Barefoot on the ramp


Barefoot on the ramp

In the small universe of fashion, the length and breadth of a catwalk strip, a red carpet, the terrain of wild holidays, nautical miles covered on cruises or the trek from summer to winter is often measured by the shoes of the moment. Try imagining fashion without its addictive shoe culture, its summer sandals and winter boots, the red-soled Christian Louboutin, the wedge wonders of Salvatore Ferragamo, Nike’s trend-spiking sports shoes or our indigenous Kolhapuri chappals and glittering mojris.

That’s what designer Anavila Misra did at the recent Lakmé Fashion Week. She imagined fashion without shoes. Wearing earthy linen saris, some bordered, but barely, with woven silver zari, others with sparse motifs of dragonflies or leaves, Misra’s models walked the ramp barefoot. The simple saris were tied high to reveal ankles and were draped in the casual, matter-of-fact manner employed by the working class. They were tools, not objects. Misra’s representation was stark and eye-catching. At the same event, debutant Sreejith Jeevan sent out some looks on barefoot models with legs dipped in brick- red paint that had been bled artistically. Designers Paromita Banerjee and Anupamaa Dayal too sent out barefoot models at the Wills India Fashion Week (WIFW) in October with their spring/summer clothes—the former showed crocheted anklets and the latter, colourful, beaded foot thongs.

Only in Indian fashion is such a feat possible.

Quite naturally, some would say. More and more Indian designers now proudly reference rural or tribal ways of life. We are still among the few countries where villagers routinely walk around barefoot tending to their chores—some because they are too poor to afford shoes; others because they prefer to touch the ground with every step they take. “When I was travelling to Himachal Pradesh, I met villagers walking on foot without shoes in the hilly region,” recounts Misra. “When I queried them, they described the connectedness they felt with Mother Earth when barefoot. They said they went through their entire adult lives with just one pair of shoes, so they’d rather save them for special days,” she says, adding that it was to express this sense of belonging human beings feel to the earth that she opted out of footwear for her show.

The idea of exposing skin on feet itself has been a journey of sorts in fashion. A meandering walk from the closed shoes that were considered a symbol of sophistication, wealth and decency in the early 1920s to the post-1970s era when beachwear became a rage and flip-flops legitimate members of global style’s hierarchical shoe-club.

Like a two-piece bikini, slippers give maximum exposure to the contours of a person’s feet, the colour of skin, the shape of nails and soles, and are dead giveaways about foot grooming—details fashion can be inquisitive about. “It was not until after World War II that it became fully acceptable to expose insteps, heels and toes in public,” wrote Harriet Worsley in her book 100 Ideas That Changed Fashion. In it, she quotes from a 1939 edition of USVogue, in which “the magazine’s style arbiters found sandals too revealing to be out on the street”.

Today, summer looks are inconceivable without slippers, though the innocuous flip-flops have seen many fashion lessons. They are dressed up or down, studded with crystals or spikes or created from new materials, fine silicone or bamboo fibre even.

Somehow, everything that becomes a trend is “interpreted” in a hundred ways till it fades away. Bare feet may not face that slow death. Embroidered anklets and foot thongs might be taken out for strolls at destination weddings, temple ceremonies or such. But unshod feet have nowhere to go beyond the catwalk, given that fashion is an urban indulgence and city roads need shoes to walk any talk.

Good reason why, for once, the Indian ramp will leave footprints in fashion history as the only stylish strip that could shoo away global fashion’s shoe obsession.