The 5 worst shoes for your feet that *aren’t* high heels, according to a podiatrist

I used to wear heels almost every day, until things like bills and meal prep and burnout became my real life. And while I’ve always known that heels are among the worst shoes for your feet (something to save for very special occasions), apparently there are a few less obvious choices that podiatrists don’t recommend either.

a person standing in front of a brick wall: worst shoes for your feet

For the sake of your feet, Miguel Cunha, DPM, founder of Gotham Footcare, would like you to stay away from five specific shoe styles. What better way to usher in Sad Girl Fall (is that what we’re calling it?) than with a list of things you can’t have? It’s a mood.

The worst shoes for your feet, according to a foot doctor

1. Slides

Dr. Cunha says to avoid slide shoes that are completely flat, because they don’t give your feet any support and can lead to “pronation and collapse of the arch”—which can lead to other bad things like shin splints, knee pain, and back pain. If you do wear a slide, he recommends choosing one with a wedge that’s 3/4-inch tall because it will place less tension on your Achilles heel.

2. Sock sneakers

TBH I am not mad to see sock sneakers make this list, because I am not a fan. Basically, sock sneakers may feel super comfy but, according to Dr. Cunha, “they are not advisable shoes because they provide no support to the top and outside of your foot which can easily lead to an ankle sprain.”

3. Slingback flats

“This shoe is an upgrade from a slide shoe only because it has a sling back that adds some support to the ankle,” Dr. Cunha says. “Shoes with ankle straps help support the shoe on the foot and eliminates the need for your toes to hang onto the shoe thus reducing the development of hammertoes.” Sounds good, right? Wrong. While marginally better than a slide, slingback flats are also, well, flat which can lead to the same arch issues.

4. Western cowboy boots

“This is not the natural shape of the foot so the big toe is going to exacerbate a bunion, cause hammertoes and irritate neuromas,” Dr. Cunha says. You may be thinking, How can I keep my Free People-catalog aesthetic without my cowboy boots? (No? Just me?) Dr. Cunha says to choose a pair of cowboy boots with a square or wide toe box.

5. Ankle boots with stilettos

“The higher the heel, the shorter strides, which means more pressure is placed on the balls of your feet. This throws off your center of gravity putting unneeded and unnecessary stress on your knees and lower back,” according to Dr. Cunha. (You can also file this under “advice I plan to ignore even though I know I shouldn’t,” a frequent theme of my life.) Ankle boots with chunky heels are fine, though, so long as they aren’t over 1.5 inches.

a person in a blue shirt: After a long day exploring a new city or a strenuous sweat session at the gym, you can pretty much expect your feet to feel like they're on fire when you finally get a chance to sit down. However, if you're at a desk at work all day and somehow still find yourself dealing with aching feet, there could be bigger issues brewing—ones that may even require a podiatrist appointment to sort out. If your feet are aching on a regular basis, keep reading to learn about some of the most common causes of foot pain. And for more medical mysteries explained, This Is What Your Chest Pains Really Mean.

The Best Running Shoes for Every Budget

Running sneakers on a colorful background

The great thing about running, in addition to the fact that it keeps you in shape and helps you live longer, is that participating requires very little equipment. A decent pair of shorts and a good sneaker, really, are all you need to qualify as good to go.

Picking very best running shoes for you, though, can seem like an arduous task. The market is gigantic, and one estimate pins it at a cool $13 billion. Its offerings come in all shapes and sizes, and are designed for different widths, tastes, and foot types—and, of course, budgets. Thus, to help you sort through this ever-expanding universe, we’ve gone through and selected the best running sneakers at every price point.

A word to the wise: Before you buy the cheapest option—which are great performers!—without reading any further, pause. If you’re okay spending $100 every year on NFL RedZone but won’t invest in your feet, it might be time to re-evaluate your priorities.

Under $90

New Balance Fresh Foam Arishi V2

Available in eight different colorways, the sneaker is made with the brand’s signature Fresh Foam, a single piece that provides a more cozy, natural feeling underfoot.

New Balance Fresh Foam Arishi V2 sneaker

New Balance Fresh Foam Arishi V2 sneaker

New Balance

Buy Now

Asics Gel Scram

I remember the first time someone told me that I should have different sneakers for different activities, like running and CrossFit and cross-training. At the time, I thought it was crazy (and expensive). But your foot demands different support for different things, and the Gel Scram is especially great for running trails—a grippy material on the sole, for example, will help you cruise over small rocks and other obstacles.

Asics Gel Scram sneaker

Asics Gel Scram sneaker


Buy Now

$90 to $110

Brooks Revel 3

This shoe comes with an inner bootie that surrounds your foot in coziness. Some colorways are versatile enough for occasional street-to-office wear, if you’re into that whole Silicon Valley look.

Brooks Revel 3 sneaker

Brooks Revel 3 sneaker


Buy Now

Altra Superior 4

Originally built in the Utah mountains, Altra shoes have a foot-shaped toe box, meaning that there’s a solid amount of room for the swelling that happens naturally when you spend more time on your feet. Another trail pick, this sneaker comes with lugs—small nubs located on the bottom beneath the toes, which provide a better push with each step.

