Plain Flat Clunky

Doc Martens Aggy sandalsDoc Martens ‘Aggy’ sandals with patent leather straps

These are man-repelling shoes, and mothers frown on them too. Still, women are willing to embrace them even after being weaned on towering Blahnik stilettos or dainty Vivier heels. The almost-sudden love for styles that look like orthopaedic footwear, however, is not really a new affair. For as long as there have been Birkenstocks and Teva river sandals, women (and men) have loved being clunkily shod.

Since we have been talking about Kate Moss in the previous post, it is, perhaps, interesting to note that the popularity of Birkenstocks has never really waned since she wore them in one of those iconic pictures shot by Corrine Day. And that was in 1993! Those double-strapped, thick-soled ‘Arizona’ slip-ons with the generously ample toe-box (perfect for wearing to the pedicurist) are still available today, and any time at the Birkenstock boutique in Wheelock Place, you’ll see them being snapped up.

Kate Moss by Corrine Day

Corrine Day’s shot of Kate Moss from the 1990s

While Ms Moss’s clothes received much of the world’s attention, especially those unsightly cut-off denim shorts, her choice of footwear too had far-reaching impact. Indeed, throughout much of the mid-Nineties, Birkenstock sandals (including those from the sister line Papillio) and similar were the deliberate choice of many savvy souls who could make the unattractive attractive, a proposition quite often witnessed at the house of Prada. Challenging conventional notions of what is beautiful does not have to start at the face or the body, it can, as Birkenstock has shown, begin at the feet. Prada, too, had made their share of so-nasty-they’re-cool shoes. As Miuccia Prada told T Mag last year, “The investigation of ugliness is… more interesting than the bourgeois idea of beauty”. That search has never ceased and can still be exemplified in the current line of sporty sandals, some festooned with faux gem stones (to augment its kitsch value?).

Prada sandals black SS 2014Prada’s canvas sandals

Back in the Nineties, the Birkenstock allure came hot on the heels of Doc Martens, a brand closely associated with grunge. Grunge—“a hippied romantic version of punk”, as defined by its proponent Marc Jacobs—may have largely exited the scene when Mr Jacobs was ousted from Perry Ellis in 1993, but the penchant for unfeminine thick-soled shoes was so pervasive that many designers wondered aloud if women will ever know how to wear heels again.

Today, Birkenstock sandals may not be everyone’s cup of bubble tea since the dubious beauty of their designs does not seem to commensurate with the steep prices they charge, but theirs is a lack of appeal that has, through time and one model endorsement after another (lately, Miranda Kerr), changed perceptions. They are able to do this by remaining unattractive, serving as counterpoint to the surfeit of ‘prettiness’ that has, for too long, prevailed in women’s wear. They predate, for foam resin clog lovers (!), similarly girthed and wide-toed, but covered Crocs. These shoes, unfortunately, are not “pretty ugly”, a deliberately oxymoronic compliment paid by Vogue in describing Birkenstock and its kind when the mag sang the shoes’ praises last July. With Crocs, a name that clearly alludes to a certain hideous-looking reptile, they’ve forsaken beauty for the beast.

Celine sandal SS 2014Celine cross-strapped sandal in patent calfskin

Lest we have been giving too much attention to Birkenstock, we should also point to Celine for those only concerned with recent developments. Phoebe Philo first introduced her take on Birkenstocks with those fur-lined ones, seen in the SS 2013 collection in Paris in the fall of 2012 (and now also reinterpreted by Givenchy as seen in the ‘Barka’ sandal). By Christmas that year, fashionistas were spotted on Orchard Road with their Birkenstocks in anticipation of an idea burgeoning into a trend. As we saw with Ms Philo’s first bag—the Paddington for Chloé, it was really a matter of time.

A year after the Celine debut, flat and clunky sandals have yet to retire to an ignored corner of the shoe cabinet. As the popularity of these shoes hit a high point, here at SOTD, we’re partial to the Doc Martens ‘Aggy’ sandals. We like the thick sole, the wide white corridor (with orange stitching!), and, as with a Birkenstock, the long-wearing comfort. Call us boring. We don’t care.

Prada sandals, from SGD1,250, available at Prada, Ion Orchard. Doc Martens Aggy sandals, SGD259, available at the Doc Martens, Wheelock Place. Birkenstock Arizona sandals, SGD99, available at all Birkenstock stores

Close Look: The Kate Moss Wardrobe Via TopShop

Kate Moss X TopShop 2014

Kate Moss is a long-time It Girl, and her It Style is as longstanding as her It Self. By popular definition, the It Girl is usually not It for long: her It-ness has appeal because it is transient and quick to pass. While, to be fair, Ms Moss has achieved full-fledged celebrity, she has never quite shaken off her It bearing. She does all the It things you can’t do, hangs out with all the It people you can’t know, and looks good in all the It clothes you can’t have. But because she appears so fabulously in them, you’d want even if you can’t have.

Ms Moss knows it. So does Topshop. That’s why they’re at it again. The latest collaboration between model and retailer is, after a hiatus of four years, their 15th. Started in 2007, the limited-edition line has always been a serious, not necessarily humour- or wit-infused, take on what Ms Moss likes to wear. And the present issue is no different. If you’re a fan and have been buying Kate Moss X Topshop, you’d have this nagging feeling that you already have some of what they’re telling you are new.

