It's hard to describe if you've never been to Russia, because it's unlike anything else out there: Russian summer footwear. They're quite simply the ugliest, cheesiest, most ridiculous all-in-one shoe on planet earth: part-dress, part-sandal-casual, part-Party-Boss, part-Guido-if-Guido-still-worked-as-a-movie-theater-usher.
They are, in short, post-Soviet Russia's fashion tail-bone, the last vestige of Sovok remaining on Homo Russiaticus.
With mesh grill vents big enough to stick a 5-ruble coin through, there's no escaping the Summertime Cheese Vents. Russian men break them out right around the May Holidays, and only return them to their storage cabinets with great reluctance after September 1st, the day that Autumn officially starts in Russia, astronomy be damned.
So, where did the Cheese Vents originate?
We put on our anthropologist's thinking-khakis, and tracked down a fashion expert from Russian Glamour magazine to explain the phenomenon. Despite the fact that she's a fashion expert, she was stumped by the great Cheese Vent Mystery. So stumped that she asked that we not use her name.
"Who wears these shoes? Are you kidding? Only morons and idiots wear them!" she told us.
After some cajoling, she finally offered us a theory: the Cheese Vent style was a fashion accident that resulted from a typical Soviet fashion-vs.-production conundrum. How to appeal to a people who had just gone from serfdom to urbanized proletarian socialism? A serf only wanted practical tapochki or straw sandals; but the new urbanized proletariat wanted something more, something comfortable yet solidny.
That's when the folks in the Fashion Ministry came up an ingenious idea: take a pair of scissors to the existing Soviet dress shoe design, slash them full of vent grills, and thus was born the ultimate Sovok Fashion Statement: The Cheese Vent.
Despite the fact that Russian culture has been rapidly globalized, after 15 years of capitalism, the sovok summer shoe is still kicking it old skool. In fact, an impromptu eXile poll of stores showed that their popularity is growing, and so is their variety. No longer restricted to two or three styles, the summer shoe options are bigger than ever and priced to appeal to every socio-economic layer.
A salesgirl at Marko Belarusian Shoes in Kitai Gorod explained to the eXile, "These shoes are for people who want to be comfortable in the summer time. Some are more stylish and geared towards young people; others are for older people. It depends on what you're looking for."
But we still don't understand the "why" of it all.
After querying and polling, we can only refer back to the old poet's aphorism: "Russia cannot be understood by the mind, but only by the Cheese Vent." Amen.
The pakyet, murse and mis-matched socks complete the classic sovok look.
To really appreciate Cheese Vents, you have to start kids young.
A summer shoe is a perfect addition to a kepka-tabletka and murse.
Moscow Meets Milan: an upturned front grill gives this Cheese Vent style.
Old Skool: this Cheese Vent says, "I'd rather be in my Shawarma Shuttle."
Unexplained Mystery: why do so many Cheese Ventinistas carry pakyety?
The Good Life: pakyet in one hand, chick in the other, and Cheese Vents.
The missing link between lapty and Cheese Vents.
Stylish pakyet, stylish Cheese Vents: this is the Newly Resurgent Russia.
Nylon Bulgarian socks put the "mm" in "Summer Fashion."