Sarah Belmont introduces us to the world of the left bank ballerina (aka the ballet flat) and shows us how to get on the right foot with the left bank shoe.
Flats Never Tire
Flat shoes have a history, a history which deserves some digging. Originally meant for both men and women, the flat derives from heel-free ballet slippers. And who, in France, is well-known for having created ballet? That’s right, King Louis XIVth. Unfortunately, flats’ appeal started fading under the influence of Catherine de’ Medici, when she decided to extend her dresses, and that of Marie Antoinette who, after she walked to the guillotine in a pair of high-heels, grew them back into fashion! Since then the style of the ballet flat has evolved over time but never gone out of style. The flat has also become an every style day essential, no Parisian girl can live without. A choo super hero! So as an authentic left bank fashionista, I thought I would take you on a tour of my favourite shoe hunting ground in my arrondissement, St Germain and share some insights.
1 Repetto : Tradition beyond librettos
What do you do when your son comes back from his ballet lessons with a backache and sore feet? Easy! You create a pair of more comfortable shoes for him. This is at least what Rose Repetto, Roland Petit’s mother, did in 1947 and how Repetto was born. Struck by success, the former seamstress was later recognized for designing Brigitte Bardot’s slippers in the movie ‘And God created Woman’. Opened on rue de la Paix, near the Opéra de Paris, her first shop quickly became the headquarters of dancers and celebrities. Repetto is adorned by the typical Parisian girl. Now left bankers need not travel across Paris to purchase flats. All they have to do is walk to 51 rue du Four in St Germain.
2 Christian Louboutin : welcome to the star system !
What is at 38-40 rue de Grenelle? The go to shoe heaven for the stars! Rihanna, Kate Moss, Paris Hilton, Carla Bruni…They all worship Monsieur Louboutin! Born and raised in Paris 12th arrondissement, the famous footwear designer started sketching in his early teens. Despite his legendary fascination for sharp stilettos, triggered by a visit to the Musée national des Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie, he has never turned a blind eye to flat shoes. From his latest collection, my favorite our particularly the elegant “black turban flat” as well as the “blue croisette flat kid”. Croisette ? As in Cannes… on the French Riviera… where the sky is nothing but azure? Who knows ? Only a genius has the key to his own imagination.
3 Roger Vivier : The shoe carver
While Louboutin rhymes with fame, Roger Vivier‘s name conveys art. French designer specialized in shoe making, the latter studied sculpture at the Paris École des Beaux-Arts. In this regard, his work happens to be often compared with artistic pieces; hence his nickname, the “Fragonard of shoe”. The spring-summer collection boasts golden articles. Golden, yes ! For they are both shiny and precious. As indicates its name, the “Slipper feuille d’or” plays with elegant contrasts. Named after jewels, the silky purple “Slipper Bijoux” confirms an obvious inclination to luxury. The “Belle Vivier” shoe, red polished as Marilyn Monroe’s lipsticks, brings a glamorous touch to the line. It is only fair that unique designs be displayed in a unique shop, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Left bankers will have to travel!
4 Mellow Yellow : A hipster’s paradise
In French, flat shoes bear the same name as those who usually dance in them, “ballerines”. Yet in English, the term ballerina strictly alludes to ballet dancers. It is thus funny that on Mellow Yellow’s website the latest word shall also refer to shoes. Borrowed from a song title of the 1960s, the play on words expresses flexibility, humor, and brightness, Mellow Yellow’s essence. In the 13 rue des Canettes shop, for instance, beiges, fuchsia flowers printed on a dark background, flashy oranges, and white-braided navy blues combine in the most beautiful collections. To parody Martin Solveig’s hit, I would say : “To Mellow Yellow, I (did not just come) to say hello”, but shop, for the prices there remain rather reasonable.
5 Bensimon : Sportswear attitude
Created by the Bensimon brothers in the eighties, “la tennis Bensimon” is a hybrid kind of shoe, half-Dolly, half-sneaker. At odds with the Repetto style, the first Bensimon Apparel Collection line for men and women was inspired by travel and military ; which partly explains why the Bensimon shop, located 54 rue de Seine, among others, was called Autour du Monde (around the world, in French). Made of basic fabrics such as linen, canvas, or rubber, “la tennis Bensimon” departs from the authentic flat shoe because of its multiples uses. Skirts, dresses, pants, shorts. I personally wear them with almost everything. What a blast! Same as many fashionistas whose addiction feeds the winter collection. Velvet, buckskin, leather-clad, the warmer slippers propelled the brand to the utmost in chic.
Apart from the “off-centered” Vivier shop (it depends if you consider the Quartier Latin to be the heart of Paris), Repetto, Louboutin, Mellow Yellow, Bensimon, all concentrate in the 6th arrondissement. My personal itinerary would start from the Bon Marché, down to rue de Seine. Next time I will take you on a tour…