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Nothing in the world seems certain—and this ambivalent mood includes shoes. Last spring, a clutch of mega menswear designers, including Dries Van Noten and Jil Sander, put out ballet flats, while Jonathan Anderson continues to reinvent the crunchy clog into something sublime. Some observers have predicted that this signals the demise of the sneaker, while others have pointed to the ascendance of the loafer. But in truth, it seems the world is at a shoe impasse. Anything goes, and yet nothing quite looks right.
Except for one shoe. This shoe is flexible. It is comfortable. It goes with everything.
It is a jazz shoe.
Repetto, the French ballet brand, first released the Zizi in the early 1970s, with an intended audience of dancers, who require flexible soft leather footwear for the technicalities of razzling and dazzling. It quickly became a favorite of Mick Jagger, who was then parading onstage with even more aplomb than the present day, and Serge Gainsbourg. For Gainsbourg, the Zizi was practically orthopedic. His then-partner, Jane Birkin, was trying to treat his “sensitive” trotters, as the New York Times once put it, by finding, in Birkin’s words, “gloves for his feet.” He found the answer in the Zizi, whose goatskin upper and performance-sole (as in…performing a dance) make it soft and malleable, but not flimsy. It’s like wearing a sock, but with more structure—and spiffiness. It’s a babouche with laces. Apparently, Gainsbourg went through 30 pairs a year until he died in 1991. Nearly every photograph of Gainsbourg wearing them shows them thrashed—the surest sign of a good shoe.
But you don’t need to be a dancer or a Broadway baron to wear one. The Zizi doesn’t just go with everything, as a good loafer does. It improves everything. It has the freedom of a sandal, the polish of an oxford, and the crispness of a sneaker. It looks rad with sweatpants (see: Mick Jagger dressed like an off-duty mime in “Start Me Up”), it looks cool with jeans (hat tip Serge!), and it looks awesome with a suit. (You might say suits with sneakers walked so that suits with Zizis could run. Slowly.) Unlike most non-sneaker shoes, they look even better dirty. They are the grace point between New Wave and New Age. They are so weird that you might end up inventing a whole new style around them, like when Jagger embraced football pants with fine Japanese performance outerwear in the 1980s and polished the look off nightly with Zizis.
And unlike most ballet slippers, which suggest delicate athleticism, the Zizi has a certain gravitas. The Zizi reminds you that dance shoes are designed to be beaten. I recently purchased a pair and didn’t even need the three-wears break-in period required by the world’s finer oxfords; instead, I stomped around all day on a weekend like I was trouncing across a bed of stratus clouds. If you’re looking to stun your pedometer into a sort of post-vaccination trance this spring and summer, the Zizi is your ideal running mate.