Just like last year in our blog we were discussing the stories about the most famous handbags, this year for our "Back to School: History Lesson" let's talk about the shoes. Other than Cinderella glass slippers or Dorothy’s ruby slippers, many of contemporary shoes have a baggage of legends and histories behind them. They become the prized possessions not only of fashionistas but also museums. They are not just something you put on your feet for protection and adornment, but they came to define decades and reflect pop culture trends. Let’s have a look at top stories about some of the most iconic shoes of a modern day.

Salvatore Ferragamo - The Rainbow Sandal

Just as the ruby slippers of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, played by Hollywood legend Judy Garland, the name of the actress is associated with another iconic footwear designed by Salvatore Ferragamo. Ferragamo, who came to Hollywood from Florence, Italy, opened his store in 1923 and was considered a shoemaker to the stars. 

In 1938, Salvatore introduced the Rainbow Sandal, crafted specifically for Garland. The Rainbow sandals were a tribute to her signature song “Over the Rainbow” performed in the 1939 American musical fantasy film The Wizard of Oz. [1] The original design was produced in kidskin leather with a layered cork sole and featured a towering platform heel covered in rows of colourful suede. [2] It is notable that the shoe was very innovative as it was made of cork due to embargoes and shortages of materials on the brink of the Second World War.

As one of the most famous shoes produced throughout his extensive career, Ferragamo’s Rainbow Sandal went on to become an icon of 20th century footwear design. So much that the designer’s namesake brand recently re-launched the colourful heel with a sustainable update. Rainbow Future, a hand-finished platform in veritable wood, is made with organic crocheted cotton, which is certified in accordance with Global Organic Textile Standard criteria. The leather lining is finished with no carbon dioxide emission or water consumption. [4] Museo Ferragamo had it on display at their exhibition “Sustainable Thinking”.

The Victoria & Albert Museum in London has a pair of the original 1930s rainbow-hued suede wedge sandals.

Gucci - The Horsebit Loafers

Although House of Gucci first started as a leather goods company producing luggage and handbags in 1922, it expanded into shoes in 1953, along with the international expansion led by the founder Guccio Gucci’s son, Aldo Gucci.

Visionary Aldo noted the style of loafer’s popularity among the country’s affluent class and had an idea to create a pair for the Gucci brand, embellished with their signature metal horsebits, that tapped into an equestrian mythology and style of the company. An immediate hit among movie stars, the fabulously wealthy and aspiring style aficionados alike, the horsebit loafer was one of the first examples of casual luxury. [5] Ivy League universities students, Wall Street traders, Hollywood stars and celebrities today - all have loved the classic Horsebit loafer.

The Horsebit motif itself became a detail that was added to a variety of Gucci accessories, from prints on scarves to jewelry. According to Karen Homer, “with Tom Ford’s dramatic revival of the Gucci late in the 1990s, the Horsebit was given an ultra-stylized edge, appearing on high-heeled patent red loafers and as oversized fastenings on belts and bags” [7]

In 2013 to celebrate its 60th Anniversary, Creative Director Frida Giannini released a 1953 Horsebit Anniversary collection with a wide selection of new materials, colours, textures, and hardware finishes. As well she dedicated an entire exhibition to the shoe at Gucci Museo in Florence, featuring original illustrations and never-before-seen archival images of celebrities. [6]

The shoe has become such a great piece of fashion history, that Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York City has the original model from 1953 in their permanent collection. Next year, in 2023, the horsebit loafer turns 70 years old so expect grand celebrations, Gucci - style. 

Valentino - The Rockstud

Valentino Garavani Rockstud shoe style was first introduced in the Valentino Fall/Winter 2010 collection, in a style of a low heel slingback pump, and has instantly become a modern classic. Over 10 years later, it has not slowed down and keeps selling out every season.

