“I think of shoes as toys for girls. Timeless toys!” laughs rising star Edmundo Castillo. “I mean, Monopoly and Scrabble never went out of fashion!” For Castillo, everything starts with the girl, and this season he had Stephanie Seymour—“a little bit Connecticut, a little bit rock ’n’ roll”—in mind when he conceived his sleek, biomorphic shapes.
Taking his cue from the state-of-the-art trainers he prizes for himself, Castillo gave his collection a sports edge. A high-heeled pump is transformed into a mule, the back cut to fold down as though the wearer had slipped it on in a hurry. Gladiator sandals trellis the foot with a multitude of fine spaghetti straps or coil around it in a series of deft interlocking strips that recall the back of a swimsuit. There is also a cool take on the season’s chunky wedge: bold, in aqua or creamy-gold python, or—inspired by a recent trip to Hong Kong—elaborate, in tasseled black satin. Some of the styles have toes that appear to float a little above the ground, via a low, stepped-back-from-the-edge platform under the sole.
The Puerto Rican–born Castillo, 36, studied fashion at art school in the Dominican Republic, where he met the great illustrator Antonio Lopez. It was Lopez who steered him toward both shoes and New York, where the aspiring designer, transported by a visit to the Manolo Blahnik department at Bergdorf Goodman, went on to work for Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren. Success came fast: Castillo launched his own line in 1999, received the 2001 Perry Ellis Award for Accessory Design, and has now opened a bijou store on Mott Street in Nolita, Manhattan’s latest shopping mecca. I showed my first collection in the living room of my apartment,” he remembers, “and there was a nice feeling to that—an intimacy—that I wanted to re-create. So we came up with the idea of the ultimate closet, for a girl who’s devoted to her shoes!”
“Everything is based on circles,” Karl Lagerfeld said of his fluid, edgily feminine Fendi show. “So everything has a round shape,” added Silvia Venturini Fendi of the accessories.
Those accessories also share the unusual palette of the runway collection, the aqueous blues and greens, with shots of fluorescent orange or metallic blue, that Lagerfeld described as “frozen colors hit with electricity.” That otherworldly feel extends to the Disk purse, with its overlapping satin segments, and the extraordinary new translucent leather the house has developed, pierced to create unexpectedly romantic lace and eyelet designs. The transparent theme also runs through the chunky clouded plastic heels of the new Fendi shoe and into the tactile body jewelry, which includes New Age “rings” molded forms designed to fit snugly in the curve between thumb and forefinger.
Metallics play a strong role for spring. An evening clutch features knotted and plaited silver or bright gold, while pink textured copper is used on almost everything, either for the hardware or as an accent. That pink copper turns up in the collection’s only noncurvaceous piece: the fabulous rectangular purse known as the Juke Box. It’s based on the antique leather case—monogrammed for some Jazz Age aristocrat—that Lagerfeld uses to stow his multiple iPods (a dozen at last count, which translates into around 120,000 tracks, all of which he seems to know where to find). The Juke Box has a discreet opening at the side (to accommodate a head-set cord) and comes in a super-slim version with a decorative hand strap. That’s not to mention the wittily named Compilation, which combines "the roundness of the Disk and the hardness of the Juke Box!" Venturini Fendi explained. Lagerfeld’s passion for the musical mix has obviously infused the entire Fendi studio.
Giorgio Armani’s accessories capture the languorous Jazz Age–resort feel of his collection—think of the Duchess of Windsor cavorting in Deauville or Cap Ferrat—in a monochrome Lartigue palette of black and white or navy and white, with a dash of scarlet. Armani’s effortlessly relaxed clothes evoke a famous photograph of the designer as a little boy at the seaside with his chic (and clearly influential) mother dressed in languid beach pajamas.
Some of the witty accessories take their cue from the surrealistic inventions of Elsa Schiaparelli. (Shocking, the dazzling Schiaparelli show currently at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, promises to extend her influence beyond the Spring 2004 season.) Simple leather purses are embellished with anchors and starfish, while woven ribbon pieces have handles shaped like lobsters and leaping dolphin. Pretty beach bags are matelot-striped—like so many of the clothes—and Bakelite and painted-wood bangles with an Art Deco feel suggest the life preservers on a luxury yacht.
