Looking at the "misplaced heel" shoe from Marc Jacobs you don't have to be eagle-eyed to realise something is amiss. As its name suggests, this Magrittian marvel of footwear is essentially a classic leather upper with the heel bolted on the wrong way, protruding backwards from the ball of the foot. Wrong by conventional standards, anyway. But this is an "it-shoe" and there is nothing conventional about one of those. In contrast to their "it-bag" cousins – whose status as the bag of the moment is predicated largely on a formula of rarity, price and waiting list, rather than radical design – the it-shoe strikes a bolder pose.
When the fashion world decrees an object to be an "it" item, that item enjoys a moment of intense fashionability which outlasts the traditional span of one season. Some it-bags - the Hermès Birkin or the Fendi Baguette, for example – have been trophy items for years. But now, according to Miuccia Prada, the creative stylista behind the Italian label, it is time for change. "The obsession with handbags has finished a little now," she said recently. "It feels over. It's about shoes now."
Signora Prada is well-placed to comment on this trend, given that she was one of its originators. The surreal, hoof-like curved heels that accompanied her collection last season generated almost as many column inches as the clothes themselves, and a good many more than the corresponding bags. And Balenciaga's hi-tech, Meccano-like stilettos and Chloé's towering Dr Martens-style wedges created a similar stir.
But if certain styles of autumn/winter 2007 pushed both the boundaries of taste and the physics of walking, with the spring/summer 2008 collections, the shoe has reached new levels of extravagance and theatricality: punched-hole silver metallic numbers with Chrysler Building heels from Chanel; knee-high gladiator stiletto sandals from Balenciaga; not to mention Prada's new variation on the theme, a selection of fantastical platforms that are all wavy lines and clashing colours.
So if you thought you could boost your fashion credentials by clutching the latest purse, pouch or holdall this season, think again. Everyone will be looking at your feet.
Miuccia Prada's musings may seem hard to believe. Bags have been the rescue package for many a designer brand – those unable to establish high-level sales of pricey clothing and unwilling to exchange credibility for cash through a diffusion line. The sheer usefulness of bags – not to mention their high visibility – ensures their appeal. "After all," concedes shoe designer Emma Hope, whose pony-skin sneakers have had their own it-moment, "you can't make such a show-off statement with shoes – you can't really put them on the table in a restaurant."
But this functionality also limits the impact of bags as items of fashion: "A useful-shaped bag is a useful-shaped bag," says Hope. "You don't feel you have to change it all the time – plus, you don't want to have to empty all your stuff out only to have to put it all into another bag every day. Relative to shoes, one's bag needs are less. Shoes are more subject to the weather, to changes in lifestyle or outfit. If there's an it-bag of the season, there need to be several pairs of it-shoes."
Therein lies one aspect of the motivation behind Miuccia Prada's assertion: business. Bags may sell more if they are cultish, but they don't sell anything like shoes in numbers. In part this is because designer bags are so expensive, adding to their cachet but also ultimately limiting their sales. Although a shoe is a small wonder of engineering, more handiwork and, what's more, more leather, goes into making a bag. Yet the profit margin on a pair of shoes and a bag are comparable – and most accessories retailers would expect to sell shoes and bags in a ratio of around five to one. Throw in the fact that bags are more readily counterfeited than shoes and the bottom line is that you can sell a lot more it-shoes than it-bags.
But there is more to the renewed appeal of the shoe than economics. "For women, shoes are still about fantasy and dressing up – shoes can make you feel something special in a way a bag really can't," suggests Michael Lewis, Kurt Geiger's head of design direction. "Shoes can give you a different persona."
If that is the case, women will be positively schizophrenic this season: the latest statement shoes are driving towards new extremes, both in terms of proportion – from vertiginous stilettos to hefty, exaggerated soles – and design, with vintage, cartoon, and ultra-stylised sculptural elements all featuring. "I think we're all just a bit bored of hearing about it-bags and at the luxury level there is renewed excitement about shoes, which are suddenly much more creative, individual and wacky," says the accessories designer Orla Kiely.
So maybe an even bigger trend is afoot. Perhaps the very ittiness of it-products is evolving. If it-bags were once fresh and covetable, in recent years they have become hyped totems of status and conspicuous consumption. Maybe the it-shoe, which trades on more artistic, less blatantly commercial values, is simply less vulgar. "Looking forward, I think the whole idea of it-anything will be questioned," says Kiely. "Whether it's a bag or a shoe, do you really have to have this thing at all? And what about making a personal choice, rather than one that's been dictated to you?"
Feet first: the four-step do-it-yourself pedicure
By Eliisa Makin
1. Soft soles
Foot Patrol exfoliating cream, £20, by Bliss, www.blisslondon.co.uk
2. A cut above
Nail scissors, £35, by Space.NK, www.spacenk.co.uk
3. Nourish your skin
Superbalm, £13.50 for 30g, by Liz Earle, www.lizearle.com
4. Sweet smell
Tonique body oil, £24, by Micheline Arcier, www.michelinearcier.comReuse content