In an interview with Style.com, Valentino creative directors at the time, Maria Grazia Chiuri (now Creative Director of Dior) and Pierpaolo Piccioli (the Creative Director of the brand today) revealed that—since the Rockstud style launched in 2010—the brand’s sales have more than doubled, with the previous year’s revenue alone getting a 36% boost thanks to a massive increase in accessories sales.[20]

Apparently, the rockstud motif is meant to represent the “bugnatos”, which are the details of the stones seen on palazzo-style buildings in Rome, where the brand's creative direction is based [20].The rockstud shoes vary in colours and materials, style and heel, depending on the collection, providing something for every personality and individual style. From permanent and classic beige and black, there are all the colours of the rainbow including a rainbow colourway too, along with camouflage, leopard and lace. From classic ballerina flats to caged heels, from classic leather pumps to PVC trendiest sandals - Rockstud has something to offer to all the fashionistas. According to a fan, Nicky Hilton, 'The reason for the enduring popularity of Rockstuds is in their detail,' she said. 'They come in metallic gold and silver and a multitude of colours, standing out just enough to make an outfit look dynamic.” [21]   

Despite being so characteristic of the brand, Valentino struggles to trademark it at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. In 2020 Trademark Office stated that “square studs are too common to become the trademark of a single brand. In his response to this rejection, in a 227-page long response, Valentino's lawyers also cited Christian Louboutin's famous 2011 lawsuit against Saint Laurent” [22]  in their infamous red bottoms battle.

For Spring 2021 collection Piccioli updated the classic style with a giant super-sized version of Rockstud on shoes and bags. Big and bold version is called ‘Roman Stud’ [27]. Thus the motif still proves to be the company’s bestseller.

Christian Louboutin - The Red Bottom shoes

The show stopping footwear by French designer Christian Louboutin are so popular that the shoes with a red sole are called just Louboutins among their clients and fans. But how has a shoe turned into a “louboutin”? Apparently, like so many great things in history, from sourdough to penicillin, it happened by accident.

The shoemaker was working on a pair of shoes, inspired by Andy Warhol’s painting “Flowers”. When the prototype with a pink upper and a heel adorned with a blossom-shaped motif arrived to the studio, Christian Louboutin felt like something was missing. According to the designer, “The shoe lacked energy”. [9] At that moment he noticed that his assistant was painting her nails red, which inspired the idea to paint to sole of the shoe red! This little detail helped Louboutin to distinguish himself from other footwear designers, becoming a symbol of luxury, opulence and sexuality.

Louboutin red even has its own colour code with the Institute of Colour, Pantone 18-1663 TPX [9]. From the third attempt, the designer trademarked this signature red soles of the shoe which led to an infamous lawsuit with Yves Saint Laurent, who also designed a shoe with a red sole in 2011, although it was a fully red coloured shoe. After a long battle, “The US Court of Appeal ruled in favour of Louboutin, recognizing the originality with which he had placed the colour red in a context that seemed unusual on a shoe. He then intentionally tied the colour to his products, creating an identifying mark firmly associated with his brand” [9]


Louboutins have become very popular among celebrities, from Hollywood divas to rappers. In 2017 rapper Cardi B’s debut hit song was a shout-out to the covetable shoes. Her number one debut song “Bodak Yellow” celebrated scarlet soles with a line: "These expensive, these is red bottoms, these is bloody shoes”. According to Racked, “Cardi’s boosted the brand’s pop cultural currency in a big way”. [10] They reference a report from Business of Fashion and Lyst, claiming that "searches for the luxury label’s heels have increased by a staggering 217 percent since “Bodak Yellow” first hit the airwaves” and Cardi is also listed as having accumulated $4.5 million USD in media value for the company [11]. This unofficial fashion relationship culminated in 2020, when the designer virtually presented Cardi with FN’s Style Influencer of the Year Award [26].

Saint Laurent - Tribute Shoes

This pair of shoes from the French brand is so remarkable, that has become part of the collection of Victoria & Albert Museum in London and was featured in their exhibition “Shoes: Pleasure and Pain”.

The shoe design was created by Francesco Russo and has become a staple shoe style of mid- 2000’s. According to the museum’s exhibition label, “the ‘Tribute’ sandal shows the influence of fetish footwear in its design with its high heel, patent leather and deep platform under the toes. It is strikingly similar in shape to shoes worn for pole-dancing; the heel used to grip the pole and the platform allowing greater height and providing a firmer footing on which to launch the body into a spin. The ‘Tribute’ took the early 21st century trend for high heels to an extreme” [12].

The shoe design came to symbolize the sexiness of the decade, ruled by platform shoes and skin-tight bandage dresses. The popularity of the Tribute lies in its ability to give women extra height along with the relative comfort. The thick platform under the toes meant that the heel could be much higher without angling the foot at too great a pitch. It gave women a sense of power with the ability to walk confidently in shoes that added up to 14 centimetres to their stature. [23] This has been probably the most popular sandal of the decade, seen on celebrities on red carpets in mid ‘00s, from Jennifer Lopez to Beyonce just to name a few. Today it is available in variety of colours, materials and styles - from original platform sexy shoes to much more casual and comfortable flat slides sandals.