Armani’s new trainers have toes that suggest a Turkish slipper (an idea that surfaced on the runway, too). His evening shoes, meanwhile, with their elegant Lucite wedge heels, are striped in various tones of brilliant Swarovski crystal.
Tom Ford has cast this season’s Gucci girl as a new-age Eve…although this time around it’s the temptress who’s being tempted. From the tiny jackets worked with tucks and pleats to the second-skin satin disco pants to the va-va-voom evening gowns coiled with jeweled serpents, the designer offered up an apple orchard of delights. Ford’s accessories mirrored the outrageous glamour of the clothes, as his glamazons swung elaborate purses and stalked his carpeted runway on teetering heels.
In a super-luxe take on the season’s couture sports theme, slim purses are banded with racing stripes of satin and crocodile in heady colors—violet on lime, citrus yellow on purple, chocolate on damask pink. And the signature Gucci hardware is now crafted by a costume jeweler, with horse bits, chain handles, and snake-head fastenings, all done in precious enamels and studded with faux gems. For evening purses, Ford took fringe—a strong trend this season—to the max; with the finest strands of silver and gold mesh, they shimmy like the dancers in Chicago.
Things are just as giddy in the footwear department, right down to the curve of those gravity-defying gilded bamboo heels and the bejeweled serpent heads that bind the straps of the new Gucci evening shoe. Strappy sandals, latticed with narrow satin-ribbon ties, come in a delicious selection of bonbon colors, including Nile green, rose, chartreuse, and lavender. There is also a take on Roger Vivier’s iconic thigh-high boot, created for Yves Saint Laurent in the sixties; the new version is deliriously impractical in off-white alligator.
Chez Gucci, however, it’s not just about the must-have hit of the season. The quietly deluxe made-to-order line features some new classic styles, whose understated hardware and discreet bamboo trim wouldn’t frighten the horses at Ascot. These include the crisply contoured Bullet bag and the softer Anastasia (think a very chic Victorian doctor’s bag). Ford gave these the subtle twist of ombré shading, in low-key colors like deep petrol blue, Kelly green, and crème brûlée.
The bag is king at Louis Vuitton, and this spring the royal family is multiplied. Marc Jacobs adorned each of the 51 looks he sent down the runway with a variation on the house’s most famous product.
As if to celebrate the impeccable craftsmanship of the house, which turns 150 next year, Jacobs went to town on detail like never before. One turquoise-toned bag is covered in rows of piecrust-frilled leather and topped by a handle constructed entirely out of golden caviar beads. A dainty evening number (surely too precious for daytime knocking about) is crafted from the palest pink suede, stamped with a glittery pink monogram, and finished with a handle of miniature gold padlocks.
Jacobs sees the limitless possibilities of that famous Vuitton stamp. He showed it mini and maxi, in gold and crystal, engraved on crocodile, canvas, and suede. The same goes for the house’s lustrous heritage: Jacobs brought back the canvas doctor’s bag and trimmed it with leather straps in gold, silver, jade, lemon, and violet. And he found inspiration in the old ocean-going Vuitton trunks to come up with the Sac Express, a canvas satchel adorned with a gold plaque and lined with striped cotton.
There’s more to covet at LV this season than just bags, though. Lacquered bronze python and turquoise suede shoes piped with gold and set atop towering tortoiseshell heels are movie-goddess glamorous, like Liz Taylor playing Cleopatra. But the real star is the chocolate croc bag, with its faded gold monogram and chunky tortoiseshell-and-crystal chain: an heirloom in the making, to be sure.
This season saw Moschino celebrate its 20th anniversary with a playful collection and a party that transformed the company’s Milan headquarters into a fairy-tale setting, complete with giant toadstools and a gingerbread house.