Altra Superior 4 sneaker

Altra Superior 4 sneaker


Buy Now

$110 to $130

Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 36

If you trust only The Swoosh when it comes to athletic sneakers, the Pegasus is a fine choice. Arguably the best iteration of this shoe to date, the Peg 36 uses a thin tongue to reduce bulk. Exposed Flywire on the sides keeps you feeling locked and loaded.

Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 36 sneaker

Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 36 sneaker


Buy Now

Saucony Guide ISO

If you suffer from pronation and need a stability shoe, this could be the sneaker for you. If you’re not sure what anything in the previous sentence means, visit a specialty sneaker shop and hop on a treadmill, where an expert can take a look at how your foot hits the ground in your stride.

One note, though: At the end of the day, how a sneaker feels might matter more than what a sneaker is “designed” to do. According to a June 2013 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, runners faced the same risk of injury regardless of whether they used a shoe built for their specific gait. In other words, if a sneaker is comfortable, wear it.

Saucony ISO sneaker

Saucony ISO sneaker


Buy Now

Asics DynaFlyte

This is my personal Goldilocks sneaker as a seven-time marathoner, and I’ve recommended it to a slew of runners before. The Dynaflyte is lightweight, has a plush, comfortable footbed, and can be worn for everything from speedwork to a marathon.

Asics Dynaflite sneaker

Asics Dynaflite sneaker


Buy Now

Under Armour HOVR Infinite

This sneaker is built to log serious miles. With a solid layer of their signature Hovr foam in the midfoot, it has the cushioning a lot of runners look for when it comes to marathon training. Plus, if you want to geek out on data, the Infinite has a Bluetooth-enabled sensor embedded in the midsole to track your distance and speed using Under Armour’s MapMyRun app.

product image

Under Armour HOVR Infinite sneaker

Under Armour

Buy Now

$140 to $200

Reebok Floatride Fast

If you’ve never tried wearing a light shoe to run fast, you’re missing out. This model has high energy return—which means you’ll feel bouncy—and super-soft heel cushioning. A solid pick for anyone hoping to channel their inner Usain Bolt.

Reebok Floatride Fast sneaker

Reebok Floatride Fast sneaker


Buy Now

HOKA Bondi 6

Ah, the big daddy. The HOKA Bondi 6 is a lot of shoe, and may take a moment to get used to. If you associate distance running with complaining about achy knees, though, this might help.

HOKA Bondi 6 sneaker

HOKA Bondi 6 sneaker


Buy Now

Adidas Ultraboost

Adidas Ultraboost sneaker

Adidas Ultraboost sneaker


Buy Now

Equipped with a knit upper that fits like a second skin, giving the wearer the flexibility to move in all planes of motion. It also looks alright with office jeans, if you buy the right colorway.

$250 and Up

Nike Next %

The newest update to Nike’s Vaporfly family, the NEXT is a lighter, foamier shoe than the Vaporfly 4%, and is made specifically with racing in mind. (Hey, we said every price point.)

Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT sneaker

Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT sneaker


Designer watch: the names to look out for this season

Top, £180, and trousers, £280, by Rahemur Rahman. Styling: Melanie Wilkinson. Photography: David Newby. Grooming: Shukeel Murtaza at Frank using Bumble and bumble and Delilah Blakeney using Kiehl’s. Stylist’s assistant: Peter Bevan. Model Kesse at Premier

Top, £180, and trousers, £280, by Rahemur Rahman. Styling: Melanie Wilkinson. Grooming: Shukeel Murtaza at Frank using Bumble and bumble and Delilah Blakeney using Kiehl’s. Stylist’s assistant: Peter Bevan. Model Kesse at Premier. Photography: David Newby

Made in Bangladesh

Rahemur Rahman’s chat is rapid. He has a lot of ideas and talks quickly to cram them all in. Hailed as a breakout star from London fashion week men’s, his naturally dyed, organic fabrics, and the jackets and trousers he tailors them into, are winning the 28-year-old fans from the UK to LA.

Rahman’s road hasn’t always run smoothly. At school, he felt like a misfit: “They all came from a Bangladeshi community and I grew up in Millwall [where his parents settled when they came from Bangladesh in the 80s], which was predominantly white.”

He found his way to Central Saint Martins via a youth arts organisation, and at first his work “rarely touched on my culture”, inspired instead by “the London scene I grew up in – grime music, the contrast between rich and poor in Canary Wharf, the history of Brick Lane and tailoring”. But when Rana Plaza happened, Rahman had “an awakening” and became set on creating designs that spoke to the craft and heritage of his parents’ homeland. Inspiration comes from the mishmash that is his dad’s personal style, with a colour palette taken from old family photographs.

