Show Hide image

Walking like an inebriated goose

Christian Louboutin loves high heels – the higher the better. “I hate the whole concept of comfort!” he told the New Yorker last year. “‘Comfy’ – that’s one of the worst words! I just picture a woman feeling bad, with a big bottle of alcohol, really puffy. It’s really depressing but she likes her life because she has comfortable clogs.” (The interview ends with him urinating under a palm tree in sight of the journalist, however, so he clearly is a fan of comfort when it comes to his bladder.)

More than any other contemporary designer, the 49-year-old is responsible for the flocks of teetering women strapped into or dangling out of ever-higher shoes everywhere from glossy fashion magazines to the Daily Mail website.

His signature – as much as the red sole he jealously guards as a trademark – is the towering, pinpoint stiletto. The new exhibition devoted to him at the Design Museum in London has dozens of them. One of his most recognisable styles, the £450 Very Prive, has 120mm heels (4.72in) with a 20mm platform at the front. Several other styles top 160mm (6.3in) and there is even a pair of fetish ballet pumps, with heels as long as the shoes, forcing the wearer to stand on permanent tiptoe. While these last are purely for photo shoots, the others are regularly seen in the wild: a pregnant Victoria Beckham wore a pair of 6.5in Daffodils to Westminster Abbey for last year’s royal wedding.

Brought to heel

Me, I’ve never got on with heels, though clearly some women do. My best friend can run down a cobbled street in a pair of 5in platforms. And having bought – and quickly resold – older, lower-heeled Louboutins on eBay, I agree with the poet Wendy Cope, who once said of stilettos: “In the 1970s, I thought the liberated women of the future would wear comfortable clothes that they could be active in. It’s depressing. It makes me think of Chinese foot-binding.”

But it turns out that it’s not just heel refuseniks who have a problem with Louboutin’s designs. Rosamund Urwin, who writes about fashion for
the London Evening Standard, tells me: “The skill of a great cordwainer is to make shoes that may look uncomfortable but that actually don’t cut off the blood supply to your toes or give you the gait of an inebriated goose.

“That is the only possible justification for such mad price tags. But Louboutin doesn’t care about comfort – he has said that his designs are largely about pleasing men, not women.”

Aha! So it’s not just me. The conclusion must be that Louboutin’s designs are the prime example of what are known as “limousine shoes” – made for lurching out of a chauffeur-driven car, not catching the bus.

They’re best left to women such as Asma al-Assad, wife of the Syrian president, who emailed a friend in February to ask what she thought of a pair of crystal-encrusted Louboutins costing £3,795. Her friend wisely replied: “They’re really cool . . . But I don’t think they’re not going 2 b useful any time soon unfortunately.”

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 14 May 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Halal: Britain’s most feared food

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.