Two of a Kind: The Sole Of The Matter

Prada vs LV

Prada on top of Louis Vuitton’s chunky rubber-soled shoe

By Shu Xie

It’s really not the same as serving coffee in a jam jar: one café does it, and the rest follow. Coffee is common man beverage—with the exclusion, perhaps, of kopi luwak—and a receptacle for marmalades can be an inexpensive and bold, although affected, statement on the virtues of recycling. But fashion at a certain level and price point should ideally not be about the reprocessing of ideas, especially not yours to begin with.

When I saw the shoe in the window of Louis Vuitton’s Ion Orchard store this morning, I thought a Prada shoe ghost was haunting its neighbour. I did consider the said footwear to be a doppelgänger to Prada’s by now recognisable hybrid hunk of a shoe, but, seriously, it looked much more like a fraternal twin. Were they separated at birth? Or a mistake of the cobbler-as-midwife? And why was it making an appearance now? How did the mother react to it aligning itself with the competitor next door?

Like most fashion mysteries, there were more questions than answers.

As I stood there in front of the window with that shoe, conscientiously thinking of a trend that does not bubble up or trickle down, it dawned on me that despite the importance of novelty in a trade that that sees feet walking towards or away from the rage of the day—in a day, it is really all-the-rage that matters more than true newness. The movement is horizontal now since designers cast a more lateral view on trends. They seem to say, anything you can do, I can do too.

When Prada launched its menswear in 1993 (and later the Prada Sport line), footwear was part of their game-changing approach to fashion, which began with nylon bags in the late 70s as a counterpoint to the preciousness of luxury bags of the time. Prada men’s shoes have never been just classic brogues and Oxfords (although they do them well too); they’re always a blend of this and that, a meeting of the unexpected, and, increasingly, crossbreeding that results in both the beautiful and the banal.

While Prada shoes are not really cool-hunted anymore, they continue to intrigue with their myriad soles on which traditional uppers sit. If you care about shoes that are different but not crazily way out—just whimsical, you could be keenly anticipating each season’s what-will-they-think-of-next hybrids. I recall, as I write this, the Wallabee gone to the city as a wing-tip, the espadrille traded up as a brogue, the Oxford half-disguised as a galosh, the lace-up with kueh lapis sole gone decidedly punk… I could go on.

Fusion in food may arouse suspicion, but fusion in footwear has spawned quiet a following, and I mean shoe makers doing the trailing. Some of Prada’s bold ideas have such far-reaching influence that they could be seen in the workshops of shoe-making cities of the world, from Addis Ababa (in Ethiopia) to Guangzhou. And under extreme pressure from producing popular shoes that sell, even top-of-the-line brands are compelled to go window shopping.

I held the Louis Vuitton shoe—called Swirl Derby—in my hand. The sales staff was eager to tell me that what was atop my palm was “the star of the show”. Like Prada’s, it was the heft that struck me. The 4.5-cm sole, too, is made of rubber, molded to form layers and ridges, and includes a gap between forefoot and heel. The seam where the sole grips the upper is similarly undulating—a masculine scalloped edge. Both are lace-ups, but LV’s look more suited for a hike up some mountain at a city’s edge. Twins, as it’s often seen, do have different pursuits.

Prada Lace-Up, SGD1,400, is available at Prada stores. Louis Vuitton Swirl Derby shoe, SGD1,530, is available at Louis Vuitton stores 

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