More Elliotts

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Back in 2014, I wrote a blog post about a British company called T. Elliott & Sons. Elliott’s were one of the major shoe companies of the sixties and seventies, and were renowned for their creative advertising. But after the eighties, they seemed to have disappeared without trace. I had spent years, on and off, combing the web for information, without success. Whatever happened to Elliott’s?

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I posted my piece on Elliott’s, not expecting much in return. But then, gradually, the comments started to arrive. That notorious poster of the girl in boots on the beach? I shot that picture, said Roy Cuthbert. Those boots were hard to get on, said Tine Dorothy Kooiman; I know, because I worked in an Elliott’s store during the sixties. Me too, said Mike – I worked for Elliott’s in the late sixties and seventies. And me, said Steve Penney; I remember working through the power strikes.

 

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It turned out there was a whole community of former Elliott’s employees out there. David Sheldon remembered selling the pop singer Lulu a pair of Spanish boots that could only be got on with a zip puller after stretching with ‘leather expander in the stockroom. The following morning, he had to get them off her as her legs had swollen “due to overnight partying.” Nicky van Tol-Williams reminisced about the “fabulous white ‘living skin’ boots” she owned in the late sixties. People remembered their old colleagues, managers, and friends.

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And then, to my great surprise, we started to hear from the Elliott family themselves. Simon Elliott recalled that his father, Adrian, was saddened by the ‘this poster degrades women’ stickers that were stuck on the posters the company designed in the sixties, but delighted when the posters for shearling boots were defaced with graffiti reading ‘this poster degrades sheep.’ Adrian’s daughter, Jessica Smith, remembered going up to her dad’s office in London and trying on samples. And their brother Matthew got in touch to say that he had some of the original advertising material in his attic, which he kindly sent me and which I’ve posted here, along with images culled from the UK edition of Vogue.

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I have to say, this experience has been one of the most pleasant parts of writing the blog. On the whole, I’ve been ambivalent about giving people the ability to comment freely on web content. As far as I can tell, this blog is visited by a group of people who have only good, helpful, or informative points to add, but on many other sites that is sadly not the case. But watching a little community of people associated with Elliott’s grow up around that one blog post has been deeply satisfying. Thank you all.

Image sources:

  • Western-cut over the knee boots by Elliott, Spring 1981 collection. Courtesy of Matthew Elliott
  • Elliott boots from Vogue UK, 1966-1968. Vogue UK, via Youthquaker
  • Elliott boots from Vogue UK, 1968. Vogue UK, via Youthquaker
  • Elliott boots from Vogue UK, 1969. Vogue UK via Youthquaker
  • Window displays from Elliott stores. Courtesy of Matthew Elliott

Boots and Politics

The following is taken from a profile of Lauren Duca, editor of Teen Vogue, who attracted wide attention in December 2016 for publishing an article that accused Donald Trump of ‘gaslighting’ America.

Duca went on the Fox News show Tucker Carlson Tonight, where she neatly eviscerated her host when he attempted to dismiss her commentaries on the grounds that it had appeared in a teen magazine. He said she should stick to writing about thigh-high boots.

“A woman can love Ariana Grande and her thigh-high boots and still discuss politics,” Duca replied.

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Source: Helmore, Edward. Fashion versus Trump: ‘Women can love thigh boots and still talk politics.’ The Guardian, Jan 28, 2017. Retrieved 2/8/2017

Image: Ariana Grande performing at Capital FM’s Summertime Ball in London, UK June 2016. EMPICS entertainment via Mogaznews EN

“The Footwear of the Decade?”

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I’ve been tied up with the book for the last few months and am taking time to dig back through the press coverage for the Fall 16 season. I was intrigued by this Priya Elan article from The Guardian, dated September 9th, where he reports that the over-the-knee boot is poised to become the footwear of the decade. That’s quite some claim to make, and I thought it was worth digging into in a little more detail.

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Elan’s thesis is that for the last 5 decades, each major era of fashion has had its iconic piece of fashion: “the 60s had the Birkenstock, the 70s had the platform boot, the 80s had the stiletto, and the 90s the Doc Marten.” For the current decade, Elan picks the over-the-knee boot, based on its widespread popularity across a variety of trend-setting personalities.

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To be honest, there’s not a lot more to it than that. The “lampshading” trend, Kim Kardashian, Beyoncé, and – improbably – Theresa May, are all mentioned, as is the obligatory reference to Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman (a movie that is now 27 years old, and surely disappearing below the cultural horizon for any woman under the age of 40). There is a nod to the boot’s flexibility as a style element – “Thigh-high boots are the new pants,” according to MTV Style, apparently, and a rattling off of the various major league designers that have included the boots in their F/W collections. And that’s all, folks.

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I shouldn’t be rude – all things considered, it was a prescient piece given that the current fashion season has absolutely confirmed that the OTK boot is a big deal for 2016/17. And while I might take issue with his choice of decadal footwear (you could just as easily make a case for the Pilgrim pump, the Frye boot, the running shoe, and the platform sandal), the sheer ubiquity of the low-heeled, black or grey suede OTK boot in the last 3 months is hard to argue with. But if you want to claim a decade spanning significance for it, you need more evidence. And that’s a place where we can help, I think.