Last year, he took his first ever trip to Dhaka – “I was like, mind blown,” he says. He now markets his brand as made in Bangladesh: “The textiles are made there and I’m made there, too.” EVB

The big easy

Serena Bute’s louche clothes may be airport style goals, but people will, she hopes, “do more than travel in them. Go to lunch, to yoga, dress them up for dinner.” Versatility and ease are key to an eponymous collection that can be worn by Bute, by her kids, her mother and, of course, by you. EVB

Serena Bute’s clothes for every occasion.
 Serena Bute’s clothes for every occasion. Photograph: Serena Bute

Patchworks at Coach

Sometimes the finest ideas are staring you in the face – something certainly true of Coach creative director Stuart Vevers’ AW19 stimuli. He was inspired to work with legendary textile designer Kaffe Fassett when he plucked one of Fassett’s books from his shelf. “The best collaborations are the ones that are personal, with great creatives who bring something different to the table,” enthuses Vevers, who incorporated Fassett’s colour-pop prints and patchworked blooms into leather donkey coats, dipped-hem dresses and Lurex sweaters. With both men influenced by the American west coast, the juxtaposition of homespun and haute results in a textural feast. SC

A Coach jumper produced in collaboration with Kaffe Fassett in their autumn/winter 2019 show.
 A Coach jumper produced in collaboration with Kaffe Fassett in their autumn/winter 2019 show. Photograph: Isidore Montag/Coach & Kaffe Fassett Collective

Hail, hail rock’n’roll

Bottega Veneta’s creative director Daniel Lee is to 2019 what Gucci’s Alessandro Michele was to 2016. If that doesn’t mean much to you, suffice to say he’s this year’s most hyped man in fashion. The 32-year-old Brit, a former Phoebe Philo protege at Celine, started the year by teasing an ad campaign that saw Philo worshippers immediately herald him as the natural successor to her understated minimalism. For autumn, however, he confounded expectations with a collection that combined men’s and womenswear, and added far more rock’n’roll swagger than the upscale normcore look Philo fans would have expected. Tailored pencil dresses, motorbike trousers and belted, oversized coats came in leather of all finishes – from a cushioned version of the label’s signature Intrecciato weave to an open loop design similar to chainmail. The shoes and the bags were instant hits.

“I haven’t felt like this in years!” said influencer and shoe enthusiast Sandra Hagelstam on her Instagram account as she posted a picture of five box-fresh pairs of slip-on square-toe heels. The outerwear items will no doubt be hit items when temperatures drop. With waiting lists already amassed for much of this inaugural collection, let the Lee effect commence. SC

Coat, £8,440, parka, £1,595, and pumps, £610, by Bottega Veneta.Styling: Melanie Wilkinson. Hair Chris Gatt using Bumble and bumble Makeup Annelie Byström at House of Juba using Nars Model Agostina at Wild. Photography: David Newby
 Coat, £8,440, parka, £1,595, and pumps, £610, by Bottega Veneta. Styling: Melanie Wilkinson. Hair: Chris Gatt using Bumble and bumble. Makeup: Annelie Byström at House of Juba using Nars. Model: Agostina at Wild. Photography: David Newby

What every modern human wants

Nanushka has won over its female fanbase with its vegan leather and super-sleek silhouettes, but this season it’s widening its horizon to menswear. “It was always there in the back of my mind,” says Sandra Sandor, who founded the Budapest-based brand in 2006. “I was just waiting for the right time to launch it.” The transition should be a smooth one: the cut of signature pieces has always been unisex, and a recent overhaul has seen Nanushka enjoy the hype of a new label, with Yara Shahidi, Sienna Miller and Hailey Bieber all fans.

Echoing its promise to deliver “a modern, versatile, day-to-night wardrobe for the modern human”, Sandor says she wants “to explore the fluid relationship between men and women, creating a genderless wardrobe with pieces that are beautiful but functional”. The new collection features relaxed suiting, workwear-inspired shackets and a good line in wide-leg trousers, peppered with paisley prints and a pastel palette. “Inclusive and effortlessly modern is the best way to describe it,” Sandor says. SC

Jacket, £605, jumper, £310, and trousers, £260, by Nanushka.Styling: Melanie Wilkinson. Grooming: Delilah Blakeney using Kiehl’s. Stylist’s assistant: Peter Bevan. Model: Enno at Milk. Photography: David Newby
 Jacket, £605, jumper, £310, and trousers, £260, by Nanushka. Styling: Melanie Wilkinson. Grooming: Delilah Blakeney using Kiehl’s. Stylist’s assistant: Peter Bevan. Model: Enno at Milk. Photography: David Newby

Second helpings

New womenswear brand Ssōne puts an emphasis on organic cottons, reduced water usage and the “humanitarian side of working in fashion”. It is important to founder Caroline Smithson that as much work by hand as possible goes into the brand’s clothes – but that it doesn’t come across “too make-your-own-yoghurt”.

Shunning the seasonal model, Ssōne instead hopes to develop a kind of uniform. The aesthetic is utilitarian with moments of romance – Smithson is inspired by 70s feminists “who were super-glamorous, but wearing overalls and picketing”. And designers may well use their leftovers on their clothes: one jumper has been naturally dyed using everything from foraged nettles to avocado stones from the team’s lunches. It looks good enough to eat. EVB

A look by Ssōne for autumn/winter 2019.
 A look by Ssōne for autumn/winter 2019. Photograph: Ssōne

Nigeria, Naomi and more

When Naomi Campbell walked in little-known Nigerian designer Kenneth Ize’s AW19 show, he was little known no longer. “Everything is always Naomi’s idea,” Ize says. “We love her for her support.”

