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[whitespace] Dressed to be Killed: The Vivienne Westwood shoe that threw Naomi Campbell for a loop.

Haute Risk

Clothes that give new meaning to the phrase 'to die for'

By Sara Mueller

Naomi Campbell had it easy. Although the supermodel may consider the day she lost her balance in 8-inch platforms and fell off the Vivienne Westwood runway to be a career lowlight, at least she didn't get seriously hurt. Platform shoes and other impractical fashion must-haves have left more than a few real-life fashion victims maimed or killed. But we'll be damned if we let that keep us from trying to look hot.

From foot binding to stilettos, shoes have been a major cause of disfigurement and discomfort for centuries. In Japan, there has been recent talk of banning the wearing of the popular ultra-high platform shoes while driving following a rash of auto deaths by women who were "driving while stylish." The five to eight inches of foam, wood, cork or other sole material leaves the driver's foot so removed from the pedals that the gas pedal is often mistaken for the brake, resulting in a glamorous car wreck. One platform-wearing Japanese nursery-school teacher fell over, cracked her skull and died. Emma Bunton (a.k.a. Baby Spice, whose last name too closely resembles "bunion" for me not to mention it) sprained her ankle in her signature elevated soles. Injuries related to tall shoes run the gamut from dislocated knees to strained back muscles.

Let's not forget the other fashion article that we trip ourselves to get into (literally): ultra-wide bell-bottoms. Bell-bottom blunder stories include getting the cuff caught in everything from bicycle and motorcycle mechanisms to elevator doors. I'll never forget the day I was soaking up some sun on my college campus, when a trio of Long Island girls sauntered by me toward the library. They wore identical uniforms of white sneakers with elevated soles, ultra-tight jeans with big flares, and tight white Bebe T-shirts that accentuated their MTV Spring Break tans. To my amusement, one of them, smiling coyly at a frat boy and trying to look sexy, stepped on the cuff of one of her friend's jeans and tripped her. The girl desperately flailed on her way down, clutching the DKNY shoulder bag of the girl next to her. After a moment of slow-motion screeching "OH MOY GAAAAWD!," the three mouseketeers landed in a tangled heap on the concrete.

Long, dangling accessories have always held an element of danger as well. Isadora Duncan, the renowned dancer and San Francisco native, is the most famous fatality. She died the way she lived--in vogue. With a dapper escort at her side, Isadora's luxurious long red scarf got entangled in the wheel of a convertible as she rode through the south of France. She was strangled to death. Quel tragedy!

There is a modern-day version of this tale: shopping at a posh department store a woman was trailing a bit of her pashmina shawl and it got caught in the escalator. Ignoring the pleas of those around her to just let the escalator eat the damn thing up, she stubbornly tugged and tried to cajole the shawl out of the metal teeth. She was on her hands and knees, screaming for someone to turn off the escalator rather than sacrifice her stylish wrap. Finally a store manager raced over and yanked the shawl so hard it tore in half, leaving our style maven unscathed. Another moment and her perfect patrician nose would have been mangled by the escalator teeth. The hero received no thanks, just a barrage of beratement and a demand that he replace her precious pashmina tout de suite.

Terrifying as these stories are, it's doubtful they will serve as a deterrent from the pursuit of style perfection. Certainly Naomi and Isadora would agree that, in the battle for the height of fashion, there's bound to be a casualty or two along the way.

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From the April 17, 2000 issue of the Metropolitan.

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