The Ruby Slippers Across Time, Space, and Media
“Fashion is fluid” —-
(The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
The “real secret of the ruby slippers,” Salman Rushdie argues, “is not that ‘there’s no place like home,’ but rather that there is no longer any such place as home” (57). Intended as a critical introduction, this essay traces the ruby slippers’ fascinating journey from the original text by L. Frank Baum (1900) to John Fleming’s classic film (1939) to Vogue’s 2005 fashion shoot by Annie Leibovitz. I further discuss a more recent interpretation of the ruby slippers, The Cosmos: Meteor shoes by Canadian designer John Fluevog (Spring/Summer 2016). Their soles inscribed “Created in the Cosmos, Worn on Earth,” the Meteors also celebrate the road as the destination. I compare Fluevog to Gucci’s Star-Trek inspired campaign GucciandBeyond (Fall 2017) and the brand’s equally out-of-this-world Utopian Fantasy campaign (Spring/Summer 2018). My critical sources include Alain de Botton and Andy Warhol, who both profess their fascination with air travel (and airports), as well as Benedict Anderson’s writing on “imagined communities” and Dick Hebdige’s foundational work on style subcultures. The essay’s concluding sections discuss the commercial appropriation of fashion, as well as fashion’s open-ended definition.
Fluevog’s store on Granville Street in Vancouver, its whimsical façade adorned with gilded angels and neon lights, recalls a world of magic and fantasy. One of the city’s oldest and longest streets, gritty Granville stands “in sharp contrast to Vancouver’s modern, ‘city-of-glass’ architecture” (Siemens, Theatre 77). Subject to flamboyant gentrification in recent years, this street still preserves some old-fashioned landmarks, such as two venerable entertainment venues, the Orpheum and the Vogue (dating from the 1920s and the 1940s, respectively). The Fluevog store (opened in 1973) initially “was an elaborate bedroom, with shoes gracing a giant bed” (“Our Story – About Fluevog”). As described on the brand’s official website, one of John Fluevog’s first designs was The Pilgrim (1970), its “boldness […] was completely against the mainstream of the time, and John has kept it unconventional ever since!” (“Our Story – About Fluevog”). Fluevog has attracted such celebrity customers as Robert Altman, Alice Cooper, Madonna, Beyoncé, and Lady Gaga. In 2013, Fluevog shoes became the official footwear of flight attendants on AirCanada Rouge. The brand’s site comments: “John’s always toyed with the idea of”Flying Vogs” (“Our Story – About Fluevog”). The audacious Cosmos: Meteor shoes further attest to Fluevog’s fascination with travel on this planet and beyond as a preferred mode of living.
Celebration of Escape
In his BFI volume on The Wizard of Oz, Salman Rushdie challenges the traditional interpretation that the ruby slippers deliver Dorothy the gift of returning to her family home in Kansas. “The Kansas described by L. Frank Baum,” Rushdie points out, “is a depressing place, in which everything is grey as far as the eye can see – the prairie is grey and so is the house in which Dorothy lives” (16). “The Kansas of the film,” he continues:
is a little less unremittingly bleak than the Kansas of the book, if only because of the introduction of the three farmhands and Professor Marvel—four characters who will find their “rhymes”, their counterparts, in the Three Companions of Oz and the Wizard himself. Then again, it is also more terrifying, because it adds a presence of real evil: the angular Miss Gulch, with a profile that could carve a joint, riding stiffly on her bicycle with a hat on her head like a plum pudding, or a bomb, and claiming the protection of the Law for her crusade against Toto. Thanks to Miss Gulch, the movie’s Kansas is informed not only by the sadness of dirt-poverty, but also by the badness of would-be dog murderers. (17)
Rushdie asks: “And this is the home that ‘there’s no place like’? This is the lost Eden that we are asked to prefer (as Dorothy does) in Oz?” (17). He emphatically says “no” to both of these questions. Instead, he insists that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz:
is unarguably a film about the joys of going away, of leaving the greyness and entering the colour, of making a new life in the “place where there isn’t any trouble.” “Over the Rainbow” is, or ought to be, the anthem of all the world’s migrants, all those who go in search of the place where “the dreams that you dare to dream really come true.” It is a celebration of Escape, a grand paean of the Unrooted Self, a hymn—the hymn—to Elsewhere. (23)
Vogue’s 2005 take on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz delivers a similar message. Styled by Grace Coddington and photographed by Annie Leibovitz, this photoshoot employs the same Technicolor palette as the classic 1939 film. Vogue’s Dorothy is portrayed by Keira Knightley, who famously played leading roles in several screen adaptations of literary classics, including Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (dir. Joe Wright, 2012), which was awarded an Oscar for its costumes by Jacqueline Durran. Durran followed the director’s suggestion that “the costumes should be 1870s in shape but have the architectural simplicity of the 1950s” (qtd. in Siemens, Street 10). The only instance when Durran remained faithful to Tolstoy was Anna’s black dress from a key scene in the novel. In Street Fashion Moscow, I cite Wim Wenders’ poetic passage on the “narrative power” of clothes:
A crispy ironed shirt!