That trademark whimsical spirit translated to the accessories, too, most notably in a handbag that takes the form of a quaint, rustic cottage. There are plentiful takes on the spring’s ubiquitous wedge-heeled shoe, covered in the luridly colored prints that are another season staple. Those Palm Beach–powder–room motifs are also used for the cute new Puff bag, cinched with a fabric “belt.”
Other pieces follow through on the ready-to-wear collection’s Park Avenue–punk theme (brilliant in a full-skirted tulle prom dress with elaborate embroidery, which turns out to have been fashioned from safety pins). The straps on a sandal are studded with dog-collar nail heads, while a chic evening mule has its pearl-centered rosette (very Coco) stabbed with more of those safety pins. More luxe embellishment comes in the form of pretty crystal flower heads, which add sparkle to a low-heeled sandal and a satin-swathed wedge heel.
With its full-skirted shirtwaisters, Rothko-dyed twinsets, and draped prom dresses, Miuccia Prada's enchanting Spring collection conjured a free-spirited American girl, roaming the picturesque tourist spots of postwar Europe. Think of Gwyneth Paltrow's character in The Talented Mr. Ripley, or Jacqueline and Lee Bouvier as recorded in their diary One Special Summer.
En route our heroine slowly sheds her white-glove debutante elegance as she picks up homespun finds in local stores on Capri or Ibiza. Prada subverts ladylike propriety by tying a natural suede high-heeled sandal with plaited hemp or rendering a fifties-style pump in burlap, threaded with string (though the toe is capped in urbane chestnut-brown alligator). With time on her hands during those endless inter-island ferry trips, our American abroad sets about embroidering her flat purses. Made of ombré-shaded python, in strange colorations like rose pink and cocoa, mossy green and café au lait, or a brilliant parrot mix of electric blue and nut browns, they are embellished with overscaled nail heads and crystal dots.
Whimsical prints, based on a vintage Prada scarf and illustrating iconic scenes of Venice, Milan, and Rome, are patched onto a “tourister” travel bag. They are also used for a charming round-toe fifties pump, along with hand-woven cotton plaids that look as though they were found in an African street market (also the source, presumably, of those low-heeled sandals in harlequin strips of plastic.) The idea of putting a European spin on handcrafted ethnic materials also shows up in rustic woven raffia belts and braided-straw brooches that look like Tyrolean hats.
Prada's brilliance, though, is in mixing vintage ideas with ultra-contemporary touches. A cork-wedge shoe may have more than a whiff of the 1940s to it, but she also sent out a chunky cowboy boot in that ombré python. And she tapped the sport-couture theme that is so strong this season with a superb suede and rubber platform “hiking sandal,” its straps made from the bonded-nylon thread and fastenings used for mountaineering backpacks.
A chartreuse silk ankle boot, speckled with crystal teardrops. A salmon-pink stiletto, stitched with micro gold foliage. Dagger heels reminiscent of Concorde engineering. Toes that erupt into scarlet rosebuds. Welcome to the wonderful new world of Roger Vivier.
“He always made the most exceptional shoes,” said Bruno Frisoni, the designer charged with reinventing the late great master’s work. “To keep the philosophy of Vivier, it was vital that I go back to the archives, but it was also important to put my own modern stamp on the collection.” Not an easy task, given that Vivier, who worked with the likes of Christian Dior and Elsa Schiaparelli, was sometimes called “the Fabergé of footwear.” In his first season, though, Frisoni didn’t disappoint. He retained the most famous signatures, like the Choc, with the heel that slants away from the arch, and the square-toe Pilgrim pumps that Diana Vreeland so admired Frisoni used his inventive eye, meanwhile, to update the extravagant decoration that was Vivier’s hallmark and create a collection as contemporary as it is tantalizing.
Shoes aren’t the only things getting a complete makeover. The Paris flagship has also been resurrected under the direction of Frisoni, Ines de la Fressange, and multitalented designer Hervé van der Straeten. In keeping with Vivier’s spirit, the space is decked out with a surrealist pink-ribbon staircase, thorn lamps, and lacquered consoles that reflect the glorious footwear.