The allure of the strappy, high-heeled sandal – or, in fact, any high heel, the more extreme the better – is well charted. Less often recognised, however, is the nowhere near so obvious appeal of the paper-flat shoe. This was, of course, the subject of a bewildering amount of attention last week when, in an uncharacteristically modest moment, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy resisted towering over her husband in high heels, opting for flat Dior pumps instead.

Other fashion mavens, from Audrey Hepburn to Diana Vreeland, have followed this route for less submissive reasons – Vreeland famously asked Manolo Blahnik to craft the finest, most delicate flats ever seen for her and her alone. While the ballet pump has become ubiquitous to the point of mainstream, it remains the model's off-duty footwear of choice. The sight of the world's most lovely and long-limbed women rushing between one catwalk show and another in their skinny jeans and French Sole, Repetto or, if they're more label-driven, Chanel pumps, remains a familiar one.

What is less usual is to see a complete lack of heel on the catwalk itself, unless, that is, it is the catwalk of one of the world's more radical designers. Yohji Yamamoto always shows his poetic, floor-sweeping designs with flat shoes. Like red lipstick, high heels, Yamamoto says, "scare" him, bringing to mind a sexuality so overt it is intimidating. And Rei Kawakubo, of Comme des Garçons, is just as unlikely to produce a pair of high-heeled shoes as she is a gold-lamé, bias-cut red-carpet gown. It's never going to happen.

Alexander McQueen's decision to show the entire, exquisitely beautiful second sequence of his autumn/winter collection, unveiled in Paris a month ago now, teamed with heavily jewelled, pointed and elongated slippers that were as flat as the proverbial pancake, was more remarkable. This is, after all, a designer who is associated with killer heels and killer frocks to match.

Even McQueen himself said that he was surprised by their transformative effect. Instead of stalking the arena like modern-day sirens, his models padded softly along, heads held high, backs poker straight, looking regal rather than rapacious.

So, as conventionally flattering as a high heel may be, it is not the only way to dress to impress. Henceforth, actually being able to run for a bus – or should that be a gilded horse-drawn carriage – in designer footwear has never been so fashionable.