The attention, if sudden, is a long time coming. Lagos-based Ize (pronounced e-zay) has been honing his craft since he started his eponymous menswear brand in 2015 after studying at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna under Bernhard Willhelm and Hussein Chalayan. Championing Nigerian craftsmanship, Ize uses local weavers to make the fabric for his multicoloured suiting, hoping to redefine luxury and shine a light on the country.

“There is an increased awareness of the nuances of Nigerian fashion,” says Ize, who caught the eye of this year’s Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH) prize judges. “Younger designers are finding ways of reinterpreting this heritage and increasing its exposure, and I am very excited to be part of it.” SC

Model Selene Naomie wears matching top and bottoms by Keith Ize.
 Model Selene Naomie wears matching top and bottoms by Keith Ize. Photograph: Ordre

Heaven for leather

Effortless, intelligent, liberated, political, sexual: that’s how Lulu Kennedy, founder of new talent initiative Fashion East, describes designer Mowalola Ogunlesi. Let us add one more: brave. In the last year, the Nigerian-born, Surrey-raised designer left Central Saint Martins mid-MA to get to the frontline of fashion her own way, designing clothes for Skepta to wear in a video and kitting out the likes of the Nigerian football team after gaining notoriety with her BA collection.

The Mowalola brand celebrates what the designer has called “fluid masculinity”, with hand-painted leathers her MO. No wonder Kennedy nabbed her for Fashion East’s AW19 show – Ogunlesi’s catwalk debut. “Her singular vision comes from her heart,” Kennedy says. “She’s the punk queen and inspiration we all need.” SC

A model wearing Mowalola’s autumn/winter collection on the catwalk at the Fashion East show during London fashion week.
 A model wearing Mowalola’s autumn/winter collection on the catwalk at the Fashion East show during London fashion week. Photograph: Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Real life, but better

What do you get when one of fashion’s favourite style curators teams up with a brilliant business brain and a talented designer? Deveaux New York. Not to be confused with the world’s oldest leather goods brand Delvaux, the label, founded by Matthew Breen and Andrea Tsao in 2016, brought street-style photographer Tommy Ton on board as creative director in 2018. Ton’s photography was a major instigator of the fashion industry’s current obsession with street style, so who better to consult on what the brand calls “street style reimagined”?

The result – a mix of cashmere crew-neck jumpers, double placket shirts and tailored “architect trousers” – pricked the interest of which is stocking the brand for AW19. “The team have told me how they always consider the ‘real life’ factor – they wear the samples to see if they work on the morning commute and they’ll wash pieces, walk their dogs in them and so on,” says Damien Paul, head of menswear. “This allows them to develop a fairly minimal aesthetic but create best-in-class product.” SC

Shirt, £417, waistcoat, £1,028, and trousers, £575, by Deveaux New York. Styling: Melanie Wilkinson. Hair: Shukeel Murtaza at Frank using Bumble and bumble. Makeup: Alexis Day at Premier using Niod and Mavala. Stylist’s assistant: Peter Bevan. Model: Cindy at Milk. Getty Images. Photography David Newby
 Shirt, £417, waistcoat, £1,028, and trousers, £575, by Deveaux New York. Styling: Melanie Wilkinson. Hair: Shukeel Murtaza at Frank using Bumble and bumble. Makeup: Alexis Day at Premier using Niod and Mavala. Stylist’s assistant: Peter Bevan. Model: Cindy at Milk. Getty Images. Photography David Newby

In the club

You, like 994k people on Instagram, might well have heard of Peggy Gou – the South Korean DJ sensation who plays to sell-out crowds from Berlin to Rimini – but for music, rather than fashion. This season sees Gou branch out and launch her clothing label Kirin, named after the Japanese word for her favourite animal, the giraffe. All head-to-toe prints, athleisure accents and jolty colour palettes, it was launched at Paris fashion week in February and smacks of the energy she emits from the DJ box – as well as what she herself wears for those gigs.

“Peggy’s own style embodies the mood and direction our customer is interested in right now,” says Sebastian Manes, buying and merchandising director at Selfridges, where Kirin is stocked for AW19. Like Gou’s career up till now, the brand is set to go stratospheric. This is partly thanks to a deal with New Guards Group, the conglomerate that launched Virgil Abloh’s Off-White, among others. Kirin came into being after the New Guards founders approached Gou at – where else? – a gig. It’s this connection to the party scene that Manes says makes Kirin more than a celebrity label. “[She] is uniquely placed to bring together club culture and high fashion through design [as well as] a global perspective and network.” SC

Jumper, £558, trousers, £432, and scarf, £311, by Kirin, from Boots, £695, by A Plan Application. Styling: Melanie Wilkinson. Hair: Chris Gatt using Bumble and bumble. Makeup: Annelie Byström at House of Juba using Dermalogica. Model: Hope at Bookings. Photography: David Newby
 Jumper, £558, trousers, £432, and scarf, £311, by Kirin, from Boots, £695, by A Plan Application. Styling: Melanie Wilkinson. Hair: Chris Gatt using Bumble and bumble. Makeup: Annelie Byström at House of Juba using Dermalogica. Model: Hope at Bookings. Photography: David Newby

Bellissima! Italy’s fashion gets real

The Italian look – either power dressing or power glamour, right? Not any more. A new generation are finding their power by revisiting traditional craftsmanship and adopting a more conscious approach.

