To satisfy the ever-changing taste of fashionable clients, shoemakers have used their skill and ingenuity to create innovative styles and cope with the structural challenges of extreme footwear, such as fetish boots. Shoes are a mixture of sculpture and engineering, although today’s processes for constructing footwear
still include the essential stages established hundreds of years ago. One of the major challenges faced across time has been the demand for increasingly high heels. Until the appearance of the metal spike in the
heel towards the end of nineteenth century, and the metal shank (which supports the arch)
from the late 1920s – Salvatore Ferragamo patented his version in 1931 – high heels had their limitations. The fashion for ‘Pompadour’ shoes in the mid-eighteenth century with heels reaching over 10 cm (4 inches), could result in the heel giving way and the arch of the shoe collapsing. Surviving shoes from the eighteenth century show a variety of solutions to this problem; for example, making the seat of the heel wider or widening the heel tip, or including a wedge-like construction under the shoe to reinforce its arch.

Many contemporary shoe designs explore the structural challenges of footwear, and
3D-printing techniques in particular have enabled experimentation with the shape of
the shoe. One of the ‘shoe-explorers of today’, Marloes ten Bhömer shows a remarkable variety in her design and use of materials and is unconstrained by the concern for practicalities usually observed in footwear.

And many of Alexander McQueen’s footwear creations exaggerated or disguised and distorted the shape of the foot. The most spectacular were perhaps the ‘Armadillo’ booties from the Plato’s Atlantis collection of Spring 2010 which transformed the wearer into a mutated superhuman. Each pair of ‘Armadillos’ was individually made, and only 21 pairs were created for the catwalk show.
However, their enduring influence can be seen in the number of YouTube videos that show how to make your own pair of ‘Armadillos’, with clever use of duct tape, thick cardboard and a glue gun, using a pair of simple pumps and a wooden base. These are more works of art than actual shoes.