The actress Gwyneth Paltrow has made a career combining extraordinary glamour with equal measures of clean-living, down-to-earth charm. She is perhaps as well known for her appearances in films such as The Talented Mr Ripley and The Royal Tenenbaums as she is for her love of macrobiotic food, penchant for bizarre names (she and her husband, Coldplay's Chris Martin, called their daughter Apple) and her determined refusal to play the Hollywood superstar.
However, a recent spate of public appearances has shown the star in a new and distinctly edgier light as she has stepped out in front of the world's paparazzi sporting some of the highest heels known to mankind.
Her endorsement of six, seven, and even eight-inch elevations crafted by the design house Pacini has not only generated acres of coverage for her new film Iron Man, in which she plays the superhero's secretary Virginia "Pepper" Potts, but has spawned an unlikely boost for Britain's shoe shops as they fight the impact of the credit crunch. The phenomenon is already being described by some as the "Gwyneth-effect".
Selfridges said yesterday that it had seen a 35 per cent boost in its sales of so-called super-high heels, with stilettos now outselling flats by five to one. It is a similar story at Harvey Nichols, where well-heeled customers are reportedly willing to part with up to £1,000 for shoes of the appropriate dimensions.
Yet it seems that the screen siren is merely reflecting a deeper trend in the world's changing taste in footwear – one for ever more vertiginous heels.
Mike Bird has run Xtreme Footwear in Redditch for four years, selling everything from eight-inch ballet-heeled fetish shoes to comparatively demure three-inch silver strappy sandals. He also does a roaring trade in size 16 stilettos of the type favoured by much taller than average transvestites.
Mr Bird said he had seen his turnover double in the past 12 months. "The High Street shoe multiples have started to copy the heel heights we have here – chains like Schuh or Faith. There is no specific group buying these shoes. It is anyone aged 16 to 50 – anyone who is a follower of fashion or an extrovert personality." And he insisted that the stylish shoes were not just being bought for use in the bedroom.
It is a similar story in the United States, where the introduction of orthopaedic and athletic shoe technology has allowed women to walk in ever higher creations, though eight inches appears to be the outer limit .
It also seems that the wearing of high heels is no longer the feminist issue it once was. Dr Katherine Rake, of the Fawcett Society, dismissed suggestions that there was anything inherently controversial about what a woman wore on her feet.
"When you still have rape and the pay gap we really don't feel qualified to comment on a matter of such national importance," said Dr Rake.
With some commentators pondering the link between higher heels, shorter skirts and the worsening economy, it seems high heels are firmly back in fashion. And with the imminent arrival on our cinema screens of the eagerly–awaited Sex and the City film all matters shoe-like look likely to be standing tall for the foreseeable future.
* Take a taxi, or the Tube.
* Balance bigger calves with a chunky heel.
* Wear wedges to work. They are less likely to trip you up.
* Try before you buy. There's nothing worse than a blister.
* Carry plasters.
* Practise. On your own, where no one sees you fall on your face.
* Shift your centre of balance forward – you're less likely to stalk.
* Take a pair of flats. Just in case.
* Tower over the men. And enjoy it.
* Walk further than 500 yards at once.
* Cycle. You'll become a traffic hazard.
* Walk on uneven surfaces. Especially grass, cobblestones and grates.
* Run. You're 99% certain to fall.
* Go over six inches if you want comfort.
* Go over eight inches if you need to walk at all.
* Team with a mini-skirt and low-cut top.
* Stride. Small steps are much easier.
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