In Milan, Sunnei designers Loris Messina and Simone Rizzo use their brand to bring together creative communities (its last menswear show was staged in an urban regeneration project it funded on the outskirts of Milan), working with artists, musicians and charities on its critically acclaimed collections. Further south, Giuliva Heritage Collection, run by husband and wife Margherita Cardelli and Gerardo Cavaliere, champions the lost art of traditional Italian tailoring, designed from Rome, where they will open their first shop next month. “Special talents need to be nurtured as they define a nation,” Cardelli says. “It’s our duty to keep alive this great Italian talent.”

Meanwhile the collective Legres, launching on this month, is using Italian craftsmen and women to create its “minimalist nonconformist” footwear.

The common thread with this Italian new wave? Authenticity. “Being totally transparent is something truly inspirational,” Cardelli says.“Our approach to life reflects what we do.” SC

Designs from the Giuleva Heritage collection, a label based in Rome
 Designs from the Giuleva Heritage collection, a label based in Rome Photograph: Giuleva Heritage Collection


Chinese designer blames Trump’s tariff war for denied visa

I Love Pretty designer Yang Xiaojuan and her husband, actor Ray Lui Leung-wai

There’s always Fashion Week drama, but we don’t remember a trade war being the cause of it before.

Fashion functionaries fear that President Trump‘s tariff battle with China could interfere with September’s Fashion Week — which is increasingly attracting Chinese designers — after a Chinese designer and her entire staff were denied visas to come to New York for their shows.

Xiaojuan Yang, designer of the I Love Pretty line, applied for a B1 business visa at the American consulate in Guangzhou, China, but was summarily turned down. Said an insider, “No particular reason was given. [She was just] given a paper in Chinese saying that her motive to visit the US is not in compliance with visa regulation.” They added, “the whole interview took less than three minutes. The officer just saw the passport and invitation letter, and rejected her.”

As well as Yang, her design assistant, her p.r. assistant, a translator and her VIP guests were also refused visas. Since Yang has had no problems getting visas for the other global fashion capitals — London, Paris and Milan — the team suspects that the bad blood between the US and China could be to blame. “Under the current relationship between Trump and China, she feels that it has impacted her business and [she’s] being a victim of this trade-war drama.” They added, “If the USA is not welcoming international visitors coming for business anymore, then we will surely find other more accommodating places to show the collection.”

The show will go on without Yang, who has entrusted proceedings to her fashion consultant from Milan, Meng Ji, and Kelly Cutrone of People’s Revolution. It’s scheduled for Sept. 6 at Spring Studios. An official from US Citizenship and Immigration Services said it “does not comment on individual cases.” The State Department also declined to comment.


From ball pits to water slides: the designer who changed children’s playgrounds for ever

Before he built the world’s greatest playground and transformed the world of children’s design, Eric McMillan had spent little time thinking about how kids played. In 1971, the 29-year-old English immigrant was a design consultant living in Toronto, Canada – a sleepy city whose nickname “Toronto the Good” both referenced the place’s lingering Victorian moral rectitude and seemed to set a hard ceiling on its expectations for greatness. It would never be Toronto the exceptional, and the locals seemed content with that.

McMillan’s job was to design an exhibition for a massive new waterfront park called Ontario Place, whose somewhat unpromising theme was the glorious past and thrilling future of the province of Ontario. The architect Eberhard Zeidler had created a series of artificial islands and “pods” that stuck out of the water of Lake Ontario, skewered by columns like olives in a martini. The question of what to do with these architectural wonders, however, seemed to come second. “Now we had to think up a great idea for what to do with our island,” wrote Zeidler in his autobiography, Building Cities Life. “We thought we might have a nature reserve on them, but this was a short-lived dream because the wild animals could easily escape.”

Children’s Village at Ontario Place, Toronto, in 1976.
 Children’s Village at Ontario Place, Toronto, in 1976. Photograph: City of Toronto Archives

When the park opened in summer 1971, while visitors were awed by the park’s self-flushing toilets and Imax movies, one oversight quickly became clear: there wasn’t enough for kids to do. When the park decided to remedy that by building an area devoted to children for the following year, its director, James Ramsay, turned to McMillan.

The designer was lanky and outspoken, a wild-eyed Englishman with the accent and mannerisms of one of Monty Python’s more unhinged characters. He’d been responsible for the park’s most successful exhibition that year – a multimedia tour through the province’s history called Explosions – but he’d never built anything for children. During a meeting with Ramsay, McMillan remembers his boss asking for his opinion on the park. McMillan didn’t hesitate. “I think it’s boring,” he said. “Well, what would you do?” asked Ramsay. “I don’t know,” said McMillan. “Give me two weeks.”

McMillan huddled with his assistant, David Lloyd, and when they returned it was with a series of sketches for a playscape unlike any seen before. Children’s Village would be a massive success. It would launch McMillan’s career. It would sit at the centre of kid-life for a generation of Torontonians and, briefly, promise to revolutionise the way the world plays.

“I thought it was just another job,” says McMillan today. Ramsay thought differently. “He told me: ‘This is going to make you famous.’”