A woman’s life her entire life showing the sufferings of a dress!
(qtd. in Siemens, Street 10)
I further refer to Anne Hollander’s Seeing Through Clothes, which discusses the relationship between “clothes in the works of art” and “clothes in real life” (qtd. in Siemens, Street 11). According to Hollander, “the way clothes strike the eye comes to be mediated by current visual assumptions made in pictures of dressed people” (qtd. in Siemens, Street 11). She points out that starting from the 20th century, cinema and photography have become dominant in providing inspiration and guidance for the way people dress.
Vogue’s savvy Wizard of Oz photoshoot similarly aims to inspire the reader, as well as sell fashion. In it, Dorothy wears designer clothes and a series of ruby slippers by, among others, Balenciaga, Oscar de la Renta, Rochas, Lanvin, and Chanel Haute Couture. Grace Coddington, then the Creative Director of Vogue, also enlisted a group of diverse contemporary artists, from Jasper Johns (best known for his iconic Flag paintings) to Jeff Koons (the author of monumental puppy sculptures and inflatable rabbits, featured more recently in Louis Vuitton’s 2017 fashion campaign), to take part in the shoot. Vogue leaves out the “greyness” of Dorothy’s family home in Kansas; instead, the campaign focuses exclusively on the brilliant Technicolor Land of Oz, where “the dreams that you dare to dream really come true.”
The Cosmos: Meteor 2016
The Cosmos: Meteor by John Fluevog can also be seen as a contemporary interpretation of the ruby slippers. The Meteor’s product description reads: “It’s not always easy to wish upon a falling star, but thanks to this Cosmos Family beauty, it’s easier than ever to walk up on one” (“Cosmos Meteor”). The Meteor was the “result of careful research into what a Mini design might look like after being sent to the moon and back” (“Cosmos Meteor”). Unlike the ruby slippers, which promise the wearer a safe return home, the Meteor celebrates the road as the destination itself. The opening spread of Fluevog Post from Spring/Summer 2016 announces: “Somewhere Out There: Staring This Spring: The Cosmos: Meteors” (Fluevog Post S/S 2016).
Reminiscent of Rushdie, Fluevog’s sensibility is characteristic of today’s mobile and unsettled world, where home/shelter is frequently a transient space, such as an airport, its vagabond dwellers forming, to borrow Benedict Anderson’s term, an “imagined community.” In The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton writes about the comfort he draws from visiting Heathrow airport:
When feeling sad at home, I have often boarded a train or airport bus and gone to Heathrow, where, from an observation gallery in Terminal 2 or from the top floor of the Renaissance Hotel along the north runway, I have drawn comfort from the sight of ceaseless landing and take-off of aircrafts. (35-36)
De Botton finds it “pleasant to hold in mind” that at any time, on some random afternoon “when lassitude and despair threaten, there is always a plane taking off for somewhere, for Baudelaire’s ‘Anywhere!’” (39). Baudelaire, by his own admission, “felt more at home in the transient places of travel than in his own dwelling” (qtd. in De Botton 35).
