Above; High & Mighty shoot, American Vogue, Summer 1995. (Model: Nadja Auermann in Dolce & Gabbana. (c) Estate of Helmut Newton / Maconochie Photography.
The Victoria & Albert Museum’s new exhibition, Shoes: Pleasure & Pain is a brilliant examination of how shoes can denote power and privilege, wealth, status and sexuality. It contains about 250 pairs of shoes, spanning approximately 2,000 years, 20 countries and 70 past and contemporary designers.
Think an exhibition all about shoes might be dull? Think again. You’ll be riveted, we promise.
Installation view of Shoes: Pleasure and Pain. (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The “Seduction” section features a pair of “geta,” 20-cm platforms worn by “oiran” – Japan’s celebrity courtesans – and a painting from the early 19th century of a Chinese courtesan with ideal, 7.6-cm bound and slippered feet.
Chopines, Punched kid leather over carved pine, Venice, Italy. c 1600s.
(c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London
There is also a pair of nude ballet slippers with transparent soles and heels set at impossible angle, requiring the wearer to crawl – the result of a collaboration between Christian Louboutin and director David Lynch.
The “Movement” section addresses the way that shoes can alter how the body moves, and includes a pair of cowboy boots, Louboutin “Pigalle” stilettos, men’s platforms from the Seventies and a pair of thigh-high boots worn by French musketeers, who would fold the top down to create a bow-legged gait when not on horseback. Heeled shoes worn by men in the Seventies would make them walk with a particularly louche stride.
“Follow Me” examines the influence of royalty, nobility and celebrity on footwear trends. There is a pair of nude patent leather “Sledge” pumps by LK Bennett – a staple in the Duchess of Cambridge’s wardrobe; exquisitely embroidered shagreen-trimmed boots worn by the wife of the last Khan of Mongolia, and Canadian chamois moccasins embroidered with moose hair and porcupine quills worn by a high-ranking member of the native American Iroquois tribe.
Evening shoe, beaded silk and leather, France. Artist: Roger Vivier (1907–98) for Christian Dior (1905–1957).
Date: 1958-60. (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
The “High Society” section looks at the way in which high heels literally elevate the wearer above the crowd and features vertiginous heels by Noritaka Tatehana, as well as an ancient Greek terracotta statuette of Aphrodite wearing a tall platform, a style adopted by mortal women of the time to make them more appealing to men. Sound familiar?
‘Parakeet’ shoes. Artist: Caroline Groves, England 2014. (c) Photography by Dan Lowe
Films are shown throughout, including a fun montage of shoes in well-known films: Cue Marilyn Monroe tottering in “Some Like It Hot”, Kirsten Dunst’s happy feet in “Marie Antoinette”, John Travolta strutting in “Saturday Night Fever” and Marty McFly in his futuristic “Back to the Future” Nike trainers.
There are a few very famous pairs in the line-up too: the ballet slippers designed for Moira Shearer in the 1948 film, “The Red Shoes,” as well as shoes worn my Lady Gaga, Sarah Jessica Parker, Queen Victoria and Kylie Minogue.
Red ballet shoes made for Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) in The Red Shoes (1948)
Silk satin, braid and leather, England. Artist: Freed of London (founded in 1929)
(c) Photograph reproduced with the kind permission of Northampton Museums and Art Gallery
The exhibition runs from June 13 to Jan. 31. Visit www.vam.ac.uk for more information.