Stuart Weitzman - Nudist sandal

Another celebrity favourite shoe is a Nudist sandal by Stuart Weitzman, which designer himself called “the little black dress of shoes” [13]. Around 2013 this minimalistic sleek shoes appeared on almost every glamorous red-carpet event. Thanks to its barely-there silhouette, a super-sleek, sky-high heel, and slim straps, this shoes are so versatile that it can be worn with absolutely everything.  It is also very flattering as it elongated the legs yet remain comfortable.

"It happened because there was a need for it," designer Stuart Weitzman shared with InStyle magazine in 2017. He said, ”Too many celebrities would change their dress at the last minute and those wonderful shoes we made won't go with the new outfit. We needed to have a shoe simple enough that it could go with literally everything”. [13]

Today the Nudist sandal comes in a variety of heels lengths and shapes (from stiletto to a block heel), colours and materials, even with embellishments options. According to the official website, “The success of the NUDIST went on to inspire an entire collection. Starting with the lower-heeled NUDISTSONG sandals and the NEARLYNUDE block-heel sandals, the NUDIST Collection has expanded to include new innovations in a variety of heel heights, colors and materials, as well as special occasion standouts that draw upon the minimalist sensibility of our iconic NUDIST sandals”. [25] Yet, the most classic ones definitely come in black, beige and silver - the ones, originally created for glamorous red carpet affairs. 

Manolo Blahnik - Hangisi

Manolo Blahnik has many memorable designs of his shoes but nothing will compare in popularity with the iconic Hangisi pump, that gained a cult status and became a favourite wedding shoe of fashionistas after Mr.Big proposed with it to Carrie Bradshaw in the “Sex and The City” movie, just like a prince to Cinderella.

The shoe was created in 2008 and Mr.Blahnik in his interview to Footwear News confessed that “he dreamed up the style after a trip to Palermo, Italy” where the designer went to see an exhibition by the Italian portraitist Giovanni Boldini. “He painted European society ladies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and I noticed some of them had buckles on their shoes,” Blahnik said. There are also echoes of the traditional North African baboosh slippers, immortalized by the French artist Eugène Delacroix in “Women of Algiers,” the designer recalled, noting that they were “in a state of ecstasy in a harem.” [14] It also has been reported, that the inspiration for the court shoe was derived from the footwear worn by Napoleon I, Josephine, and Pauline Bonaparte [15]. So all those inspiration references combined, the consumers have received one of the most covetable shoe of today.

The name for the shoe, “Hangisi”, has no particular meaning. The word “Hangisi” means “Which one?” in Turkish. The designer chose it just because he thought it sounded romantic. [16]

In 10 years of its success, the Hangisi style has evolved into boots, mules, d’Orsays and flats. It has been produced in over 100 materials and colorways, as well as in seven heel heights. “It’s torture — it’s a horror story. It just goes on and on,” joked the designer in 2018, the Hangisi’s 10th anniversary year. “It’s one of those things that I cannot explain, but I do thank God for it. I never do things thinking they are going to be iconic. It was just a coincidence.” [14] 

Chanel - Two-toned slingbacks 

While Coco Chanel started her company in 1910 selling hats, the brand’s shoe line was launched in 1957. That year she designed the two-tone slingback shoes and they became so popular that for 65 years they have been reissued up until today. According to the legend, Chanel made them two-coloured with a high contrasting black toe cap to create a visual effect - to visually shorten a foot while elongating a leg, without being uncomfortable in high heels.

However, the other popular Chanel shoes - ballerina flats - were created not by her, but by Karl Lagerfeld for the Spring Summer 1984 collection. They were inspired by the classic slingbacks, that Mademoiselle Chanel designed herself. The ad campaigns were shot by Helmut Newton, featuring Ines de la Fressange, who came to embody Parisian chic at its best.

The brand Chanel comments that the ballerina flats were “Inspired by the world of dance so dear to Gabrielle Chanel – who advocated comfort and freedom of movement above all else – the ballerina is today a fundamental in Chanel’s stylistic grammar” [17]

Since then, the shoes have been created in a variety of materials, colours and variations, however the original beige-black leather combination remains the most iconic and popular, signifying the timelessness that the brand stands for. 

