SHOES: PLEASURE & PAIN: A sneak peek into Victoria & Albert Museum’s most recent shoe exhibition
A sneak peek into Victoria & Albert Museum’s most recent shoe exhibition.
Iremember being given a gift card for Harrods and spending the entire day looking for one special item I could get with my gift card. I wanted to make a good investment by buying a classic, timeless piece. I tried the Mulberry Bayswater in every color, rings from Cartier, a belt at Hermès and then spent my last hour on the shoe floor. The sales assistant that had been with me at Mulberry came up to the shoe floor as I tried on blue and purple Swarovski covered Giuseppe Zanottis that sparkled like a midnight sky. We then walked round to Christian Louboutin, where I tried on a pair of stiletto ‘Loubouties’. I remember gasping as I saw the reflection in the mirror. The sales assistant whispered to me, “I should be encouraging you to buy the more expensive item (the bag), but you your reaction when you tried on these shoes - you’re a shoe girl.” And she was right. I’ve tried to be a bag girl. I’ve tried to be an accessories girl - but alas, I’m a shoe girl. My father always encouraged me to wear ‘ good shoes’. So when all of my friends were wearing the latest Nike trainers, I was wearing a really good pair of leather heels. I was the odd one out for it, but it was an understated education, one that led me to a career in fashion, for my father always taught me to be grounded – in the best possible shoes. Even as an established stylist who has worked in the industry for several years, it never occurred to me just how impactful shoes have truly been in our history and culture. One small board at the opening
Uof the Victoria and Albert Museum’s newest exhibition ‘Shoes: Pleasure and Pain’ summarized it perfectly. “The most international shoe story, and perhaps the oldest, concerns the virtuous girl whose shoes elevate her to a higher social status: Cinderella. The Cinderella story teaches little girls the importance of shoes. They can transform not only a girl’s appearance, but her entire life and help her find her true love.” I don’t know anyone that doesn’t know the Cinderella story and I don’t know anyone that doesn’t get excited over a pair of new shoes. From your first school shoes, to ballerina pumps, tap shoes and your first heels – I think I can remember the moment I met a pair of shoes way more than some memories. The V&A exhibition opens as if you were in a shoe boudoir in Pigalle, France. Velvet curtains, low lights and luxury are the décor for the large glass cases that hold some of the most exquisite and fascinating shoes you’ll ever see. The exhibition takes you through the themes of Transformation, Status, Seduction, Creation and Obsession. Some of the key highlights include the Roger Vivier designs for Christian Dior. The shoes created in the 1950s and early 1960s were fashion items that only the wealthiest members of society could afford, thus making them an instant marker of the upmost in luxury. I was intrigued to learn about the adornment of shoes, even for men. In 1750, buckles became a new shoe accessory. Even shoe roses were created for men to help emphasis the 17th century nobleman’s legs. No pain, no gain.
Shoes and seduction come hand in hand, or “foot in shoe” should I say. One of the most standout pair of shoes on display in the exhibition are a pair of Ceta (1800 – 1900) made for the highest status prostitutes in Japan, ‘Orian’ who wore these creations when walking the streets. Their heels were over 20 cm! Today, when it comes to seduction and sensuality, there are perhaps two iconic standout designs: Saint Laurent’s ‘Tribute sandal’ (the modern day stripper heel) and Stuart Weitzman’s over-the-knee boots, ‘Highland’, worn by every single woman in the Kardashian/jenner family and taking over fashion blogs and Instagram accounts across the world. Taking the art form a step further, Christian Louboutin joined forces with renowned film director David Lynch on a collection designed and made solely for the film ‘ Fetish’ (2007). The idea of the shoe is that it ‘disabled the wearer, forcing her to crawl.’ Mules for the boudoir became a trend, and by adding feathers - Agent Provocateur created a signature style statement that will never go out of style. “Unrestrained sexuality perhaps because they slip off.” I never realized what exactly categorizes sensuality in footwear, but everything from corseted shoes, lace and laces have certainly made their mark in history. The exhibition holds over 250 pairs of shoes, a collection so precious and old that some items can’t be photographed with flash lighting. The exhibition works through themes and eras highlighting some of the most influential shoes across popular culture. From the famous catwalk shoes created by Vivienne Westwood, those purple platforms that Naomi Campbell took a tumble in, to parts of Carrie Bradshaw’s shoedrobe from Sex and The City. Again proving the power of the shoe, Carrie Bradshaw combined with costume designer Patricia Field made millions of women fall head over heels in love with designer shoes from Dior to Manolo Blahnik. And last fall, Sarah Jessica Parker did what we’ve all been waiting for when she launched her very own shoe collection. SJP was as daring and bold on red carpets as she was on set as Carrie, and it made complete sense. The second floor of the exhibition is laid out like a lab and focuses on the craftsmanship of the shoe, from design to molds to the different leather swatches and colors they could be available in. The V&A has brought the exhibition as close to reality as one can imagine by a very special series of glass cases that display shoe collections from various collectors. If you’re in London, it’s one not to be missed. And it proves, just like in the fairytales, with the right pair of shoes, happily ever after really can exist.