The playground is a curious creation. The first one in North America was a simple pile of sand in Boston’s north end, installed in 1885 by female philanthropists who wanted to give poor immigrant children a place to play and, crucially, a means to assimilate to American society. That push and pull, between providing children with autonomy and controlling them, has been at the heart of playground design ever since. They are places to expand children’s imaginations while constraining their physical bodies. “Playgrounds are places made by adults, for children, always with the hope of harnessing their play to a specific location,” writes Alexandra Lange in her book The Design of Childhood.

Eric McMillan at Children’s Village in 1973.
 Eric McMillan at Children’s Village in 1973. Photograph: Dick Loek/Toronto Star/Getty

In theme parks, where the prerequisites of play meet the demands of capitalism, the balance between stimulating a child’s creativity and keeping them in control becomes more wobbly. Parks in the Disneyland mould are, above all, about managing the play of children, moving them along efficiently, safely and profitably. The equipment is to be used in a specific way, with no latitude for experimentation. The modern theme park seems to apportion its share of imagination in a perverse way, offering boundless creativity to its designers while leaving little scope for the children themselves.

McMillan wasn’t interested in controlling kids. In designing Children’s Village, his driving philosophy was simple: “What would I, as a child, like to do?” But his conception of what a child might like to do was shaped by a childhood so full of Dickensian deprivation and casual violence that the idea of transplanting that experience to quiet 1970s Toronto is impossible to imagine.

In McMillan’s account of his life – a mixture of fact and family mythology that is difficult to untangle – he was stillborn during the bombing of Sheffield during the second world war and revived by a nurse, and from there life only got harder. “Lots of violence, lots of drinking, lots of poverty,” is his summary.

As a child, McMillan was often hungry and nearly always dirty. For a time, his family lived in the shadow of the Manchester prison called Strangeways. They were desperate enough that, one cold winter, his uncle and father broke into the prison to steal coal. He was constantly moving from rooming house to rooming house, school to school. His father was a day labourer, when he had work. On weekends, he would put on his one good suit and play piano in local pubs, earning as much in a single night as he would in a week, before drinking it all away.

The other side of a childhood of neglect is absolute freedom. “My early memories were just being like a dog, let out in the mornings and let in at night,” says McMillan. In those early years, he would play in the rubble of bombed-out buildings, clambering over the ruins, playing violent games with bricks, building paper airplanes out of the pages of discarded books. There were no restraints, no control.

One of Eric McMillan’s playground concepts
 One of Eric McMillan’s playground concepts

When he left school at 15, he could barely read or write and his hygiene habits were highly questionable. “Have you seen when the live crabs at the market are trying to crawl out of their crates? You’ll observe that the ones in the back are pulling back the ones that are trying to escape,” says McMillan. “That’s basically where I grew up.”

He got a job as a painter’s apprentice and prepared for a life as a labourer. The trade school was attached to an art school, however, and as he slowly began to talk with the neighbouring students, members of a social class he had never really encountered, the idea of applying there himself became fixed in his mind. He took the exams, got in and immediately entered a new world. When he graduated a few years later, it was with growing confidence and an enormous chip on his shoulder. After designing exhibitions in England, he saw ads looking for a designer for Expo 67 in Montreal and made his way across the Atlantic.

On his personal website, McMillan tells the story of how he escaped his upbringing with a characteristic mix of arrogance and deadpan understatement: “I became an apprentice house painter, and then moved up to art school and then I became a genius and moved to North America.”

I’ve known Eric McMillan since I was a child. My father, another English immigrant who found himself in Canada in the 1970s, was also on the original Ontario Place team, and the two quickly became friends. I remember him striding into our house – a wild presence, all jutting elbows and knees, who would appear out of nowhere with a trunk full of plastic balls or a truckload of couch-sized interlocking plastic blocks, prototypes for a new experiment in fort-building.

At Children’s Village, McMillan was left to himself with a $700,000 budget. Prickly and protective over his vision, he demanded full control. “I think I have the reputation of telling more ministers and deputy ministers to fuck off than anyone else,” he says.

The time in which he was working was a remarkably fertile one for children’s design. In the postwar era, with the baby boom, there were suddenly new economies around childhood. “It led to tremendous innovation,” says Alexandra Lange. With government and institutional support, designers felt free to experiment. “People at the highest echelon of design were interested in childhood,” says Lange. “It wasn’t a subset, it was at the centre of design.”

This was the era in which “junk playgrounds” or “adventure playgrounds” – places where tiny children were given tool belts and fistfuls of nails and left to build their own forts – proliferated across the continent. It was an era in which designers emerging from the 60s, full of dreams about building political and social utopias, took their visions to the local parks, building abstract sculptures and modernist experiments that children could clamber over.

Children’s Village in 1975.
 Children’s Village in 1975. Photograph: Graham Bezant/Toronto Star/Getty

At Children’s Village, McMillan built two and a half acres of mayhem under an orange canopy – reproducing in the safety of Toronto his feral childhood spent scrabbling through rubble, with mountains of colourful vinyl and foam. He erected an enormous spider web structure that hung from soaring watchtowers. He built a series of wooden ladders that spun on their axes, hurling would-be climbers to the mats below. He strung swinging monkey bars over a pool of water and suspended a forest of punching bags at the centre of the village that was, for decades, the most reliable producer of bloody noses in Toronto.