Let’s start with Google Trends. For those new to this wonderful tool, GT lets you map how the popularity of certain search terms changes over time. For example, here is how the popularity of searches for “boot” changes over time:

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As you can see, there’s a gradual increase in popularity since 2004, and the pattern is basically an annually repeated cycle, with the popularity of the search term peaking in the fall; no surprises there.

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Now look at the term “knee-high boot.” At first glance, the two patterns look more-or-less the same, but if you inspect it more carefully, you can see that there’s a slight decline in popularity from 2004 to 2007, which – I think – reflects the decreasing popularity of the dress boots that dominated fashion around the turn of the millennium.

So what about over-the-knee boots? First, I think we can put aside Elan’s assertion that the turning point was 2006 and Ann Hathaway’s Chanel-booted makeover in The Devil Wears Prada (not that this wasn’t a great movie moment to rank alongside Jane Fonda in Klute or Sophia Loren in Arabesque). The pivotal period was the Fall 2009 season, which is the point when ultra-tall boot styles started to attract mass media attention, both in conventional and “new” media, and this is very visible using GT:

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Note also how the popularity of the term increases precipitously in the fall of this year. It’s also reflected in the extraordinary number of public figures that have been photographed out and about in OTKs; over 120 in the last month alone (see below).

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It’s true that high visibility of this style of boot among the rich and famous has encouraged “ordinary’ people to try it, but is it truly a mass phenomenon? My (admittedly ad hoc) surveying of the situation on the streets of New York, Boston, etc., suggests that OTK styles account for maybe 10% of the tall boots worn by women. The vast majority of the remaining 90% are low-heeled, knee-length styles worn over pants or leggings; a look that was termed “The Tuck” when it first appeared in the mid 00s. So, is there a case to be made that the low-heeled knee boot, rather than its loftier, over-the-knee cousin, is the footwear of the decade? I think there may be.

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While the thigh-high boot has undergone successive periods of high profile attention in the sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties, the tucked-in boot has only previously achieved mass popularity once, in the 1970s, and it was not sustained. During the early 00s, before its current round of success, I remember my fellow blogger Bruce describing the tucking of pants into a knee-high boot as the last frontier of boot wearing. That frontier has been well and truly crossed during the last ten years. The current style of boot, low heeled, but with at least some shaping of the calf to follow the curve of the leg, slightly resembles designs from the late sixties, but often features accents such as buckles, studs, and straps that are not seen in earlier boots. And it is truly a mass phenomenon, embraced by celebrity and commoner alike, at a frequency far exceeding that of the OTK.

The tide may also be on the turn. “Thigh-high boots have been ubiquitous for the last few seasons,” the Daily Mail noted on December 8th of last year, but “lately we’ve noticed their popularity has given way to some classic knee-high boots.” Commenting approvingly on photos of supermodel Alessandra Ambrosio at LAX, wearing stiletto heeled Gianvito Rossi knee boots over skinny jeans, the paper urged readers to “mark our words! Knee-high boots are quickly working their way to the top of every A-lister’s capsule wardrobe so make sure you’re not without a pair this winter.”

Selected References

  • Elan, Priya (2016). Over-the-knee boots set to become footwear of the decade. The Guardian, Sept. 9, 2016. Retrieved Jan 2, 2017.Anon. (2016). She’s so boot-iful!
  • Alessandra Ambrosio dons shiny black knee-highs for flight into LAX. The Daily Mail, Dec. 8, 2016. Retrieved Jan 2, 2017.

Image Sources

An end of year update

img_5041Things have been a little quiet this year, but I wanted to assure anyone out there who’s still interested in this blog that it is not dead and buried. The reason for the lack of activity is that MFW has spun off a book project. I spent a lot of 2016 doing research – surprisingly, there was quite a lot that I hadn’t covered in the blog – writing, and doing tedious, but necessary stuff like image licensing. The manuscript  was finally delivered to the publisher on Dec 1st – fingers crossed, it should be published some time in late 2017.

All of that means I can now get back to writing the blog… which is a challenge after the long-form writing I’ve been doing. And there’s also the Pinterest and Tumblr sites to revitalize, which I’d retired because they were getting way too messy. Fortunately, there’s a lot of material out there to draw on. Expect more in the New Year. And Happy Holidays to everyone.

You have only to ask…

Back in December of last year, Tine Dorothy Kooiman shared some reminiscences about Elliott’s on the post devoted to that subject, including her memory of encountering the pop-singer Lulu wearing a pair of Elliott’s boots. “Has anyone seen a picture of Lulu with these boots on?” she asked. And as it happens, I may have.

