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By Noor-Jehan Yoro Badat
Helen Mirren, Victoria Beckham, Kim Kardashian, Gwyneth Paltrow and Lily Allen are wearing them. Christian Louboutin and Manolo Blahnik are designing them. Suddenly, skyscraper or "stripper" shoes are all the rage abroad, seen on catwalks from New York to Milan and on red carpets from Hollywood to Cannes.
An even stranger trend is for designer "bandage" shoes, with straps so wide they look like bandages - but still on towering heels. They are ugly but strangely compelling.
The hardcore high fashion is not for the faint-hearted or weak-ankled, especially if one can't afford the comfortable, well-crafted shoes of top designers, and it remains to be seen whether the trend will take off in South Africa.
Here, it hasn't gone mainstream yet, and most buyers of shoes, sandals and boots with killer heels seem to be exotic dancers, and, to a lesser degree, fetishists, Goths and members of other subcultures.
Two local websites, Pleaser and Heels2Heaven, serve this niche market and have extensive collections of 100-200mm shoes that run the gamut from pretty to kinky to downright odd, like the perspex-heeled shoes featuring neon lights or filled with roses, glitter and pearls.
Ranges they have imported from the US in recent years include Pleaser, Luscious and the more extreme Funtasma, Demonia and Devious.
Oliver Jenkins, the owner of Heels2Heaven site, says most of his customers are strip club dancers, but 20 percent are ordinary women and men. Yes, men. In fact, Pleaser website owner Riaan Burger says a quarter of buyers of the Pleaser range are men, while 30 percent who buy Demonia shoes are men.
Burger started his site as a result of running a Gothic nightclub called Omega in 2005. Stripper shoes were de rigeur for patrons of the club, so he tracked down their specialist suppliers to provide a service.
Jenkins also saw an opportunity: "There wasn't anybody catering for this business, and it was a market that wasn't covered.
"Most people feel there's a cheap connotation to the shoes and get scared off, but there's a small minority who don't worry," says Jenkins. "I have normal housewives who buy them, some because they are short. Obviously they would wear them with flared jeans."
However, most of his clients are exotic dancers, especially "eastern European girls".
Pole dancers prefer to buy shoes with clear heels, 4 to 6 inches in height, with straps so the shoes don't fly off while they're performing. Mini-platform shoes are also popular.
"The main dancers will buy anything from 5 to 6 inches, the majority of which are stiletto heels. And the colours they choose vary from clear to pink and black. There are also some interesting platform shoes, such as one in which duck swim in the liquid-infused heel and platform."
Some shoes betray their origins, featuring coin and note slots for tips or soles that flap up so money or jewels can be stored in the heels.
Other popular styles are thigh-high boots, in either platforms or stilettos.
Jenkins says customers are particularly drawn to bling. "The shinier the shoe, the more it attracts them." Dancers can get quite competitive with heel height or unusual designs, he adds. "They want to have something no one else has."
Burger says most of his customers buy from the Pleaser range, and a popular choice are the knee-high stiletto boots, such as the Electra 2023.
He echoes the advice of top designers - you have to wear a "strong outfit" to be able to carry off stripper shoes.
And he agrees with Jenkins that the higher the heel, the less savoury the connotation, but adds: "If you can celebrate your femininity in a different way, wear them. They're beautiful."