this is the first clue showing us a direction which fashion is moving towards. A trend is first of all an evolving tendency and we certainly can see it here. Prince’s sudden death sheds light on this; suddenly heels for men are the talk of the day.

Uncoded Steps Heels for men hommedesign-
In these two images you can see the evolution, from Rad Hourani on the left in 2009, to Dior’s AW 2015-16 collection.

Rad Hourani’s picture is from the blog New Male Fashion . Dior’s image is from “Get In The Ring”

Heels; are they high or deep?

In her book “Fashion Forecasting” Evelyn Brannon meticulously explains the intriguing dynamics of fashion and culture. Trend forecasters notice similarities and connections amid the haul of information and creativity surrounding us. This helps us sense the connection between Rad Hourani, Dior and Prince. Things add up. All this does not happen in a vacuum, but amid times with many asking themselves ” am I attracted to men or women or both, am I a man or women, do I want to dress as a man or women or a mix of the two?” It seems time is just about ready for the comeback of heels for men.

You can see more about centuries long history of men’s heels in this charming one min. video: Listen to Elizabeth Semmelhack, curator of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toront

A trend evolves from many directions and places. It voices a zeitgeist, a state of mind, an aspect of current culture. It is much more than being fashion, fashion is the outcome of the deep undercurrent of trend. The blurring lines between men and women have been happening in many ways, and they represent our personal inner desires and yields; sexuality is no longer something you are born into and you live to play its pre-written script, but you write your life’s script and play, or live the role you choose to.

Uncoded-Steps Purple-boot
I drew this high heel bootie two years ago, Its image ‘jumped’ into my head one sunny afternoon, including its colours

I am curious to see the future; will men’s heels become more popular? Will Prince’s electric purple be seen in the upcoming shows, and if so, for how long will the “purple phase” stay with us? For a final goodbye I am adding two more pictures, they are smoky and glittery, electric and hazed, it seems purple electric heels are part of the beat. Your music stays with me, and will always resonate so many moments and feelings. RIP.

uncodedsteps Prince & the Revolution footwear design
Image from Feel Numb
uncodedsteps Prince purplerain
Image from Nolastudiola


Author: lewishelley

Footwear designer and lover, (almost) always curious

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: