How to conquer the cankle
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Let’s start at the top. Do your toned thighs lead down to tight, taut knees, the gateway to shapely calves that culminate in the chic de la chic: well-turned ankles? Do they naturally cinch in at the sides like a pair of teeny waists, with a long, slim, defined Achilles tendon at the back that makes heads turn?
Well, lucky you, because mine certainly don’t. A friend used to say there was only one thing wrong with her legs: that there were two of them. Mine aren’t that bad; they are toned and well-proportioned. But where they should nip in, they bulge out, namely at my knees and my ankles – more “sturdy log” than “willowy bough”.
Ankles, or lack of them, have long been the bane of my life. How I’ve envied women walking ahead of me down Bond Street or up Madison Avenue or crossing the Rue Saint-Honoré, their slender ankles emphasised by an 11cm stiletto heel. In my early teens, I knew one of these women, a fabulously glamorous Brazilian model known as Rio (Andrea Dellal). She had a vertiginous pair of gold sandals with skinny straps that wound around the ankle, from a shop called Zapata – which was to become Manolo Blahnik. I would put them on and try to walk like her, but the result was more elephant-on-stilts than the gazelle to whom they belonged. I would gaze in rapture at the seductive campaigns created by Guy Bourdin for Charles Jourdan. Legs that went on forever with ankles that I could only dream of. They could carry off a white stiletto, take private jets, dance at Studio 54. They were living my dream life.
For those inclined to have procedures to attain this, look no further than body sculpting expert Dr Olivier Amar who, from his Chelsea operating theatre, is doing with liposuction what the High Renaissance artists did with their chisels. “Fat is everywhere,” he says enthusiastically. “Depending on your genetics” – thanks, Mum – “and how you store the fat you have.” It turns out the ankle is as capable of storing fat as anywhere else. The “paper clip” so often referred to – sitting in the middle of the ankle, at the back – is a tendon. With liposuction you can reduce the soft tissue around it so it becomes more clearly defined. “By removing a few millimetres around the ankle and then working above on the calves and knees, you can create a great shape,” Amar insists. “Once you have done this kind of contouring, the legs will look much thinner.” It’s an outpatient procedure that costs around £6,000, with a relatively swift downtime of two to three weeks in support stockings.
The fashion world has its own, non-invasive tricks to counter the cankle effect (where calves and ankles seem to merge into one). I have always turned to a large shoe to offset mine, having found that the more generous the proportions of the shoe, the less heavy my ankles appeared. Celine wedges, chunky Marni or Simone Rocha sandals and a variety of swampy Balenciaga or Chloé trainers have been my go-to shoes for years.
Meanwhile, former Vogue fashion director Lucinda Chambers, co-founder of the shopping curation site Collagerie and the Colville fashion line, says the trick to making an ankle look slimmer is to buy a size up. “Let your feet swim in a big sandal – they will look much prettier,” she says. I’m looking forward to wearing Molly Goddard’s collaboration with Underground Creepers this season. My kind of chunk. However, if you are partial to a more delicate shoe, How To Spend It’s fashion director Isabelle Kountoure suggests shapes where the front of the shoe tapers down the foot to the top of the toes. She recommends shoes from Bottega Veneta, YSL and Pierre Hardy for footwear that “elongates the foot”. Another trick is to use inner sole heel lifters, a tiny hidden wedge which helps elevate the ankle. A cropped, wide trouser is a proportional friend to the cankle, likewise a mid-calf-length skirt.
For a cosmetic cheat, Amanda Harrington’s tan techniques, using her vegan self-tanning products and brilliant contouring brushes, come into their own. Harrington – a favourite of the red-carpet set – started her career as a make-up artist. “If you can’t tone it, tan it!” she exclaims. “I shade each side of the ankle and on the tendon. I follow the same shape as designers do with jeans, by which I mean slightly paler in the middle on the shin and darker at the back of the lower ankle and the Achilles tendon.” Harrington advises using two colours: first apply a base in a natural self-tan shade, then, using the brushes, contour in a deeper hue (several shades available). The leg will look toned and it should last around 10 days. If any of this sounds complicated – which, trust me, it isn’t – there are tutorials on her website.
Other at-home favourites include hand, foot and leg specialist Margaret Dabbs’s toning leg scrub, the firming leg serum with an innovative formula containing “Legance” to reduce water retention that I use every day, and her Black Leg Masque, which contains a complex of essential oils that promote decongestion. I also rate Legology’s Air-Lite Daily Lift for Legs, created by former beauty editor Kate Shapland. Although none of these is going to make me look like a Madison Avenue swan any time soon, they certainly help reduce puffiness when used regularly.
If all else fails, like me you may wish to build a story around your cankles. When I was 14 I had a tan leather pair of Frye’s boots with a chunky heel and round toe – the apogee of cool. One day I stepped out in front of a bus to cross the road. A car hit me and I flew over the bonnet. I would have broken my ankles had the sturdiness of my boots not saved them. From that day forth, true or not, I have merrily attributed the blame for my cankles to the bash from that crash. Feel free to use it!