Ballet flats had their true heyday in the 1950s, when starlets like Brigitte Bardot and Grace Kelly made them a staple in their wardrobes, causing their popularity to instantly skyrocket. Audrey Hepburn wore them with skinny jeans in the film “Funny Face” and then her fans flocked to buy them from the hoards of shoemakers around the world that began to make them. “That Girl” and “The Mary Tyler Moore” shows, “Bewitched” us all (yup, an age reference) with their take on the pretty flat wear.
The shoe is based on the appeal and simplicity and comfort of the very soft slippers that ballerinas plié in after they come down off a day in toe shoes. Ouch! Chanel, naturally seized the opportunity to add their own French to the shoe and perfected the look that is now famous. The classic toe leather ballet flat they created was made in nude with a black patent leather toecap and tied black bow. And later, a black leather and patent toecap also tied with a bow. That Chanel staple is as famous now as it is very expensive! Ouch, that hurts even more!
Cue, (a not so new find for me, but lesser known, perhaps outside my zip code) French Sole. (FSNY) Their NYC flagship location on Lexington Avenue is a tiny oasis of ballet flats. (And, mind you, at half the price of a pair of Chanel-a-likes.) The walls of FSNY are jam-packed from floor to ceiling with identical leopard shoeboxes. The surreal tiny space is a little claustrophobic – and there is only one banquette to sit on. It is not uncommon to climb the walls on your own, for your size or to try on shoes in a semi lotus position.
Inside those boxes are more than four dozen variations of one kind of footwear. Some flats are a bit wacky (leopard prints in questionable colors, gaudy floral patterns) while others are more stylish (timeless solids, trendy metallics, scalloped edges). I own quite a few pairs of French Sole ballet flats. One of my all time favorite styles is the Neroli Nappa in rich black patent leather, also made in a warm beige and black patent leather colorblock. This summer they introduced this pointed comfy slingback, adorned with a big black ribbon bow and it was amour at first sight. They were a must have, for me, in the both colors, naturally. (There goes that pattern again, of needing one of anything in every color, every time.) This shoe is so very close in style to the pricey alternatives, but sans the rounded toe, and avec the sling, I think it makes for a slightly dressier appeal. And so my fake out “Chanel’s” are really French Soles and my wardrobe is all the richer for it. And, on those days after those evenings in heels, there is nothing softer and more appealing on your feet than a cute, simple flat.
I also just scooped up a few odds and ends from their spring collection (love the scallops) at their odds and ends clearance shop directly across the street from their Lexington Ave location. The ‘back by popular demand’ prices keep inching up a bit, so your extravagant new pair of ballet flats just might usurp your old slingbacks in the end. The end-of-season sales in January, July, and August feature a large selection marked down 30 to 50 percent.
Photos by C.Greene