Models revolt over heel hell

Alexander McQueen's 12in heels have triggered a catwalk boycott because of concerns over safety
  • @emilydugan

The days of designers forcing models to teeter on catwalks in towering heels could be over as three leading models have rebelled against wearing the latest 12in platforms. Abbey Lee Kershaw and her colleagues Natasha Poly and Sasha Pivovarova refused to take part in Alexander McQueen's latest show because his signature shoes were too high.

Ever since Naomi Campbell's dramatic catwalk tumble in 1994, the soaring height of heels has been a source of controversy. McQueen's latest stilt-like creations known as "armadillos" are three inches higher than the Vivienne Westwood platforms that toppled Campbell. The lobster-claw shaped shoes are so high that models were concerned they might not leave the catwalk with their ankles or reputations intact.

Kershaw and her colleagues met earlier this year and agreed not to appear in McQueen's show because they had "work safety" concerns about the height of his shoes. When his spring/summer collection was exhibited in October there were three notable faces missing: Kershaw, Poly and Pivovarova.

The British shoe designer Emma Hope said she sympathised with the models. "It'd be like walking on a ruler," she said. "That's the opposite of what people want to look like."

But not everyone is against McQueen's towering footwear. The style icon Daphne Guinness and singer Lady Gaga have both worn the oversized shoes, which fashion enthusiasts have hailed as "works of art" and "the ugliest shoes in the universe".

Kershaw, 22, has reason to be cautious of McQueen's eccentric styles. She fainted after his spring 2009 show, when she was cinched into a tiny corset, and she had to sit out part of the autumn/winter 2009 shows due to a knee injury caused by another footwear-related blunder.

Patty Huntington, author of the fashion blog Frockwriter, discovered the models' pact after speaking to Kershaw last week about working conditions and extreme shoes. "They had a mini models' meeting and decided not to do the show," Huntington said. "I've only heard of isolated cases of girls refusing to wear high shoes; for three big-name models to have taken a stand together like this is unheard of.

"It's quite interesting because there are a lot of attempts to make models' unions at the minute," Huntington added. "This is a sign that models are finally having serious concerns about health and safety."

Ellie Levenson, author of The Noughtie Girl's Guide to Feminism, said: "I think their refusal to wear these shoes is quite a feminist move, in that feminism is about having the confidence to say no. Designers do influence what women wear and I think it's irresponsible to encourage women to wear excessive and dangerous clothing."