Photography / Fashion

“Heels”: a photo book for shoe fetishists and fashion historians

Karl Hab celebrates the stiletto with a new project documenting a decade of, you guessed it, footwear trends and feet pics.

Originally designed in the 15th Century for Persian soldiers and later picked up male aristocrats looking to intimidate their peers, the humble high heel has a colourful history. In Renaissance Venice, noblewomen would wear towering heels of up to 54 cm and in 1673 King Louis XIV planted the seeds for “on Wednesdays, we wear pink” by decreeing that his court should all wear red shoes and heels. 

From these beginnings in the days of yore, high heels’ associations with status still haven’t faded. The stiletto – preferably with a blood red sole – have become standard red carpet attire. It’s serious money too, with the global high heels market being valued at 34100 million dollars in 2018. 

Whilst the stiletto retains its associations with luxury and power, its popularity, at least anecdotally, appears to be on a downwards trajectory. In 2019, think pieces abounded on the topic of the “death of the high heel” asking whether streetwear mania and the emergence of the luxury trainer, once an oxymoronic phrase, had eroded the style’s relevance. But when fashion commentators began speaking about the demise of streetwear (surely paving the way for a heel Renaissance) only one thing seemed clear: we can’t ever be sure where the vicissitudes of style will head next.

Regardless of what the future holds for the high heel, it’s definitely had a wild ride. Over the last decade in particular heels seemed to be propping up shoe designers’ wackiest ideas: from sock boot stilettos and peep toe booties to the clear styles popularised by Kim Kardashian. Tracking some of these changes was Parisian photographer Karl Hab, who spent ten years photographing high heels in the French capital, as well as locations further afield like Tokyo, LA and New York. Whether it’s backstage at a Kanye West concert, in the midst an Off-White runway show or on the metro, it seems there’s a high heeled shoe for every situation.

These images are collated in Heels, a recently published photobook exploring how women’s relationships with heels have changed over the past year. Each snapshot feels like a creative writing prompt, with the reader feeling as if they’ve been invited to build up an idea of the image’s subject from her feet alone. Whether it’s the businesswoman with her sensible three-inch heels and Celine tote just in frame or the party girl with her strappy sandals and blood-red nails, there’s a world of familiar characters within the book’s pages.

Whilst any shoe fan can draw a narrative from Heels, this was never the intention. “The point is that all these pictures weren’t taken with the goal of making a book,” Hab tells HUNGER. “The book is the accumulation of pictures taken surreptitiously for a period of 10 years. The images are taken in the moment, nothing was planned beforehand.” Despite the improvisational nature of the photographs within the collection, there’s a heartfelt message at the heart of the book, which is dedicated to Hab’s grandmother. “I wanted to dedicate this book to her, because she loved fashion and fashion designers,” he explains.

Check more images from the photo book via the gallery below. Heels can be purchased via Karl Hab’s website here

11 February 2020