Hitting a fashion show? Crazy heels required

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NEW YORK -- It’s a blustery day -- February tends to be that way in New York -- and Marian Kihogo, a fashion stylist and blogger from London, is dashing from one runway show to another, from the tents at Lincoln Center to studios and galleries scattered around Manhattan.

As she strides by on her “architectural heels” by Nicholas Kirkwood for Peter Pilotto, the heels hollowed out for artistic effect, this reporter dares to suggest she might be more comfortable in running shoes.

She laughs. “Running shoes! That would be fashion suicide. I think the fashion powers-that-be would stone me!”

An exaggeration? Maybe just a bit. Kihogo is merely giving a colorful rendition of an unspoken rule at Fashion Week: It’s all about the shoes. And we’re not talking about the models. We’re talking about the audience.

Never mind the snow, rain or sleet. Never mind the subway steps or those dashes for a cab. Never mind the long hours on one’s feet. Most Fashion Week regulars wouldn’t be caught dead without a pair of statement heels.

It’s all a little intimidating for the uninitiated, who may find themselves panicking the first time they sit in the front row of a runway show. For us, the command, “Uncross your legs!” induces something akin to terror.

That’s what the pack of photographers at the foot of the runway calls out to ensure their camera shots won’t be ruined by a dangling foot. But it’s also the moment that all eyes shift downward, and suddenly one’s feet feel naked.

Scratch that. Bare feet would actually be better than a scruffy pair of booties with worn-down heels and cracked toes. Or, the Land’s End children’s rain boots your 11-year-old has grown out of, but still fit you.

Now, we don’t mean to exaggerate. Sometimes you can find a pair of sneakers in the front row. Usually they’re studded, perhaps part of an overall grunge look belonging to some handsome and hip young man, or to a woman on crutches. Although, last year, this reporter witnessed a woman on crutches at a fashion show, the injured foot in an orthopedic boot, the other in … wait for it … a stiletto.

“Wow,” says an admiring Pamela Pekerman, who’s covering fashion for AfterBuzz TV, hearing the anecdote. “That’s going for it.”

Pekerman thinks she’s found a happy medium -- a pair of Brian Atwood heels in lavender that she bought on sale at Saks Fifth Avenue and swears are comfortable. “I could run for you right now, I really could,” she says. We’ll take her word for it.

“I’ve seen a lot of crazy shoes here that belong in the circus,” Pekerman says. “People are wobbling around. But some girls, they just want to stick out.”

Pekerman does have one little secret -- foot petals, basically soft pads you sneak into your shoes to provide a little cushioning. But some women, says one fashion insider, have another, darker secret.

“I know from experience that there are plenty of flats tucked away in tote bags,” says Ken Downing, fashion director for Neiman Marcus, with a wink. “And sitting in the back seats of sedans.” Let’s face it, says Downing, “We all know what a beating Fashion Week can be on the feet.”

Downing scans the front row of the Cushnie et Ochs runway show, where we’re sitting. There’s barely a flat in sight, though one woman he knows, suffering from a knee injury, has donned a pair of adorable studded sneakers.

But, Downing says, there’s a good reason for all this. After all, the fashionistas who form most of the audience at runway shows -- buyers, stylists, major clients and of course celebrities -- have rather a duty to, well, take one for the team. “Listen,” Downing says, “footwear is a true indicator of style, and where fashion is, and where it’s going. We’re an industry of image. So it’s important that we do our part.”