Hail the Espadrille, Shoe of Summer—and Lauren Bacall
The easy canvas shoe has been the favored slip-on of sex symbols and Salvador Dalí. Why are they so much better than flip-flops?
Summer chic is Lauren Bacall biking around Key Largo in the eponymous 1947 classic film, wearing a crisp white blouse, midi skirt, and canvas espadrilles laced at the ankle.
It’s Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí strolling the narrow streets of Port Lligat on the Mediterranean coast in a black pair of the rope-soled shoes. Dalí paraded around Paris in them, too, bringing beachwear to fancy evening soirées.
Today, photographs of Bacall and Dalí in espadrilles are fetishized on “summer style” Tumblrs and Pinterest pages, along with Rita Hayworth wearing the jute shoe on the set of 1947’s The Lady From Shanghai; Grace Kelly’s suntanned legs and ankles accessorized with canvas-and-rope slippers; Picasso shuffling around his studio in a well-worn pair; Yves Saint Laurent’s wedge-heeled espadrille, a late-’60s style that has endured over the years; Don Johnson pairing white slip-ons with white paints on Miami Vice.
Interrupting this reverie of cherished espadrilles past—stylishly of course—is the shoe’s modern incarnation, from Chanel’s canvas slip-ons featuring the iconic interlocking Cs to a metallic pair by Soludos, a go-to brand for the summer staple.
Indeed, espadrilles are ubiquitous on the streets of New York City—beloved among both the hipster and preppy set—and in wealthy summer getaway spots like The Hamptons and Nantucket.
Porous and soft, they’ve long been a popular substitute for flip-flops and strappy sandals, which require breaking in and frequently leave feet mangled if worn for any distance longer than a trip to the corner store. (Even that can result in bloody bunions and a raw Achilles’ heel.)
But in the last five years, espadrilles have become an emblem of casual chic, a coveted must-have for warm-weather wardrobes.
They’ve dominated the Spring/Summer and Resort runways, with every designer from Ralph Lauren to Emilio Pucci doing their own take on the understated flat version for S/S 2012. More recently, designers have introduced lace, leather, and lamé variations of the classic canvas shoe.
But it was Soludos that revitalized the style on fashionable feet in the U.S. when they launched in 2010.
Founded by London transplant Nick Brown and headquartered in SoHo, New York City, the once-small brand ballooned when they collaborated with J.Crew in 2012, bringing the shoe—and the brand—to the masses.
“Partnering with a big retailer really puts you on the map,” says NPD chief industry analyst Marshal Cohen, an expert on consumer behavior and the retail industry. “Even if you don’t make any money from the collaboration, you can’t buy that kind of publicity. Otherwise, building a brand on your own is a very slow, steady process.”
Cohen says the resurgence of espadrilles is linked to our culture embracing casual dress (think of the pyjama styles we’ve seen on runways in recent years).
“We were slow to fully embrace the espadrille until ‘casualization’ kicked into high gear,” he says. “When you can marry the casual the shoe with the trendy-casual style of dress, a designer has carte blanche to charge whatever they want.”
To wit: a studded canvas style from Christian Louboutin retails for $595, while Proenza Schouler’s lambskin leather espadrilles cost $495.
Soludos are significantly more affordable.
Their least expensive style is the original—basic, solid-print canvas with jute soles—which is priced at $36. But their special editions—often collaborations with designers—are more expensive.
This year’s most costly style is a collaboration with designer Mahlia Kent, priced at $175. Soludos has also cross-pollinated its original style with other shoe shapes, making espadrilles all the more chic.
“We’ve elevated our design by introducing leather this spring and working with different heights and shapes, which has opened Soludos up to a more fashion-forward audience,” says Brown.
Brown, who grew up spending his summers in Spain, the espadrille’s birthplace, is the first to admit that the shoes don’t hold up well in the rain.
I can also attest that soaked espadrilles smell like an old, wet dog—and will likely fray and fall apart after they’ve dried out.
That said, if I was forced to wear them every day with jean shorts (or a white blouse and midi skirt like Lauren Bacall’s), I most certainly wouldn’t object.