De Botton also references T. S. Eliot, who “proposed that Baudelaire had been the first nineteenth-century artist to give expression to the beauty of modern travelling places and machines” (qtd. in De Botton 35). According to Elliot, Baudelaire “invented a new kind of romantic nostalgia” – “the poésie des départs, the poésie des salles d’attente” (35). De Botton adds that the list can be extended to include “the poésie des station-service and the poésie des aéroports” (35).
Gucci in the Sky
“Today my favorite kind of atmosphere is the airport atmosphere,” Andy Warhol writes in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (160). He elaborates:
Airplanes and airports have my favorite kind of food service, my favorite kind of bathrooms, my favorite peppermint Life Savers, my favorite kind of entertainment, my favorite loudspeaker address system, my favorite conveyor belts, my favorite graphics and colors, the best security checks, the best views, the best perfume shops, the best employees, the best optimism. (160)
Warhol confesses: “The atmosphere is great, it’s the idea of flying that I question. […] I’m embarrassed that I don’t like to fly because I love to be modern, but I compensate by loving airports and airplanes so much” (160). More recently, the fashion brand Gucci has also professed its fascination with the atmosphere of air travel, or, more precisely, that of intergalactic voyages. Photographed by Glen Luchford, the brand’s Fall 2017 campaign GucciandBeyond “is placed in an intergalactic world inspired by sci-fi motifs from the 1950s and 1960s. The brand also took heavy inspiration from ‘Star Trek,’ recreating the show’s signature elements, like the Enterprise, its transporter and bridge for a Gucci’ed out Starfleet crew” (Bobila). Jonathan Ho’s review, titled “[Star Trek] Gucci Fall 2017 Campaign Goes Where No Fashion Brand Has Gone Before,” points out:
In Gucci’s vision of retro-future, one can be thankful that Seinfeld’s and Star Trek’s vision of the one-piece uniform with boots never comes to pass, instead, human characters togged out in a dazzling array of textures and colours which comprise of the Gucci Fall 2017 campaign greet extra-terrestrials and battle dinosaurs on Earth’s pre-history before being beamed up to psychedelic starship juxtaposes high fashion with sci-fi in a wild, never before seen fantastical composition which underscores how brilliant the commentary is. (Ho)
The review adds that Gucci’s campaign “begs you to take a leap to the fashion frontier, instead of exploring brave new worlds, it’s an exploration of adventurous sartorialism” (Ho)—a sentiment reminiscent of Andy Warhol, who preferred the airport atmosphere to flying (Ho). Gucci has continued its “exploration of adventurous sartorialism” with the Utopian Fantasy campaign (Spring/Summer 2018). For this equally over-the-top campaign mixing Renaissance art with Snow White, Gucci traded in “glossy photographs for digital paintings” by Spanish artist Ignasi Monreal (Urbina). In addition to producing recreations of the old masters, Monreal also starred in the dreamlike video for the aptly titled GucciHulluciantion campaign (Spring/Summer 2018). In contrast to Gucci’s enthusiastic use of digital technology, John Fluevog stubbornly continues to print his Fluevog Post (and other promotional paper products, such as postcards)—yet more evidence of the designer’s maverick stance.
Be Separate from the Crowd
Reminiscent in some aspects of Anderson’s “imagined communities,” style subcultures unite individuals (either within or outside national boundaries), who share common cultural and sartorial preferences. In his seminal work on style subcultures, Dick Hebdige focuses on:
the expressive forms and rituals of subordinate groups—the teddy boys and mods and rockers, the skinheads and the punks—who are alternately dismissed, denounced and canonized; treated at different times as threats to public order and as harmless buffoons. (Hebdige 431)
Inspired by Jean Genet’s The Thief’s Journal, Hebdige is “intrigued by the most mundane objects—a safety pin, a pointed shoe, a motor cycle—which, none the less, like the tube of vaseline [in Genet], take on a symbolic dimension, becoming a form of stigmata, tokens of a self-imposed exile” (431). Hebdige later realized that he “had underestimated the power of commercial culture to appropriate, and indeed, to produce counter-hegemonic styles” (Hebdige 429). The “market-savvy” punk exemplifies this particularly well (Hebdige 429).
