When Audrey Hepburn first donned the kitten heel on the cinematic stage, the shoe’s identity became an extension of her own: demure, gamine, innocent. Hepburn’s association with the heel was a result of logistics—costume designer Edith Head simply needed to ensure the actress didn’t tower over co-star Humphrey Bogart in the 1954 classic Sabrina—but that didn’t stop it from hitting a pop-culture nerve as well. The kitten heel was embraced by a generation of women eager to shed the constraints of the sky-high pump. In the years since, the shoe’s appeal has remained much the same: It’s a more polished alternative to the flat, which has always lacked the sex appeal of the stiletto. The kitten heel’s staid reputation won’t plague it indefinitely though: The ladylike silhouette has undergone a perversion of late, which—like any story of a good girl gone bad—has ushered it right back into cultural relevance. Now, with designers turning the kitten on its head—swathing it in animal prints and neon, festooning it with dressmaker’s ribbon, spikes and fur—an altogether fiercer cat has emerged.
Main image: Blare 60 slingbacks, $750, JIMMY CHOO, jimmychoo.com. Mules, $665, BALENCIAGA, 212-206-0872.