Strass: A hard, brilliant, lead-containing glass used in making artificial gems. Also called “paste” or “diamante.”
Sources agree that “strass” was named for its inventor, but not on who he was. The OED and Encyclopedia Britannica identify him as Josef Strasser, an 18th-century Viennese goldsmith. Wikipedia doesn’t mention Josef: it claims strass was named for an 18th-century Alsatian jeweler, Georg Friedrich Strass. Maybe both Strass and Strasser solved the problem simultaneously. In any case, the eponym is satisfyingly apt: Strasse means “street” in German, and strass is often used to create a pavé (paved) effect.
“Strass” (or French “stras”) has long been used in Europe to describe artificial gemstones, but its more-recent popularity in the United States appears to be linked to shoe designer Christian Louboutin, whose crystal-paved pumps—which can cost north of $3,000 a pair—have been a red-carpet sensation. Accordingly to the official Louboutin Twitter account, the designer has created a pump that’s strassed all over—even on the famous red sole.
I try to stay up-to-date on such things, but I admit that “strass” was new to me until I read a post by Dustbury about pavé women’s pumps from the shouty shoe brand HERSTAR that celebrate professional sports teams. Here’s the Los Angeles Lakers edition:
Yours for less than 10 percent of the cost of the Loubies!
The copy is as ostentatious as the ornamentation (punctuation sic):
Encrusted, dazzling, and intensely mesmerizing with every step, these elite pumps command a presence of their own. Fully hand strassed in luxurious, hand selected Middle Eastern crystals, then offset by a sky-high 6” heel and 3" internal platform; these glittering heels glisten on the court and off. They are simply magical to behold.
And that is how I learned that “strass” can also be a verb.
Other examples from around the Internet:
“I strassed my own wedding shoes using genuine swarovski crystals and saved a TON of money.” (Wedding Wire)
“Here are final pics and video of Emily’s Lady Peeps painted a custom color then strassed in crystal AB Swarovski rhinestones.” (Urban Bling)
“Sophie and Ava’s strassing service is perfect for the doll who wants a lot of bling for a lot less money than it would cost for the retail price!” (Shatterproof Glass Dolls)
The “strass” category on Etsy depicts some non-footwear options, too.
Early artificial diamonds were rock crystals gathered from the Rhine River. But “rhinestone” to describe those crystals or their imitations postdates “strass” by half a century: the first appearance of “strass” in an English-language publication was in 1820, while “rhinestone” didn’t appear until 1871. (The German Rheinkiessel, or “Rhein pebble,” first appeared around 1780.)
Urban Dictionary has a different definition for “strass”: “Stress that is so annoying that it’s a huge pain in the ass.” Which, admittedly, might result from wearing a pair of six-inch stilettos.