The Ballet Pump: Sugar plum fairies

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The ballet pump is a classic style that will see you from work to the barre, says Harriet Walker

The buzz around Black Swan at the start of the year meant a resurrection of all things ballet, from tidy top-knots and chic chignons to wispy skirts and clingy little jersey separates. Designers at Chloé and Lanvin also channelled the ballerina look wholesale in their spring/summer shows, dressing models in softly fluid, romantic pieces in nude tones.

But there's one ballet staple that never went away and can be relied on regardless of season or passing trends: the ballet shoe. The simple soulier was catapulted onto every chic shopping list when the former dancer (and goddess) Brigitte Bardot requested in 1956 that ballet specialists Repetto make her a street-sturdy pair in crimson.

Repetto has gone on to become one of the world's oldest and most prestigious producers of ballet flats, with all pairs made at its factory in the Dordogne from the softest and most pliable lambskin. And this September, it launches a new atelier service in Selfridges. "We're introducing a service where customers can design their own ballet pump choosing from 250 colours for the shoe, trim and laces," Jean Marc Gaucher, the owner, says.

Selected colours and trim are then sent to the factory and made as a bespoke pair. The customisation process has been available in France for some time now, but it's the first chance for us Brits to have a go. Not that this has stopped several famous feet working the look already – Kate Moss and Angelina Jolie are just a couple of famous names known to favour Repetto pumps.

Most specialist brands, such as French Sole and Pretty Ballerinas, focus on their heritage as makers of dancing shoes; Repetto still uses the same stitching techniques found on traditional point shoes, for instance, which makes for a strong toe seam and a sturdiness belied by the style's paper-thin appearance. And Pretty Ballerinas is still making shoes in the mould of the original pair created in 1918.

From the pink and oyster shades redolent of the rehearsal room to the ultra-bourgeois two-tone variety canonised by Coco Chanel, ballet pumps are a classic fashion chameleon that can bring a feminine edge to jeans or downplay the frothiness of a summer dress. "It's very rare in the fashion world – the ballet pump has the unique trait of combining comfort and ease with class and style," says Calgary Avansino, Vogue's executive fashion director. "Despite being 'flats', which most discount as fuddy-duddy, they retain a sexy, young allure."

For every high-street retailer that has taken the ballerina conceit quite literally, there's another whose spin on it will take you into next season.

"For autumn, ballet flats have gone beyond the basics," Avansino says. "Chanel, Christian Louboutin and, of course, the high-street brands are offering ballet pumps in rich jewel hues, snakeskin, printed fabrics and studs."

So whether you're a pro at a plié or just pounding the pavements, a ballerina flat is an elegant and timeless sartorial solution.

Atelier Repetto launches next month, www.selfridges.com

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