The desert-brown python Brother Vellies boots, which were featured in the film “Queen & Slim,” aren’t just visually appealing. They have taken on a life of their own, outliving their time onscreen in the 2019 thriller-love story.
I should know. I’ve seen the film three times since its release, and each time the boots have continued to linger in my mind.
If you’re at home because of the coronavirus crisis, “Queen & Slim” is a good film to see for the first time or revisit for a fashion fix. (It’s available through various streaming platforms and on DVD.)
Actress Jodie Turner-Smith’s character, Queen, wears the midcalf gems during most of the film, which follows the character and her first-date-turned-lover (played by Daniel Kaluuya) as they run from the authorities after a self-defense shooting takes the life of a police officer.
First-time costume designer Shiona Turini received a Costume Designers Guild Award nomination this year for her work in “Queen & Slim,” which included an array of striking looks and shoes. (Sadly, Turini didn’t get an Oscar nomination in costume design.) However, the snakeskin boots were undoubtedly the most memorable part of the movie’s wardrobe.
Don’t believe me? A Twitter poll showed that students at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University voted the snakeskin boots, which Beyoncé wore to the film’s L.A. premiere, as one of their favorite characters in the film. (The boots tied with Queen in the poll.)
For Black History Month this year, Turini re-created a version of the standout boots in a collaboration withBarbie Style.
Since early February, the boots and costumes from “Queen & Slim” were on display in a costume exhibition at FIDM Museum in downtown Los Angeles. However, the museum is now closed because of the city’s coronavirus lockdown.
The Palms boot was designed by Aurora James, founder and creative director of Brother Vellies, a New York-based handbag and shoe label that emphasizes sustainability through traditional African design practices and techniques. (James was a winner of the 2015 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund along with womenswear designer Jonathan Simkhai and Rio Uribe of streetwear label Gypsy Sport.)
The boots, python print embossed on cow leather, were originally crafted by artisans in Ethiopia — a nonnegotiable standard for James, who strives to sustain artisanal jobs in African countries. The boots sell for $750 and have never been discounted. Their value is based on materials and fair labor practices, according to the Brother Vellies website.
James, who debuted the boots in 2018, said sales have spiked since the film release last year, and customers who visit her Brooklyn, N.Y.-based store often refer to the footwear as the “Queen & Slim” boots or the boots they saw Queen Bey post on Instagram.
Much like Dorothy’s ruby red slippers in the 1930s classic “The Wizard of Oz,” or the long trench coat featured in “Shaft,” Queen’s boots become an extension of the film. But they are more than that. They tell the story of black women.
“I think the boots have taken on a life of their own because they are provocative of a certain emotion,” said Shelby Ivey Christie, a New York-based fashion and costume historian, costume studies graduate student at New York University and former Vogue magazine digital marketer.
“It’s a certain sass and certain type of femininity and kind of empowerment that comes along with it too,” Christie said. “It’s such a bold pattern. And it’s textured and it’s gritty. And it’s all of these intersections of what black women are too. We’re not just one thing. [And] I feel like these boots capture that spirit.”
The boots make their first appearance in the film when Queen is in a frenzy. After an unexpected visit from a police officer at their stakeout location, she and Slim have to rush to get dressed and escape after suspicions arise of their whereabouts. Introduced in the film wearing a modest all-white ensemble, Queen opts for an Adam Selman mini-dress and those boots, setting up a pivotal turning point in the movie. It’s a look the sophisticated attorney wouldn’t have normally worn, but it, especially the boots, represents a shift in her personality. She’s coming out of her box and is — quite literally — stepping into someone else’s skin.
Snakeskin boots aren’t new to the fashion scene, and they arguably haven’t gone out of style. To Nick Verreos, a FIDM cochair and former “Project Runway” contestant, animal-print shoes are a common craze in the fashion industry, especially during colder seasons. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the snakeskin styles have been added to several fashion forecasts for 2020.
According to Verreos, there are two markers of statement-making costume design.
“If you don’t notice the costumes in a movie, then the costume designer has done their job because it just seems natural,” he said. “You don’t question that the person is a housewife or a secretary or whatever [the character is]. But a lot of times, I think it is necessary where the costumes do need to shout and do need to become their characters.”
“Queen & Slim” falls into the latter category.
“I think that when Beyoncé put the stamp on it,” Verreos said, “it put the exclamation point or the asterisk, like, ‘Yeah, girl, go get some.’ If Beyoncé does that, it’s official.”
As for the costumes, Queen’s outfit appeared on a dancer during Janelle Monáe’s opening performance at this year’s Oscars. It was a fitting nod to the film — and other black-centric movies, such as “Us” and “Dolemite Is My Name,” that didn’t receive nominations.
In the film, Queen wears the authentic heeled boots while driving hundreds of miles across the country on a nearly weeklong road trip, jumping from the window of a second-story home and running through different terrains. Although the boots may not appear to be the most practical, James said that they are the “most comfortable heels on the planet.”
James, whose celebrity clients include Meghan Markle, Solange and Zendaya, also understands that her boots have a bigger cultural significance than just being beautiful footwear.
“I think it’s very interesting that she chose to wear a heel,” said James, who started her brand in 2013, only making flats at the time. “My mom always said to me growing up that heels were created as a tool to oppress women and keep them from being able to run away. And I think the fact that Queen’s character is wearing heels in this movie while she’s running, to me, symbolizes the fact that even though people try to put constraints on us, we’re still taking them and running. And just because someone sets out to create something [to have a] negative intention, [it] doesn’t mean that we can’t change the narrative for that same object.”
Along with the Palms boots, other Brother Vellies shoes were featured in the film, including the glittery Holiday mules, the pink Palms pumps, which were worn by “Pose” star Indya Moore, and several cowboy boots.
Elaine Welteroth, James’ best friend, said she rejoiced when she saw the Brother Vellies footwear and pieces from other black designers on the big screen in “Queen & Slim.”
“It felt like a reclamation,” said the “Project Runway” judge and former editor in chief of Teen Vogue magazine. “I felt like we collectively as a culture are reclaiming and owning what makes our culture, our art and our beauty valuable. We’re telling our own stories. We’re putting our artists on. We don’t have to explain who we are.”
Turini wasn’t available for comment for this story. However, she told CR Fashion Book late last year that it was important for her to collaborate with black designers and creatives such as James, Harlem designer Dapper Dan, model Anais Mali and Diddy (founder of the Sean John label) for the film.
“It’s just really about truly developing characters and understanding who modern women are too,” James said. “Would it really make sense for a certain type of woman to be wearing a shoe from a designer that doesn’t care about her or doesn’t care about her rights or doesn’t care about her body or her personhood?”
That’s not how black women are consuming things anymore, James said. Not when it comes to boots — or blockbusters.