If you’re like me and you’re slightly obsessed with shoes then you must run, yes run in your fanciest footwear in the direction of London’s V&A Museum. The highly anticipated Shoes: Pleasure and Pain exhibition boasts over 250 pairs of exquisite shoes so beautiful that you’ll be inspired to start a collection of your own. Oh wait, I might be preaching to the choir here…
The exhibition is thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. I feel as though I should add a warning before you read any further: as gorgeous as the shoes are, remember you’re not in a shoe shop… you aren’t allowed to try any of these beauties on. Unfortunately.
The aim is to delve deeper into the fascinating world of shoes and why we’re so intrigued by them. It’s broken down into three sections: Transformation, Status and Seduction.
Transformation looks at the myth and legend behind shoes, from Cinderella’s glass slippers to the red ballet shoes designed for the 1948 film The Red Shoes, which are both stunning close up. It showcases current designers whose sole (sorry) purpose is to create something that will transform our lives.
The second section, Status is amazing. I love the notion that impractical shoes represent privileged lifestyles and many shoes over the years have been rendered practically useless for actual walking due to their design and the shape of material used. If only we had people on hand to help us walk. I’ll put that on my wish list…
“Shoes equal status. Often impractical in decoration and shape, these shoes make a clear statement that the wearer does not engage in manual labour.” A quote from the exhibition.
Speaking of impractical shoes, the infamous Vivienne Westwood blue platforms that Naomi Campbell wore (and fell in) from1993 are part of the collection. Status also features Pompadour styles from 18th century French courts and looks at how current designers are inspired by such pieces.
Seduction looks at wearing shoes for pleasure and sexual empowerment. Naughty 90s shoes including fetish boots and laced boots as well as Japanese geta heels are on display.
Two ladies next to me cooed, “Oh look! Our shoes are on display! Don’t you just feel wonderful wearing them?” They were talking about their L.K. Bennett nude patent court shoes (as worn by Kate Middleton).
It may seem strange that something many of us don’t pay much attention to can boost our confidence so much. That’s what fashion is about: we don’t wear things to feel negative in our appearance, we wear clothes and accessories to feel proud and confident.
There’s a video interview with five shoe designers including Jimmy Choo Creative Director Sandra Choi, Christian Louboutin and Manolo Blahnik. Blahnik scoffs at the mention of technology and prefers to use a more traditional approach. He speaks of waking up in the middle of the night and feeling compelled to quickly sketch a shoe design with a pencil “attached to a piece of string.”
Blahnik thinks shoes are like a fantasy and I couldn’t agree more. As for why we seem to adore shoes so much, he offers one theory: “Spending large amounts of money on a pair of shoes is pleasurable because it is excessive.” Amen.
One part of the exhibition focuses on the processes used to make a pair of shoes, from the initial sketches to the shoe lasts (made in the shape of someone’s foot in order to get an exact fit).
The collection from Lionel Ernest Bussey, is something a lot of people will relate to. At the end of his life he had collected around 600 pairs of shoes. All new and unworn with many still wrapped and in boxes with receipts, it makes me think of all of the shoes in my own wardrobe that haven’t been worn or are rarely worn.
I think I may have a mid year resolution…
It wouldn’t be a trip to a museum without stopping at the gift shop. As well as chic postcards and greetings cards with various shoe photographs and illustrations there is also book of the same title.
I should mention that as well as apparently collecting shoes I also have a penchant for buying books. And more books. Due to the fact that my bookcases are full new books have to be pretty special for me to find a place for them.
Edited by the exhibition curator Helen Persson, this one is definitely a keeper. It features iconic creations we all know and adore as well as the notion that ‘feet are made for walking, but shoes may not be.’ My view exactly.
Shoes: Pleasure and Pain is showing at the V&A until 31st January 2016, tickets cost £12. For more information go to vam.ac.uk/shoes
Main image: Evening shoe, beaded silk and leather by Roger Vivier for Christian Dior. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.