Manolo Blahnik, Christian Louboutin and Jimmy Choo are only a few of the famous contemporary shoe designers who owe much of their success to an early 19th century gentleman revered at the time for his style, manners and worldliness. Alfred Guillaume Gabriel, the Count d’Orsay was a nobleman and eclectic artist who married into the British aristocracy. He became a touchstone for manners, taste, understated luxury in the English royal court and high society.
Count d’Orsay won fame throughout France, Britain and the Rhone Valley as an painter, sculptor, diarist and wit. He was considered the “most perfect gentleman of his day”. Cynics spoke of men such as Beau Brummel and the Count as “dandies”. The term “dossy, commonly in use during the first half of the 19th century, was considered to be derived from his name and meant a man who was an “arbiter elegantarium.”
The privileged class at that time was very interested in all things related to fashion and vanity. Shoes and footwear were of particular interest. Since Catherine de Medici, in 16th century Italy, wore two inch heels to negate her diminutive height, the pursuit of shoes with ever-more exaggerated heels had become a passion. By the time of the reign of the famous French Sun King, Louis XIV, regal women were teetering on high soled and heeled shoes so ridiculously elevated that they required a type of ski pole to keep themselves upright.
The Count d’Orsay had been a soldier in early life, and a courageous one. Uniforms and military dress were of great import to him. He was not happy with the military parade footwear of his day. He designed a military shoe for men in 1838. The profile of the shoe was quite different from pump footwear of the day, fitting more snuggly, and featuring low cut sides and a V-shaped top. The silhouette became so popular that it was soon adopted by women. The d”Orsay pump high heel shoe was thus born.
“The d’Orsay pump leaves the sexiest part of the foot, the curved instep, naked. The curve of the instep resembles the curves of a woman’s body, and it is normally not exposed, but hidden from view “, said Christian Louboutin, in describing the modern influence and popularity of the d’Orsay high heeled style of pump shoe. Modern materials, technology and design have co-mingled to make women’s shoes ever more exotic and dynamic. The d’Orsay styles sold today are reflective of the advances in engineering that the pioneering styles created by the Count d’Orsay have evolved to.
The origins of the d’Orsay designed shoe has been largely forgotten. Most women that wear the d’Orsay don’t even know the proper historic name for the shoe. However, the design is one of the most popular today, worn and favored by stylish women everywhere.
The Count d’Orsay inadvertently created an enduring fashion style for women by endeavoring to create footwear for men. Modern haute couture designers have taken his military directed shoes and leapfrogged the styling to runway shows, department stores and boutiques where they are mated with ever more feminine fashion creations. This is a classic instance of a product or design evolving from its market of original intent to an ultimately more successful usage.
by: Geoff Ficke