Roger Vivier - Pilgrim Buckle Shoes

While some credit that Roger Vivier’s contribution to fashion was an invention of a modern day stiletto, it is still considered arguable [18]. However, what is undeniable is that the design that he is greatly remembered for is a Pilgrim Buckle shoe.

In the 1950’s Roger Vivier worked alongside Christian Dior, and then under the Creative direction of Yves Saint Laurent, who was heading the House of Dior after Monsieur Dior’s passing. After starting his own company, Yves Saint Laurent kept on collaborating with the shoemaker. Thus, the Pilgrim shoes were designed in 1963, in collaboration with Saint Laurent [19] for the couturier’s famous Mondrian collection. The shoes coordinated perfectly with the square shaped dress – black patent leather with a square “Pilgrim” buckle, low heeled, almost flat and low-cut at the front to make the legs appear longer yet adding that youthful twist.


It was a French film actress Catherine Deneuve, who in 1967 was wearing Pilgrim shoes in her classic movie Belle Du Jour by Luis Bunuel, along with the suits by Saint Laurent. She has made them extremely popular. 55 years later this is still one of the most popular styles by Roger Vivier company. And the shoe is so connected with the legendary actress, that in 2018 she has become an official ambassador of the brand, starring in their Christmas commercial. [24]





  1. https://www.yournextshoes.com/ferragamo-rainbow-judy-garland/
  2. https://www.minniemuse.com/articles/musings/salvatore-ferragamo-rainbow-sandal
  3. https://www.ferragamo.com/shop/gb/en/ferragamo-creations/icons-uk/iconicshoes-uk/rainbow-sandal-634098--24
  4. https://footwearnews.com/2018/fashion/designers/ferragamo-rainbow-sandal-limited-edition-sustainability-1202586768/
  5. https://www.scmp.com/magazines/style/luxury/article/3157895/inside-house-guccis-iconic-horsebit-loafer-king-george-vis
  6. https://www.vogue.fr/fashion/fashion-news/diaporama/gucci-horsebit-loafer-gucci-museo/12597
  7. Karen Homer. Little Book of Gucci. The story of the iconic fashion house. Welbek, 2020
  8. https://fashionista.com/2020/10/valentino-garavani-rockstud-x-10-year-anniversary
  9. Darla-Jane Gilroy. Little Book of Christian Louboutin. The story of the iconic shoe designer Welbek, 2021. 
  10. https://www.racked.com/2017/11/20/16658444/cardi-b-christian-louboutin
  11. https://exclaim.ca/music/article/cardi_bs_bodak_yellow_credited_with_massive_spike_in_christian_louboutin_sales
  12. https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1294281/tribute-sandals-yves-saint-laurent/
  13. https://www.thezoereport.com/p/stuart-weitzmans-merinda-heels-are-a-fresh-take-on-the-nudist-sandal-theyre-already-a-celeb-favorite-19199468
  14. https://footwearnews.com/2021/fashion/designers/manolo-blahnik-in-the-2000s-the-shoe-star-on-sex-and-the-city-fantasy-shoes-for-marie-antoinette-and-his-famous-hangisi-1203202598/
  15. https://www.lifestyleasia.com/ind/style/manolo-blahnik-hangisi-heels-are-the-ones-to-invest-in-for-all-shoe-lovers/
  16. https://footwearnews.com/2018/fashion/designers/manolo-blahnik-sex-and-the-city-hangisi-heels-fun-facts-1202705921/
  17. https://www.vogue.co.uk/fashion/article/chanel-ballet-pumps
  18. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/roger-vivier-process-to-perfection-stiletto_n_1503390
  19. https://fabrickated.com/2014/09/16/the-story-of-a-shoe-roger-vivier-and-yves-st-laurent/
  20. https://www.pursebop.com/rock-out-valentino-rockstud-success/
  21. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-4292910/Why-Valentino-Rockstud-heels-popular.html
  22. https://www.nssmag.com/en/fashion/23271/valentino-rockstud-trademark
  23. https://www.estro.com.au/blogs/news/are-these-the-most-iconic-shoes-ever
  24. https://www.rogervivier.com/us-en/5-blog-article-page-deneuve/
  25. https://www.stuartweitzman.com/sw-scoop/shoe-style/types-of-heels.html
  26. https://footwearnews.com/2021/fashion/designers/cardi-b-christian-louboutin-paris-fashion-week-1203189292/
  27. https://www.voguescandinavia.com/articles/the-return-of-the-rockstud
September 06, 2022 — Darina Granik

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