When the park opened in July 1972, it immediately became the city’s capital of kids’ play. “I had never seen anything like it,” remembers Irina Ceric, now a professor in British Columbia. “It was entirely designed just for kids in a way that other parks weren’t. It was the best thing that I had ever seen.”

In my memory, the overriding feeling of entering Children’s Village was an exhilarating, perhaps even slightly scary freedom. The world under the iconic orange canopy was capacious enough that you always felt as if there were undiscovered corners – a child-sized hamster wheel beneath a small hill, a new rope bridge from one of the watchtowers you’d never taken. Here, at last, was a place that had been built specifically for you and then left to your dominion. There were no parents to help you in the chaos of the punching bags. Exactly how you chose to scramble your brain while flinging yourself between the giant vertical rubber bands was your business. The place was yours. It was your village.

Children’s Village was a hit. Families flocked to it and international media praised it, with Time calling it “one of the most imaginative playgrounds in the world”. The next year, the Ontario Place brass gave McMillan control over another section of the park and he set to work creating a water play area, with lagoons and climbing equipment amid rushing water.

Building before the first water parks or splash pads, McMillan created his attractions from scratch, gathering a team of prop builders, metal workers and craftspeople to manufacture the enormous squirting faces controlled by pumps and bicycle-powered water guns he dreamed up. One of the early visitors to McMillan’s park was an American named George Millay. Today Millay is credited as the father of the water park, the progenitor of a massive industry. When Millay opened the first Wet ’n Wild in Orlando in 1977, however, the name he gave the children’s area was a tip of the cap to his inspiration: Canadian Water Caper.

With his success at Ontario Place, McMillan became a major figure in the blossoming world of children’s design. “Suddenly I became the world’s expert on child’s play,” says McMillan. People were calling him the next Walt Disney and the “father of soft play” for his use of vinyl-clad foam. Over the next decade he designed playgrounds in various SeaWorlds in America and amusement parks in France. He built a park in a mall in Chicago and was shuttled out to Alabama and asked to transform 3,000 acres into a science park. In 1980, McMillan teamed up with Jim Henson’s Children’s Television Workshop to create Sesame Place, the first of a planned series of tactile amusement parks to be built across America with the aim of helping children “learn through play”.

It was a decade of remarkable creativity. McMillan remembers sitting around with Lloyd one day and looking at a glass jar of pickled onions. “Wouldn’t it be something to be able to roll around in there?” he thought. They set about ordering masses of light plastic balls for a “ball crawl” in San Diego – the world’s first ball pit, an invention that soon became ubiquitous in McDonald’s and Ikeas across the world.

Children’s Village in 1996.
 Children’s Village in 1996. Photograph: Dick Loek/Toronto Star/Getty

It seemed to McMillan as if he was working in virgin territory, designing places for kids with a seriousness of purpose he hadn’t seen before. Watching children use his equipment, often in ways he could never have anticipated, made him more and more certain: play wasn’t a frivolous distraction from learning, but something essential to childhood and indeed humanity. The line-up-and-go-on-an-iron-ride model of the theme park was defunct. The key was to build things that sparked interaction, between kids and the equipment, but especially between the kids themselves. According to his design philosophy, each park wasn’t just a place to jump on a shockingly large air mattress. It was “a place where a child can ask questions of what it means to be human”.

McMillan formed his own design company, determined to build his own series of parks his way. “After Sesame Place, I was getting really arrogant, really confident,” he says. “I had sites. I had Montreal, I had Sacramento. I was going to build and operate my own parks and show them how it would be done.

“I got crazy, mate. I was going to change the world. I was going to change American culture and therefore the world. I was sure I was going to do it.”

Instead, the world changed without him. The skills required to fund and run a theme park, of course, are very different from the creativity needed to design one. Spoiled by the free rein he had been given at Ontario Place, he often chafed at the demands and restrictions of his corporate partners. One project fell through, then another. McMillan grew tired with throwing himself into designs only to watch them collapse for reasons beyond his control. “Eric could project a very pure kind of childlike play,” says Henry Piersig, a German-born prop builder who was one of McMillan’s collaborators. “But maybe eventually he ran out of steam.”

More than that, the times had changed. If the design for children in the 60s and 70s had been full of possibility and experimentation, the prevailing mood in the 1980s was of caution. “In the 80s, there was this real turn towards a safety culture,” says Lange. “We tamped down on a lot of innovation and a lot of the risk and reward of the children’s environment.” After a series of lawsuits against playgrounds, “liability”, not “creativity”, became the most important word in children’s design. The adventure playgrounds that once dotted North America were shuttered. The massive wooden jungle gyms in schoolyards were replaced with modest climbing structures.

With its bright colours and unruly design, Children’s Village became a relic on the lakeshore – a vision of the future from the near past. “It feels like it was meant to be the beginning of something,” says Ceric. “But it ended up ending there.”