The Wizard of Oz, and the ruby slippers in particular, have also been the subject of active commercial appropriation—by the film industry, fashion magazines, and various fashion brands, as well as individual designers. The Meteors by Fluevog present a different case, as they allude to the ruby slippers only indirectly: the shared reference to travelling beyond the imaginable, “somewhere over the rainbow.” John Fluevog, who frequently follows his personal preoccupations and discoveries, is best described as an auteur designer. For example, The Wearevers Danke shoes were first conceived in Berlin, where Fluevog was “mesmerized” by Berlin’s “burgeoning modern art,” and the city’s “ultra-functional urbanity” (“Wearevers Danke”). Inspired by Berlin’s architecture, Fluevog “drew up the designs for a simple, but functional chelsea bootie on the comfy custom molded Wearever sole” (“Wearevers Danke”). Each pair of Fluevog shoes comes in a soft cotton bag inscribed with the following advisory by John Fluevog:
Always hold on to the truth. Don’t let others sway your heart. Don’t compromise yourself for the sake of temporal grooviness. Be separate from the crowd that’s awash with normality by standing on a firm foundation. Never waver in your love or faith, and in all you do, please wear my shoes.
The MET’s volume on Fashion Is…, from which this essay derives its epigraph, contains “nearly two hundred definitions of fashion [pairing] simple descriptions with a range of costumes, artifacts, and works of art from the Metropolitan Museum’s encyclopedic collection, including The Costume Institute” (Tribble). The book’s preface points out:
The descriptions given are subjective observations that are open to discussion. Fashion is a ruffle, fashion is a crease. Fashion is for the head, fashion is for the feet. Fashion is denim, fashion is diamonds. Some of the responses speak to the technique, while others are descriptive and evocative. (Tribble)
This provocative volume solicits active participation: “Because fashion has no limits, readers are encouraged to react, to think, and to create their own definitions of “fashion” (Tribble). The book contains a number of definitions relevant to my essay: “fashion is fantasy,” “fashion is advertisement,” “fashion is photographed,” “fashion is illustrated,” “fashion is the past,” and “fashion is the future” (Tribble). In addition, my discussion of the ruby slippers’ head-spinning journey across time, space, and media suggests several other entries, such as: “fashion is the Yellow Brick Road,” “fashion is imagined,” “fashion is lived,” “fashion is air travel,” and “fashion is the Fluevog store on the rain-swept Granville Street in Vancouver.”
Anderson, Benedict. “Imagined Communities: Nationalism’s Cultural Roots.” The Cultural Studies Reader, edited by Simon During, Routledge, 2007, pp 253–263.
Botton, Alain De. The Art of Travel. Penguin Books, 2002.
Fluevog Post. John Fluevog Boots & Shoes LTD, Spring/Summer 2016, Print.
Hebdige, Dick. “Subculture and Style.” The Cultural Studies Reader, edited by Simon During, 3rd ed., Routledge, 2007, pp. 429–440.
Rushdie, Salman. The Wizard of Oz. British Film Institute, 1992.
Siemens, Elena. Street Fashion Moscow. Intellect, 2017.
Siemens, Elena. Theatre in Passing 2. Intellect, 2015.
Tribble, Mimi, editor. Fashion Is… Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014.
Warhol, Andy. The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: (from A to B and Back Again). Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975.
Wenders, Wim. Once: Pictures and Stories. Translated by Marion Kagerer, Schirmer/Mosel and D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, 2010.