| Toe time: Birkenstock sandals, named (from left) Saphire, Jade and Topaz. (AFP)
Paris, July 29 (AFP): There is a very popular French expression “prendre son pied” that literally means “take your foot” but actually translates as “experiencing the ultimate in sensual pleasure”.
So it may be hardly surprising that in the capital of fashion the foot has taken centre-stage, sweeping Paris off its feet and playing as big a part in the game of seduction as the figure or face.
“The foot is becoming an object of seduction,” said a spokesman for No Nails, a thriving manicure-pedicure concern that opened a store in central Paris just over a year ago and now has three — one of many such shops mushrooming across the city.
In the past four or five years, fashionistas in the warm months have increasingly gone for open footwear featuring bare feet. But never has the “G-string for feet”, better known as the thong, been so popular as it is today.
Originally designed to flip-flop across hot sand, the thong sandal now is the urban cruiser, so hot, so hip it is worn on city streets with summer suits and dresses, by day and by night, bejewelled, beflowered, even set high on platform heels.
But as any footsore walker knows, there can be nothing worse or less pleasing to the eye than raw painful feet, caked in blisters and corns or oozing foot rot. Putting one’s feet up is vital to getting off on the right foot.
Be it foot massages, special cosmetics, reflexology or just comfortable shoes, Parisians are looking after their soles as never before.
Euro Nature, an alternative medicine centre that trains osteopaths and naturopaths, has had to multiply by two to three its classes in reflexology, a system of foot massage used to relieve tension and treat illness.
“Some people come seeking relief, others come to relax,” said Jean-Louis Glaziou, one of its graduates.
“Beauty treatment for feet is becoming routine,” said Emma Brennan of Artistic Nail, a parlour that offers basics as well as decorating nails with flowers, animals and the like. “People take out their summer shoes and realise their feet need help. Nice shoes need nice feet.”
Cathy Marin, a 38-year-old who runs the hip Au Pied Leve pedicure and massage parlour, thanked changing lifestyle and fashion trends for the steady improvement in the foot business in the past 12 years.
“Our clientele used to be women from my mother’s generation, women over 60 who had always worn uncomfortable high heels and who had sore feet. Now we get young people, aged 20 to 35, who come just for the pleasure of a massage, or who want their feet to look good,” she said.
The Asian influence on French trends and the importance of feet in Asian cultures also had helped propel the foot into the spotlight, Marin noted.
The Scandinavian and German affection for comfortable shoes also has invaded Paris, with shoes once derided as ugly clodhoppers fit for the old and the ailing now selling like hotcakes.
In the trendy Montmartre district, a rack of corksoled cloglike Birkenstock sandals stood half empty in the Sausalito shoe store. In the even trendier Marais, staff at the Anatomica shop of comfortable shoes faced long queues and steady phone calls as the latest batch of sandals were delivered in boxes stacked on the floor.
“No, no, no! We can’t put them aside. We just can’t keep up with the demand,” said one harried salesman.
The popularity of health and comfort brands such as Birkenstock, Dr Scholl’s or Berkemann is such now in Paris that an anti-Birkenstock website has been set up decrying “the threat to French aesthetics” of “this terribly hideous” phenomenon “once restricted to a handful of other countries”.
“Parisians have only just realised that you don’t have to have sore feet,” said owner Pierre Fournier.
Dr Scholl’s meanwhile are redesigning the sensible old sandal to give it a modern touch, using denims and heels and pastels to draw new customers. “Feet have become essential to one’s well being,” said Muriel Nicolas, the company’s press officer in Paris. “First it was the face, then it was the body and now it’s the foot.”
What happens after summer' From October on, fashion conscious women will be able to showcase their feet in strappy stilettos, wedge sandals and classy pumps if they dare adopt trends seen on the Paris and Milan catwalks for autumn winter 2003-2004.
At Christian Dior, for example, John Galliano offered skyhigh platform heels with bikergirl buckles and silver studs, while Marc Jacobs opted for more subdued crocodile pumps at Louis Vuitton. And for those not so keen on wiggling their toes, sexy thigh-high boots are due to be a must have.