It requires no reminding that you’re buying into the aesthetic of an icon, and not one that has been inconsistent with her look. From the moment Ms Moss has been nailed as a fashionable woman with a unique personal style, she has gone from cool vintage to neo-hippy to cool vintage to neo-hippy, all the while playing the part as the embodiment of the spirit of London. In the same year she started working with Topshop, Time magazine named her one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.

TopShop @ KnightsbridgeTopshop’s window at Knightsbridge on Orchard Road

The Kate Moss influence is major yet it is different from those typically seen in the fashion world because what she proposes through her body is not the same as what a designer recommends on a catwalk. In fact, oftentimes, what she wears is not a reflection of what is shown on the runways of the world. They are free from the fetters of trends. Still, they represent forms of self-expression and dress that are socially acceptable and desirable, so much so that she could, whether consciously or not, assert widespread influence. What was at first mass curiosity became, in a matter of a few years since the start of her modelling career, individual dream. This sway over the public’s fashion consciousness is also remarkable because Ms Moss does not, even with a clothing line bearing her name, play an institutional role, and thus does not control the direction of fashion the way a brand such as Louis Vuitton can.

The Kate Moss X Topshop’s early pieces were “inspired” by her own style. The current collection is—as she told The Guardian—a “wardrobe biography”. First mirroring herself, and then appropriating her actual closet, it is likely she has no intention to commandeer the course of fashion, even less so when she is no designer herself (for Topshop, she worked with creative director Kate Phelan and stylist friend Katy England), and is not, fashion-wise, forward-looking. Ms Moss has always depended on the past, mining vintage and vintage-looking styles with a fervour matched by her penchant for partying with and dating rock stars. She often looked like a Seventies disco habitué, and would not be out of place if Studio 54 were still alive.

Kate through the yearsKate Moss wearing a sequinned gown at her 30th birthday party in 2004 ; in her own collection for Topshop in 2007; in vintage dress and fur coat, 2010

If this was, instead, the 18th Century, Kate Moss may well have been a courtesan. Not quite Madame du Barry perhaps, but still a sensation, and the paragon of ostentatious fashion, indiscreet consumption, and irresistible sexiness (minus Madame du Barry’s made-up noble descent!). She would have attracted the people around her with eye-catching glamour, uniting the common with the classy, and the resultant effects, for her fans, would be utterly delightful. In place of sequins were laces; instead of fringes were ribbons; and rather than leather, certainly ermine. Dresses with studs and beading would have their versions brocaded with gold and bedecked in jewels. Her fondness for slip-dresses and pyjama dressing would not have been at odds with the popularity of the déshabillé, a scandalous style that was “everything thrown on with a loose careless air” , as described in The Guardian, September 1713.

Unlike past figures, who stirred only a small coterie, Ms Moss impresses a much larger audience, a global one. So much of what women wear today, at work and at play, can be traced to her, even when so many of these women are not likely able to do the tracing themselves. The cut-off denim shorts, for example, has become so visible in both the casual and the dressy wardrobe—and worn even in winter—that not many women know or remember that it was Kate Moss who made this tiniest and torn pair of shorts a fashion staple.

What is the Kate Moss wardrobe like? Without the face of the personality collared to the products, can the clothes hold up to scrutiny? And what does the voyeur-shopper glean from a peak into her wardrobe?

Yellow vintage dressA vintage asymmetric yellow dress Kate Moss wore in 2003 and a version in the current Topshop collection

It is really less about fashion than one woman’s personal taste, and Topshop has shrewdly catered to celebrity obsession and voyeuristic proclivity by dishing up clothes that would be considered gaudy if they were not “all inspired by Kate’s own wardrobe”. In this wardrobe, there are “festival-inspired pieces” and “scene-stealing” party clothes, as Topshop describes them, and through discovering “Balearic dressing” (the beat rather than the islands?), “cocktail hour”, “pyjama dressing”, and “tailoring noir”—the four themes of the collection, you may build your life around a time when the sun does not shine.

Looking at the line, you wonder whence came Ms Moss’s love for embroidered tunics, fringed jackets, shimmy shifts, floaty high-waisted dresses, satin playsuits, and the answer eludes you. Up close, these are clearly clothes that suggest places to go to for some hedonistic nocturnal fun. As such, subtlety has no place in the collection just as mundane does not characterise Ms Moss’s life. A mere pair of shorts not more than eight-inches long (typically very short, a la Kate Moss) has lacing in place of zip at the crotch, and studs, eyelets, and bugle beads, plus, at the hem, blanket stitch!

These are not upmarket clothes, and they don’t have to be since what she wears does not have to look posh and polished (she’s known to have made designer clothes grungy!), which is a reason why the Topshop collection works. As her style projects youthfulness, the pieces will entice the young, and sell well. But does forty-year-old Kate Moss come with built-in obsolescence? Only time will tell.

Kate Moss X Topshop is currently available at the Knightbridge store on Orchard Road