Is a leather interior a selling point for you when buying a car? Are you automatically drawn towards leather coats, shoes and bags over other materials? Do you have an undiagnosed fetish?
Hardeep Singh Kohli recently spoke to The Guardian about his addiction to leather…
My passion for women’s shoes started with my primary-school teacher, Miss Knipe. She smelled of lady and dressed hip, and hippy. She had Farrah-Fawcett hair, cheesecloth shirts and beaded skirts. She was young enough to be a schoolboy fantasy, and old enough to be out of reach, and every woman I have ever met has been judged against the benchmark of Miss Knipe.
It was 1974 at Meadowburn Primary School in North Glasgow. Miss Knipe was looking lovely, while talking about something educational, when my pencil rolled off my desk. I ducked down to catch it and found myself at eye-level with a pair of women’s shoes: Miss Knipe’s shoes.
They were chunky cork wedges with a red faux-alligator peep-toe upper, and a delicate strap which encircled my teacher’s well-turned ankle. Compounding the architectural perfection of the shoe itself was the pose of Miss Knipe’s feet: one wedged heel was placed flat on the ground, the other swung back slightly, the tips of the toes of that foot delicately brushed the ground …
It was the start of an obsession. My name is Hardeep and I am a women’s-footwear addict. Let me be clear though: I am addicted to the images of women wearing shoes, boots and sandals. I have no desire to pop my size 11s into a pair of Manolos.
As a child of the Seventies, there was a degree of inevitability to my obsession. Women were emancipating themselves. Bras were torched by a new generation of free-thinking, sexually liberated and politically aware women. This should have meant dull shoes, librarian shoes; the sort that enable a woman to walk a long march in dungarees, while holding placards. Women could have co-opted footwear design back from the fantasies of exclusively male designers. But they didn’t.
Shoes in the Seventies were sexier, more sensual than they have ever been, before or since. Knee- and thigh-high boots; heart-stoppingly high heels; a plethora of platforms … I was born when the shoe evolved from footwear into a weapon of mass distraction. But that doesn’t explain my fascination with women’s footwear. If it did, my contemporaries would be equally fascinated. When the Eighties arrived, and women began smashing glass ceilings, they would have been as delighted as I to discover that Chanel released seven variations of high heel every season. They too would have noted the lengthening of toe and a more slender heel. But I seemed to be the only man addicted to fabulous footwear. Me and the nation’s transsexuals.
I am not in recovery, either. Just last week, I saw a foxy redhead wearing a foxier pair of Olivia Morris shoes. For a moment I forgot my own name.
So why am I so excited by shoes?
Perhaps it’s science. Psychologists have noted that our cognitive abilities develop as we crawl. And what would appear prominently on our horizon as we learned to crawl? Shoes. So perhaps my love of the ladies’ shoe comes from looking at my mum’s feet at that crucial stage of life. That would make sense – except that my mum wore little other than Indian sandals. It wasn’t until the late Seventies that she embraced the iconic polo neck, nylon trousers and court-shoe look, and by then my crawling days were over. Perhaps it was this dull footwear at home that led me to become fascinated with the exotic, gorgeous potential of other shoes out there …
Most women’s shoes sell sex; I like those shoes. I’m not interested in those that are androgynous, unisex. Or the Ugg – so called because every man who lays eyes on them says ‘Ugg’.
I celebrate the elegance and engineering of heels: I’ve found myself holding up a single Christian Louboutin in a vain attempt to locate the fulcrum of balance among the leather, wood and raffia. The first pair of Terry de Havilland’s I ever saw were under glass as an exhibit, part of a retrospective of his work. It was fitting for these dramatic creations to be treated with reverence.
I am fascinated to hear my female friends talk about their favoured pair of stilettos or boots. They talk about power and confidence, self-expression and the desire to be seen. I found myself sitting opposite a blonde Amazonian on a train, talking shoes. She spoke eloquently about the control she derived from adding five inches of stiletto to her already impressive six feet.
The Nineties compounded my shoe lust. For the first time I had disposable income to spend on women’s shoes – and a wife who loved to wear them. What a joy to be able to choose and hold and cradle and admire every shoe available – safe in the knowledge that I had a woman by my side to legitimise the whole thing.
But there was an interesting disparity in what I would have chosen for her and what she chose for herself. I went for the more obviously sexual statement. I loved her Chloé block wedges, the sensual strappiness of them; I purchased her first pair of Marc Jacobs studded black boots. And her peep-toe Miu Mius, so Fifties and so sexy. It is ironic that, a month before we separated, my wife came home with a pair of knee-length black patent Pradas.
There are few big trends any more which, for an aficionado like me, is an advantage. You can get pretty much any style, at any time. Perhaps the last couple of great revolutions in women’s footwear were the embracing of the anti-feminine Ugg – and you already know how I feel about that – and the Frye-driven, Cuban-heel, utility movement. The latter I found more acceptable: particularly when worn with above-the-knee skirts; because then the Frye is an invitation to reverse every cowgirl, if you know what I mean.
This season, we’ve witnessed the birth of the ugly shoe. Shoes that are ugly, furthermore, in imaginative and designer ways. Prada has the newest offering with its Trembled Blossoms range. Blossoms are beautiful; how, then, has Prada managed to launch the ugliest shoe I have ever seen? Properly ugly.
In my lifetime (I am just under 40) I have owned about 200 pairs of shoes, boots and trainers. I currently own six pairs of Birkenstocks, seven pairs of Bally shoes, a pair of Kenneth Coles and an abundance of Adidas. I like my shoes, but I don’t love them. Love is reserved for ladies’ footwear, shapes and sensations that ghost through my mind.
If we men really do think about sex every six seconds or so, perhaps the trigger is women’s shoes. Let me be clear. Women in the right shoes need worry about little else. You are goddesses and I can think of nothing I would rather do than wrap myself round your Jimmy Choo’d feet, warm leather against my grateful face. Just you, me and the right pair of shoes …
I can’t pretend I don’t think about what might have happened to the fragrantly beautiful, wedge-footed Miss Knipe all these years later. I hope her life was full of great shoes and perhaps she is somewhere, somehow, slipping her beautiful feet into a brand-new pair of Louboutins.