Espadrilles: the ultimate summer icon
Year after year the espadrille is the fashion crowd’s summer shoe of choice. And this iconic footwear, traditionally worn by Catalan peasants, reminds us of the value of artisan craft, the beauty of simplicity and the pleasure of life beside the sea.
17 July 2020
"Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street. Fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening”. For Coco Chanel, fashion was always an artistic, social expression, a metaphor for life, a destination. Behind these humble jute and canvas shoes there’s a history of indulgence and hedonism, nonchalance, and a travel itinerary that covers one of the most fascinating stretches of the Mediterranean coast, from the French Riviera to the rocky coves of the Costa Brava.
Fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.
Back in the 30s, before espadrilles became the must-have summer staple they are today, Coco Chanel captivated high society on the French Riviera dressed in a striped T-Shirt, palazzo pants, pearls and espadrilles. Writer and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir also wore this simple shoe in Marseille, and artist Salvador Dalí, a friend of the designer, wore his in Cadaqués and Portlligat. There are even traces of the shoe in Dalí’s work, as he used his espadrilles as a brush when painting a portrait of Beethoven.
Although today espadrilles are worn in the city by such high-profile fans as Meghan Markle and Queen Letizia of Spain, this lightweight shoe reminds us that summer is best enjoyed by the sea. During the summer months we have carte blanche to resort to simplicity, good taste and discreet luxury, far from the trappings of the city. This simple style has captured the imagination of filmmakers over the years too, with espadrilles being worn by the stars of a host of iconic films including Alfred Hitchcock’s To catch a thief and François Truffaut’s Jules et Jim.
A history of craftmanship
The history of this iconic footwear can be traced back over the centuries. The original design – canvas with a rope sole – is linked to the simple life in the fields, and peasants in the Catalan Pyrenees wore espadrilles as early as the fourteenth century. The current popularity of espadrilles, however, has a lot to do with the social change the fashion industry is experiencing today: a new, more sustainable, responsible collective mindset, the resurgence of local tradition and craftmanship and a new found appreciation for handmade products.
Light blue espadrille
The French twist
It was a French designer Yves Saint Laurent who elevated this trend (quite literally) in the 70s, through the work of the Castañer family, who made artisan espadrilles. At the couturier's request, the Castañers created an espadrille with a five-centimetre wedge heel and gold satin ribbons, which Saint Laurent took to the catwalk. The shoe was an instant success, and since then Esparto wedge espadrilles have been the comfortable summer heel of choice for many. This iconic shoe is now reinvented year after year in multiple colours, styles and prints. From Michael Kors’ gold lace maxi-platforms to Polo Ralph Lauren’s rustic style wedges with leather detailing.
Black sandal with platform
Polo Ralph Lauren Women
Beige sandal with platform
Gold sandal with platform
The traditional espadrille was Dalí's favourite, but he also had other styles in his collection. He shared his devotion for this androgynous footwear with the intelligentsia of the 30s, as well as Lorca, Picasso, Hemingway and even John F. Kennedy. Jack Nicholson and Michael Douglas have also shown their support for the Mediterranean aesthetic on the other side of the Atlantic by wearing handmade espadrilles from Barcelona. Few designs have weathered the years and changing trends so well, and these shoes really come into their own in summer, when the new generations swap out their sleek new sneakers for old-school espadrilles.
Blue striped espadrilles
Red striped espadrilles
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