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Assuming these are the ones that you’re thinking of…

Image Sources:

  • Australian Women’s Weekly, 1969
  • Associated Newspapers, via Pinterest

An update

Things have been pretty quiet on the blog for the last few weeks because I’ve been absorbed with other projects, so apologies for a lack of activity. Here’s what should be coming up in the next few weeks:

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(1) I’m almost at the end of the publication-based review that I started back in July of 2014. I’ve drawn an arbitrary end to this in 2010, so I think we’ve got one last post to go, covering 2003-2010. Then I need to recap what we’ve learnt; my guess is that the whole thing will be done and dusted by July of this year, which gives it a nice symmetry.

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(2) I also want to return to something that I began two years ago and then stopped to focus on the numbers – an object-based look at some of the major boot styles. I’ve been quietly acquiring materials on Ebay and Etsy (including the awesome pair of late sixties boots illustrated above), so there’s enough stuff for a few posts over the spring and summer.

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(3) Some time back, I also said I’d take a look at detailing – stitches, buckles, studs, trims, etc – so we’ve got that to come too.

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(4) Finally, I need to get back to another project that I put on hold in 2014, which was “influence mapping” for want of a better term. I want to see if what I’ve learnt from that big literature review has had any effect on my thoughts.

So there you have it. Sorry for the lull in activity, expect more in the future.

RIP Andre Courrèges

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David Bowie’s death earlier this week overshadowed the loss of this titan of the fashion world, who passed away on January 7 at the tender age of 92. Courrèges’ accomplishments include the miniskirt (he shares credit with Mary Quant and John Bates), the graphic A-line shift, the ribbed bodysuit, the skinny-legged hip-hugger, and the trouser suit. He was on the very cutting edge of the mid-sixties revolution in “space-age” fashions. But for this blog, he’ll always be remembered for the white, calf-length go-go boot that bears his name. RIP Andre.

Image Source:

  • The fashion designer Andre COURREGES posed with two of his models : one wears a short, yellow and white cotton dress, the other a blue wool coat with golden buttons. January 01, 1968| Credit: Keystone-France. Getty Images

Selected Obituaries:

 

Modern Classics: Highland by Stuart Weitzman

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“A few days ago I was at the airport, and I was wearing my Highland black boots and security was like really busy so once I got through security I had to run like 70 gates to catch my flight and I ran in my highlands and it didn’t kill my feet So I think that’s a pretty good test of comfortable shoes.” (Gigi Hadid, 2015)

 

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The Highland, a thigh-length boot with a 24″ shaft, 3.25″ heel, and a frankly challenging 14″ circumference (definitely at the very low edge of regular), is very much the celebrity’s boot of choice this season. It comes in stretch leather, but it seems like almost everyone of note has gone for suede, in black, grey, burgundy, or beige.

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The secret to its legging-like fit is that the suede or leather is pliced and backed with Lycra. People magazine declared it to be the off-catwalk choice of the Victoria’s Secret Angels, picturing Lily Aldridge, Izabel Goulart, Sara Sampaio, Devon Windsor and Rachel Hilbert in the slim line boots, to say nothing of the aforementioned Ms. Hadid.

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The Highland has been around for a few years now, but it really does seem to have taken off this fall, in part because of the enthusiasm for “lampshading” that we discussed in the previous post. It also obeys one of the “rules” for wearing thigh-length boots, in that it combines a high heel with “soft” texture, thus avoiding Vivien type fashion calamities.

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Of course, at nearly $800 a pair and with a look that you can only really carry off if you have legs like Gigi Hadid, it’s questionable whether this is one for mere mortals. Plus the low-heeled version – called the Lowland, of course – is a bit easier when it comes to running for that soon-to-depart flight to Aspen. But it’s caused enough of a splash for me to waste a little time writing about it, which means it’s probably earned a historical footnote, at least.

Image Sources:

 

Selected References:

  • Henning, Kristen, 2015.Celebrity Shoe Trend: Stuart Weitzman Highland Boots. Footwearnews.com, Dec 9, 2015. Retrieved Dec 30, 2015.
  • Payer, Alison, 2015.The Boots Every Celebrity Has Worn Lately. WhoWhatWear.com, Nov 6, 2015. Retrieved Dec 30, 2015.
  • Talarico, Brittany, 2015. Boots All the Victoria’s Secret Angels Are Wearing (Pre-Runway Stilettos and Wings, Obvs). People, Nov 10, 2015. Retrieved Dec 30, 2015
  • Talarico, Brittany, 2015. Gigi Hadid, Lily Aldridge and Joan Smalls Go Completely Naked in New Stuart Weitzman Campaign. People, Dec 1, 2015. Retrieved Dec 30, 2015.

MFW on Pinterest: The Highland Boot

A new trend for 2016

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Apparently it’s called “lampshading” – wearing a sweater, tunic, or dress with a loose or bell-shaped hem over a pair of knee-high or over-the-knee boots, giving off a distinct ‘lampshade’ effect. The Daily Mail thinks it “nods to the mod look of ’60s shift dresses and go-go boots.” I think the Daily Mail ought to learn more about what the ‘mod’ look actually means.

Selected References:

Image Source:

  • Screen-grab from The Fashion Obsession.com