Westwood Heritage: Animal Toe
15/12/2022 — Vivienne Westwood
Footwear has always played an essential role in defining the Vivienne Westwood look. From super elevated heels to bondage boots, her designs often take on the aura of art pieces. As she once stated, “shoes must have very high heels and platforms, to put women’s beauty on a pedestal”. Approaching the theatrical, designs such as the Animal Toe shoes have become symbolic of the house, sublimating their purely functional role.
The animal toe motif first appeared in the ‘Summertime’ collection of Spring-Summer 2000, which looked to the symbolism of Bacchus, the Roman god of agriculture, wine and fertility. “Bestial shoes bore the imprint of animal toes,” notes Alexander Fury, in Catwalk. These revealed a likeness to fauns or even the lion’s paw of a mythical creature. There is a sexual tension between the shoes and the body beneath, as the foot appears to press its imprint into the leather.
The concept re-appeared in the Spring-Summer collection of 2002, aptly named ‘Nymphs.’ The sleeping nymph of spring was a central motif in art of the Renaissance. In this show, Vivienne unveiled new methodologies, while also re-examining pieces from her own archives. She introduced the ‘Nymphs Seditionary Boot,’ a reworking of the original boot first designed in the 1970’s, adding the animal toe detail and a heel. This style is still available from our Worlds End Classics collection.
Animal shoes further resurfaced in the Spring-Summer 2020 collection, entitled ‘Rock Me Amadeus.’ As Andreas Kronthaler recalls, “We have re-issued the animal toe shoe on a new heel – Mozart would have loved it.” The collection recontextualized the pieces entirely. On this occasion, the animal toe was presented in connection with the show invitation, which featured an illustration of a Sumantra tiger, adhering to endangered species. The show notes supported the organisation Fauna & Flora, in their quest to save the animal from extinction.
The animal toe is reimagined for the latest Autumn-Winter collection as a gym shoe. Composed of canvas and rubber, the toe cap of the designer shoe is moulded in the form of the now iconic animal toe motif. The collection also includes designs that featured the “Eyes” artwork, painted by Vivienne, reminiscent of animal markings (or the concept of eyes warning off predators, like a peacock’s tail or a leopard’s spots).
Vivienne’s continual revisiting of her archive is a leading factor in her having built up a singular visual language. The reemergence of classic pieces – namely the Animal Toe – has elevated their value, each time they are brought into a new context. This leaves an indelible mark in the contemporary collective imagination. In Vivienne’s own words, “My clothes have an identity. They have a character and a purpose. That’s why they become classics. Because they keep on telling a story. They are still telling it.”