The Worst Song in the World

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In the history of pop music there have been some truly awful songs. Muskrat Love by The Captain and Tennille, Shaddup You Face by the Joe Dolce Music Theatre, and Don McLean’s American Pie are just three that spring to mind. But you have to go a long way to find a song quite so ghastly as Kinky Boots, a 1964 novelty single by Honor Blackman and Patric Macnee.

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Boots was originally written by all-round “wit” Ned Sherrin for the groundbreaking British satirical show That Was The Week That Was (aka TW3). Originally it was just an instrumental piece that was played as backing to a segment on the growing popularity of fashion boots. But then someone had the bright idea of capitalizing on the popularity of the TV show The Avengers by adding lyrics and having the show’s stars sing it.

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The Avengers had broken new ground in having Blackman abandon the typical damsel in distress model for a female sidekick. Her character, Cathy Gale, was unlike any female character seen on TV before; with a PhD in anthropology, she could also handle a gun and hold her own in a fight with formidable judo skills. Blackman’s leather costumes were originally designed for ease of movement in fight sequences.

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Unsurprisingly, the fashions attracted a lot of attention, particularly the boots that were usually worn with the leather pants, skirts, and jackets. They quickly became one of the signature features of the show, along with Patrick Macnee’s bowler hat and tightly rolled umbrella. In France the show was called Chapeau Melon et Bottes du Cuir, which has an admirable sense of Francophone panache.

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Back in Britain, of course, the only panache people understood was the acrid fragrance made by Lentheric. Gale’s boots, instead of inspiring admiration for their edgy style and elegance, were the subject of heavy-handed jocular references to “kinky boots.” Oo-er, look at the kinky boots! Naughty! It pains me to admit it, but my fellow countrymen are so terrified of anything even tangentially sexual that they find it easier to make a joke out of it. Benny Hill based an entire career on this.

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If you want to see a prime example of this, you need look no further than a British mens’ magazine of the 1960s called Spick & Span. It’s not, strictly speaking, pornographic – bare breasts begin to pop up (or out) in the last issues before the magazine folded in the early 1970s. But it does say a lot about what the average British person of that era thought of as titillating (although it’s been gone for a good forty years S&S is still hugely popular with Brits of a certain age – its thread on Vintage Erotica Forums runs to more than 500 pages).

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Spick & Span features statuesque women in poses designed to reveal their underwear, which is mostly of the stockings and suspenders sort (or “sussies” as the average reader of S&S probably referred to them). There were boots as well; short, calf-length ones in the early sixties, tight white vinyl ones in the late sixties and early seventies, and platform ones in the last days of the magazine. But the boots were always worn with stockings and suspenders. Because you have to have stockings and suspenders – they’re sexy! Right? Especially with kinky boots. Phwoar! The fact that boots of that generation were generally designed to be worn with tights or over bare legs never occurred to them.

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“Kinky boots” has proved to be a very resilient phrase. Even 15 years after The Avengers, my mother – reacting to my growing interest in boots and boot design – came out with endless cracks about kinky boots. It’s now the name of an award-winning Broadway musical. The song itself is not a bad summary of the boot craze of the early 60s (see here for the lyrics – I can’t bring myself to include them in the post), but I can’t bear it because with its leering quality the whole thing reminds me of the nudge nudge, wink wink attitude to the boot.

And Macnee and Blackman can’t sing for toffee, either.

References:

Wikipedia: Kinky Boots (song)

Image Sources:

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The Designers: David Evins

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When I was wading through back issues of Vogue researching this project, I kept coming across the name David Evins associated with some truly spectacular pairs of late sixties thigh-length boots. And other boots, for that matter. Other designers of the period, like Roger Vivier or Beth Levine, were already familiar to me. But who was David Evins?

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Evins was born in London in 1909. In 1922, his parents emigrated to the United States from England.  As a young man, he studied illustration at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute and went on to work as an artist at Vogue. While there, he made the fateful decision to alter the style of some shoes he was drawing for effect. It got him fired; as a parting shot, his editor suggested if he liked messing around with shoe design, maybe he should do that for a living instead.

