Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 June 2019

The biggest scandal at the Oscars? Frances McDormand's Birkenstocks

McDormand's comfy shoe choice to the Academy Awards was revolutionary

Frances McDormand wearing Valentino couture with custom-made Birkenstocks. Courtesy Valentino
Frances McDormand wearing Valentino couture with custom-made Birkenstocks. Courtesy Valentino

Could it be? Is it even possible? Has the death knell of the high-heel shoe finally been sounded?

On Monday, Frances McDormand strode on to the Oscars stage to present the much-coveted award for Best Actress. She wore a flouncy fuchsia gown from Valentino’s spring 2019 haute couture collection and, on her feet … drumroll, please … a pair of Birkenstocks. Now, admittedly, these were not your run-of-the-mill Birkies. They were custom-made, yellow suede Arizona sandals designed by ­Valentino’s creative director, ­Pierpaolo Piccioli, in collaboration with McDormand.

The Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri star can always be relied upon to bring a touch of the offbeat to proceedings, but wearing Birkenstocks to the Oscars? Forget President Trump’s attempted Twitter spat with Spike Lee or the ceremony’s host-free status – this was the true scandal of the evening. McDormand’s explanation for this unheard-of act?

“Last year, while swanning on the grand staircase at the Met Gala, by invitation of Pierpaolo Piccioli of the house of Valentino, a spark ignited in me. I have always followed fashion and had a secret desire to find a way to express my knowledge and appreciation for it.

“When given the chance to lend my enthusiasm and experience to the collaboration of a particular item of fashion, there was only one answer for me: Birkenstock’s Arizona two-strap sandal. I have worn these sandals for most of my adult life. They have literally formed me physically and philosophically. All that I desired was to have a pair in my favourite colour: acid yellow. And now they exist. The spark caught fire and there’s no going back,” McDormand added.

I could not be more hopeful that Birkenstocks become standard red-carpet fare. Admittedly, acid yellow is not a favoured shade, and so clashes with the red of said carpet. But I have long been a proponent of the comfortable shoe and I am a wholehearted supporter of mixing the dressiest of dresses with comfortable flats (to the point where, when the time comes, I have every intention of matching my wedding dress with a sparkly sandal). Why any woman would choose to strap miniature, stiletto-shaped torture devices on to their feet, which, with 200,000 nerve endings, are among the most sensitive parts of our bodies, is beyond me.

I’ve long known that flats are the future; I’ve just been waiting for the rest of the world to catch on. And now, with the creative genius that is Piccioli on side, the revolution could well and truly be under way.

“My ­aesthetic perception has always allowed gentle contrasts, as the one between an haute couture gown and a casual sandal may appear to be,” the designer explained. “I see no ­contradiction in this, no contrast nor oxymoron. Beauty reflects the complexity of life and what makes it interesting is its ability to mix comedy and drama, night and day, silk and leather.

“I see no better muse than ­Frances to interpret this idea,” Piccioli continued. “She is ­intelligent and brave, her image is full of ­substance. Birkenstock, with whom I share this experience, is a synonym for universality, a symbol of ­freedom and an unrivalled inclusivity testimonial.”

“My aesthetic perception has always allowed gentle contrasts, as the one between an haute couture gown and a casual sandal may appear to be. I see no contradiction in this, no contrast nor oxymoron. Beauty reflects the complexity of life and what makes it interesting is its ability to mix comedy and drama, night and day, silk and leather.

“I see no better muse than Frances to interpret this idea, she is intelligent and brave, her image is full of substance. Birkenstock, with whom I share this experience, is a synonym for universality, a symbol of freedom and an unrivalled inclusivity testimonial.”

Now that’s what I call progress. The Birkenstock is a symbol of freedom, says the designer of the day. Not, as has traditionally been the case, a symbol of a tree-hugging, hippy-dippy, couldn’t-really-care-less-about-what-I-look-like approach to style. The most dull, practical, utilitarian shoe in the world is officially in.

This is a natural culmination of a movement that has already seen ­trainers transformed into high fashion. Where once the humble trainer was the mainstay of those who actually did some form of sports, today it is the ultimate fashion accessory. No fashionista worth her Insta-salt would be caught dead without a pair of Gucci trainers in 2019.

Even at Dior, that most staunch supporter of pretty femininity, heels have been reduced to a manageable “kitten” height. For her fall 2019 ready-to-wear presentation in Paris this week, Maria Grazia Chiurri sent models down the runway in the teeniest of heels, supporting my long held theory that women look most attractive when they are able to actually walk, rather than hobble.

Now we just need someone to inform the doormen at Dubai’s many clubs and bars, who still routinely turn women away for not wearing heels – perpetuating a long outdated ideal of what women are supposed to look like when they are out in public. It is not the 1940s, people, or even the 1990s. If Birkenstocks are good enough for the Academy, Frances and Pierpaolo, they should certainly be good enough for you.

Updated: February 28, 2019 05:44 PM

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