Children’s Village was closed in 2002. The rest of Ontario Place shut down in 2011. Recently, though, I’ve seen more and more of my peers reflecting nostalgically about the “gloriously unsafe majesty” of Children’s Village. The park is a lost part of childhood for a whole cohort of Torontonians. It feels like a strange dream. Were the towers really so high? Did the ziplines really run so fast?

Nowhere is more infused with nostalgia than the places you played in as a child. Looking back on the playgrounds of the past, however, is more than mere sentimentality, and it isn’t just specific to people who remember Children’s Village. “There’s something in the air,” says Alexandra Lange. “We understand that children’s play environment has been impoverished. And so looking back at those times when it wasn’t so impoverished feels really important.” Today, as the kids who grew up running through the punching bag forest are having children of their own, it’s impossible not to think that Children’s Village represented a brief moment when a different style of mass play was possible. Instead of an amusement park in which kids line up for hours to sit passively on a moving piece of intellectual property, what if a park just provided the raw materials for child-instigated, slightly dangerous adventure?

A modern-day water park in Ayia Napa, Cyprus.
 A modern-day water park in Ayia Napa, Cyprus. Photograph:

This summer, the provincial government is accepting proposals for new developments on the Ontario Place grounds. In the years since it closed, there have been plans for a year-round water park, for a casino, for an enormous ferris wheel. There have been calls to relocate the Science Centre to the waterfront or turn the entire thing into a public park.

No one’s asked Eric McMillan what should be on the site of the former kids’ utopia he built on the waterfront. Now 77, he lives with his wife, Rose, in the Quebec countryside. He has an orange tree he likes to visit. He and Rose hand-grind their own coffee, build stone walls, snowshoe up the hills in the winter. The place is their own personal playground. “I can’t imagine a more privileged existence,” he says. He hasn’t visited the grounds himself in years. “Ontario Place long ago became a very sad ruin of what could have been an interesting place,” he says.

Still, McMillan can’t seem to stop himself from thinking about it. Recently, he came up with his own proposal for the site. In his reimagining, the empty pods have been transformed into massive lake filters – sucking up the water from Lake Ontario, cleaning it, and then sending it cascading into the lake below. The design takes Zeidler’s buildings and turns them into massive pieces of interactive art, where kids can help control the flow of water. The plan is whimsical and audacious, as outside-the-box and indifferent to the demands of commerce as ever. When I ask him what else should be done with the Ontario Place pods, he answers immediately. “They just can rip them down and turn them into scrap metal and build condos along the edge,” says McMillan. “Or … they can go really crazy.”


Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams Dazzle at a Screening for After the Wedding

Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams Attend a Screening for After the Wedding

In the new drama After the Wedding, Isabel (Michelle Williams) is the manager of an orphanage on the verge of bankruptcy in Kolkata, India. So she travels to New York to meet Theresa (Julianne Moore), a benefactor who could solve all her financial woes but who may be harboring ulterior motives. To reveal anything further would take away from the twists and turns the film piles on after Theresa brings Isabel to her daughter’s wedding—an invitation that sets off a chain of events that will change their lives forever.

Though it’s not a particularly cheery premise, the stars at the center of the family drama were thankfully all smiles on Tuesday night when the Cinema Society and Chopard hosted a screening for the film. Wearing a chic Givenchy dress, Moore especially had reason to celebrate as the film represents her fourth collaboration with her husband, director Bart Freundlich.

“We’ve really only ever worked together when there’s been a part for me, and when Bart started to adapt this, it was clearly was something I was really interested in,” Moore said. “We’re great partners, and we’re producing partners on this movie too, so it’s the first time we actually worked on something from the very beginning to the end together.”

As both star and producer, Moore was involved in nearly every aspect of the production, including finding the right costar who could bring the necessary emotional intensity to the material. Moore says Williams was an obvious choice, and she emailed the actor directly to offer her the role.

“I mean, when Julianne Moore sends you an email, you pay attention!” Williams said.

While the biggest thrill of After the Wedding is seeing Williams and Moore, two of the greatest living actresses, deliver unstoppable performances, they give their costar Billy Crudup just as much room to shine as Oscar, Theresa’s artist husband. The film served as a reunion for the actor and director, who’ve remained friends since Freundlich first directed Crudup in 2001’s World Traveler.

“Bart was talking about this script he was working on, and needless to say, as an actor, you’re always like, ‘Is there a part in there for Ol’ Bill?’ ” Crudup joked. “I read the script and couldn’t quite find my way into the character, but after having a conversation with Bart and then seeing the movie on which it’s based, it became clear he was trying to tell a subtle, nuanced family drama.”

After the screening the after-party kicked off at the Crown, the chic rooftop bar in Hotel 50 Bowery. The DJ kept spirits high with a pop-heavy playlist before Abby Quinn, who plays Moore’s daughter in the film, performed a brief set including covers of “Sea of Love” and “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” Backlit by a stunning view of the Manhattan skyline, Moore and Freundlich made the rounds, eager to hear everyone’s thoughts on the film.

After the Wedding was an especially personal project for Moore, who has made it her mission to bring dynamic and layered female characters to the screen. “It’s really wonderful to see these two self-actualized, self-created women in sort of a struggle for dominance,” Moore said. “You don’t see that in movies very often, especially when it’s between two women and not centered around a man!”