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Evins took him at his word. After working as a pattern maker and designing for a number of manufacturers, he opened a factory in New York City in 1947 with his brother. In 1948 he won the Coty Award for his creation of the shell pump, a shoe with a low-cut top that showed more of a woman’s foot. His design ethos was aimed at making shoes for women that were lighter and more comfortable.

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David Evins shoes did not come cheap. The handmade shoe called “6 ounces” sold for up to $175 at a time when quality women’s shoes cost about $45 a pair. But he attracted a very exalted clientele. He designed the “chunky pump” worn by Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe’s “subway sandals” and the shoes worn by Ava Gardner in the film “The Barefoot Contessa.” He made shoes for every First Lady from Mamie Eisenhower to Nancy Reagan. He prided himself in the simplicity of his designs – “it’s not what you put on but what you take off,” he said, in a 1987 interview.

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“Yeah, but what about the boots?” I hear you ask. Truthfully David Evins was better known for his shoes – not for nothing was he nicknamed “the King of Pumps.” To get a sense of his boots, you need to trawl through the pages of magazines like Vogue, where his footwear for the shoe salon I. Miller features heavily in the reports on the New York collections, especially over the years 1967-1971.

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The first impression is that Evins’ reputation for clarity of design was well deserved. His boots are clean, simple, and devoid of excess ornamentation. They accentuate the lines of the clothing that they accessorize. They are both striking, and elegant.

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This is particularly true for the ultra-tall, thigh-length boots that formed the core of his work during this period. A couple of examples from the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Met are featured here. If you look at the brown vinyl pair above, you’ll see a couple of small loops at the top of the shaft. These were designed to connect to a suspender belt, the only way these boots could be held up. They were a demanding style to wear.

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And in truth, Evins’ thighboots could probably only be carried off by one in a hundred women, those blessed with the mile-long legs of a fashion model and the bank balance of a millionaire’s wife. But Evins also designed shoes and boots for “ordinary” people as well. His knee-length boots were both stylish and eminently practical.

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While they fit into the general category of late 60s knee-boots that we discussed in an earlier post, Evins’ knee boots foreshadowed by five or so years the styles that were to emerge in the mid-70s – the so-called “Cossack boots.” Rather than tightly hugging the calf as most contemporary boots did, Evins’ boots had a relatively loose-fitting shaft that crumpled into a extravagant stack of compression folds around the ankle.

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My sense from working my way through back issues of Vogue is that as the seventies progressed, David Evins designs appeared less frequently. But he went on producing outstanding shoes that were a model of simplicity and taste. He died in 1991, at the age of 85.

References:

Image Sources:

  • Boots by David Evins, 1966. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. Stanley Mortimer, 1971. Accession #2009.300.5807a, b
  • Angelica Huston in boots by David Evins: Vogue, September 1969
  • Boots by David Evins: Vogue, September 1967
  • Loose hemmed coat and belted shirt dress worn with contrasting thigh-length boot styles by David Evins: Vogue, 1968
  • Advertisement for David Evins at I. Miller Salon, Vogue 1971
  • Silver-studded over-the-knee boots by David Evins, Vogue 1971
  • Boots by David Evins, ca 1968. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. Stanley Mortimer, 1971. Accession # 2009.300.5808a, b
  • Red leather knee-length boots by David Evins for Oscar de la Renta, Vogue 1970
  • Red leather knee-length boots by David Evins, Vogue 1970
  • Black leather boots by David Evins for Norell, Vogue 1970

Additional Boots (follow links for images):

  • Metallic stocking boots by David Evins, 1967. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mr. David Evins, 1968. Accession # C.I.68.39.3a, b
  • Suede knee boots by David Evins, 1969. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. Stanley Mortimer, 1970. Accession # 2009.300.5770a, b