The 'petit stiletto' is having a renaissance. A chic alternative to the wedge, platform and needle heels, the 5cm kitten has never veered off fashion radar since it first appeared in the 1950s and now designers have swept in the new decade with their own versions, calculated to make the towering heels we have all started to get used to wearing look passe.
Of course, the kitten heel has always had its fans, from Audrey Hepburn to Michelle Obama and L.K.Bennett has always taken pride in providing stylish designs for women looking for that healthy dose of glamour and versatility. Hailed as 'Queen of the kitten heel', L.K. Bennett became instantly recognisable for its elegant little heels since the first shop opening in Wimbledon in 1990 and has continued to expand and develop its trademark style over the years.
But why 'kitten'? 'It was 1950s slang for a young and inexperienced girl and they originally conceived as a truncated 'trainer' stiletto for adolescent, with the 5cm height (and point tapering to 5mm) being an easier but elegant alternative to the 10cm plus heel which appeared in the early 1950s. Always featuring a pointed toe, it was characterised by a metal stem running up inside the heel to reinforce its strength and came with age, worn by femme fatales such as Marilyn Monroe. The higher the heel, the more the weight of the body was thrown forward onto the balls of the feet, shortening the stride, of making the bust and bottom protrude in a glory of sartorial sexualisation; an effect most powerfully realised by Christina Hendricks as Joan Holloway in the television series Mad Men. The virginal kitten heel, by contrast, allowed for mobility and, at best, a provocative little wobble in a walk.
Its greatest ambassador was the star Audrey Hepburn, whose on-screen personae are invariably cited as some of the greatest ongoing influences on fashion. In 1954, she starred in Sabrina as the eponymous heroine, a gauche girl who returns from Paris to America with a patina of sophistication and a charm that seduced both actor William Holden and Humphrey Bogart. Her transformation was beautifully expressed by costume designer Edith Head (who won an Academy Award for Sabrina), with the assistance of the young French couturier Hubert de Givenchy. Hepburn was 5' 7 " in height and 25 years old; playing a teenager against romantic lead Bogart (5' 10 ") but she was put into kitten heels. The same happened again in Funny Face (1957), when kitten heels ensured she remained a little shorter than Fred Astaire. Those little heels, so cleverly used to express her age and character, took off and were popular both in Europe and America until the mid-1960s. 'Kitten heels give clothes that sexy, sixties French actress look,' a journalist commented recently. 'It's nice to go back to shoes that look like shoes.'