Red Bridal Shoes Biography
is past April, Christian Louboutin filed a lawsuit against couture competitor Yves Saint Laurent, claiming that the legendary fashion house had committed trademark infringement when it manufactured and sold shoes with a ruby-red sole. On Monday, the NY Post reported that YSL’s representatives had argued in court documents that the red sole cannot be considered proprietary to Louboutin: "Red outsoles are a commonly used ornamental design feature in footwear, dating as far back as the red shoes worn by King Louis XIV in the 1600s and the ruby red shoes that carried Dorothy home in The Wizard of Oz.”
Historically speaking, this is true! Red shoes—if not always red soles—have long been associated with issues of power and identity. During the reign of Louis XIV, only aristocratic men had the right to wear shoes with red heels—they were strictly reserved for the court. Thus the color neatly distinguished between the haves and have-nots. Red dye at the time was expensive, made by crushing the dried bodies of an imported Mexican insect called the cochineal, and only royals and their cohort could afford it. The shoes went out of style with the French Revolution—not a time when one flaunted one's wealth and status.
Two centuries later, Danish author Hans Christian Andersen contributed significantly to red shoe mythology. In his story “The Red Shoes," a young peasant girl named Karen is adopted by a woman of the gentry—but Karen fails to appreciate her good fortune, and instead aspires to transcend class boundaries even further. One day, she spots a princess. Red morocco shoes peep out from beneath the princess's dress. Karen brazenly tricks her adopted mother into buying her a pair of her own then, instead of attending to family obligations, wears the shoes to go out dancing. She finds that once she starts dancing, she can’t stop, nor can she remove the demonic shoes from her feet.She danced, and was obliged to go on dancing through the dark night. The shoes bore her away over thorns and stumps till she was all torn and bleeding; she danced away over the heath to a lonely little house. Here, she knew, lived the executioner; and she tapped with her finger at the window and said:
“Come out, come out! I cannot come in, for I must dance.”
And the executioner said: “I don’t suppose you know who I am. I strike off the heads of the wicked, and I notice that my axe is tingling to do so.”
“Don’t cut off my head!” said Karen, “for then I could not repent of my sin. But cut off my feet with the red shoes.”
And then she confessed all her sin, and the executioner struck off her feet with the red shoes; but the shoes danced away with the little feet across the field into the deep forest.
When The Wizard of Oz appeared in movie theaters in 1939, the connection between the color red and the magic of footwear was strengthened further. MGM’s costume designer, Adrian, who distinguished himself on the studio lot by designing glamorous gowns for silver screen starlets like Jean Harlow, experimented with a few different versions of Dorothy’s sequined shoes before he settled on the final design: a simple, round-toed medium-high pump with a matching bow. The ruby slippers, like Judy Garland’s pigtails and her blue gingham smock, were meant to underscore the character’s innocence which, given the lingering effects of the Great Depression and the threat of World War II, director George Cukor believed to be crucial to the film’s success. Interestingly, Dorothy’s shoes were originally silver—a holdover from L. Frank Baum’s original children’s story—and the switch to “ruby” came relatively late in the screenwriting process. It was assumed that red would look better in Technicolor. Without that one, momentous decision, Louboutin and YSL might be locked in a lawsuit over sparkling silver soles today.
In 1948, The Red Shoes, the magnificent film adaptation of Andersen’s story, debuted. Now set in the competitive world of classical ballet, this version downplayed the economic implications of the original fairy tale; instead, the story was infused with a healthy dose of gender politics, at a time when the war (and the related rise in female employment) had complicated the country's understanding of the traditional roles for men and women. Vicky, the flame-haired protagonist played by Moira Shearer, is an aspiring dancer, hungry to win admiration for her talent as a prima ballerina. She achieves her dream with the help of a controlling director, who casts her as the lead in the ballet “The Red Shoes”: a shadow story that more closely resembles Andersen's original. When Vicky falls in love, she’s forced to decide between her husband and her passion. Ultimately, she chooses dance—and fame. Then, slipping on her red toe shoes for her performance, she feels an overwhelming urge to dance off the theater’s balcony, where she plummets to her death.
Like Karen, Vicky is punished for attempting to bypass social boundaries, and for deeming her desires more important than the obligations of her wedding vows. The power of the red shoes lies in their ability to reveal some fundamental truth about the wearer—and deliver a penalty, or prize (as in The Wizard of Oz), accordingly.