The Spring 2018 issue of "Fashion Theory" about decadence, Russian Edition

Title: Critical Approaches to Footwear Design Practise


Conceptual design offers a space, free from market pressures, in which design can engage in and explore new areas in order to experiment and develop alternative methodologies related to larger social and cultural issues and anticipate possible futures. Such critical and speculative design methodologies can contribute to different ways of thinking about footwear. 

The footwear designers’ projects discussed in this article are thought provoking about our current way of life in different ways. Salguero and Cope use associative design, exploring non-functional aspects of shoes to be used as a medium, a vehicle for social-cultural dialogue pointing out critical areas where footwear design can function. The two designers turn footwear into poetic art objects that operate by means of “making the familiar strange” in order to question our modes of thinking. 

Ten Boehmer’s practice is investigative, experimental, indicative and open ended in offering critical engagement through deconstruction. She uses a strictly technical vocabulary to question the act of walking in all its technical and cultural aspects, with the anatomical pressure points from which she designs and questions the high-heel as a construct. Salguero, Cope and Ten Boehmer critically approach footwear through association and negation, raising political and socio-cultural issues through artistic and sculptural expressions. 

OurOwnSkin and Kristina Walsh use both critical and speculative design. They project fictional scenarios, imaginary but believable everyday situations in which footwear or footwear-related products play a part. By anticipating incorporation of new technologies and sciences in ordinary life, they contribute to a better understanding and critique of the implications of new technological developments before they enter our daily lives as daily products. 

Entire areas of fashion are promoted by capitalism’s culture of transition that does not connect to real human issues anymore. All the designers mentioned here are putting human elements at the center of the design experience: Cope by discussing human intimacy, Salguero by referencing objectification, Ten Boehmer with the anatomical pressure points from which she explores the high-heel as a construct, OurOwnSkin with taking inspiration from the workings of human skin and the possibilities this technology might have for producing footwear, and Walsh by questioning real and ideal bodies. Different methodologies and cross-disciplinarity have informed these works involving diverse backgrounds such as jewelry, fashion, biomechanics, kinematics, orthopaedics and plastic surgery to develop alternative visions, not of style (i.e. superficial and transitional, characteristic of capitalist fashion), but real alternatives - alternative aesthetics, alternative modes of production, alternative ways of life, i.e. something that is made to endure and to change things in a fundamental way. These critical and speculative approaches are used to counter “what we are dealing with now (in contemporary society, which) is not the incorporation of materials that previously seemed to possess subversive potentials, but instead, their pre-corporation: the pre-emptive formatting and shaping of desires, aspirations and hopes by capitalist culture” (Fischer 2012) and in so doing reinforcing the status quo, the normative. This is why design as critique is so important, because in our capitalist consumer culture it can: “pose questions, encourage thought, expose assumptions, provoke action, spark debate, raise awareness, offer new perspectives, inspire and entertain in an intellectual way.” (Dunne & Raby) In doing so the footwear projects in this article use the ideologies and values that are imbedded in the materiality and production of design to contend a form of decadence inherent in current market product culture and ask us to consider what kind of society and future we want to shape.

Keywords: Footwear Design, Critical Design, Speculative Design, Experimental Design, Fashion Footwear, Decadence, Critique of Ideology, Capitalist Reality