It has been repeated many times that Roger Vivier designed the shoes worn by Queen Elizabeth for her Coronation in 1953. Although he designed sandals for the event, the shoes were not worn by Queen Elizabeth nor even made at the time. Vivier’s design was purely intended for self-promotion – something at which Vivier has proven to be even better than shoe design.
Roger Vivier is more of a mystery than most fashion histories reveal. To begin with, his birth date varies between 1907 and 1911, and his curriculum vitae before 1953 is sketchy, made up mostly of freelance design work for various shoe companies and designers, including the American shoe firm of Delman, the Swiss shoe firm of Bally, and the French couturier Schiaparelli. There was also a brief stint when he worked as a milliner in New York in the mid 1940s.
1953 was the turning point in Vivier’s life. The sketch he did of a pair of sandals encrusted with rubies and diamonds for the Queen’s Coronation was mistakenly reported as having been made for the Coronation – a misconception Vivier never corrected. The thought of the queen wearing a pair of shoes designed by a Frenchman using real jewels, when the English people were still subject to postwar meat and sugar rationing is tantamount to a Marie Antoinette bread recipe. The big spend was on the coronation dress by English-born designer Norman Hartnell – heavily embroidered with gilt thread, crystals, sequins and beads but not rubies and diamonds.
Never-the-less, the royal design propelled Vivier’s name and that same year he was hired to make a line of shoes for Delman in the U.S., and later, a line for Dior, via Delman. From this opportunity Vivier began creating an exclusive line for Dior in 1955, which bore Vivier’s name on the label alongside Dior’s, and from 1955 to 1962, when Vivier left Dior to work on his own, Vivier’s shoes became famous for their luxurious embellishment and innovative heel designs. Although these attention grabbing bespoke designs appeared in magazine pages, few were ever ordered. The vast majority of VIvier’s shoes were ready-to-wear and plain.
As for the Queen, considering the amount of preparation she did and precautions she took to avoid any potential problems at the coronation (including wearing the crown around Buckingham Palace for weeks before the coronation) it seems unlikely that she would even consider wearing high heeled shoes under the long, full dress that entirely hid her feet. In a recent discussion I had with Alexandra Kim, a former curator at Kensington Palace, Kim said: “there are no surviving (coronation) shoes that they know of and no record of them being Vivier… it seems highly unlikely that the queen would wear the shoes of a French shoemaker for this event and I also think that she might have chosen more comfortable/practical shoes for an event which was long, with a heavy crown to worry about and shoes that wouldn’t be seen.”