From Sarah Jessica Parker to Cinderella, the V&A’s Shoes:Pleasure and Pain exhibit looks at how shoes and the occasional gold leaf stitching have elevated la status of ladies since the socialite goddess Aphrodite reclined in an ancient form of stiletto.
A special lecture, ‘Shoes: Culture and Innovation’, was held on Friday, 20th Nov 2015, with guest speakers Helen Persson, the curator of the exhibit, and Elizabeth Semmelhack, Senior Curator of the Bata Shoe Museum, looking at the sexualisation and the status of the shoe throughout history. Here are some of the highlights.
‘One shoe can change your life.’
Heels designed by Edward Rayne using Wedgwood jasper porcelain decorated with Greek and Roman motifs.
Laurence Olivier’s shoe moulds and interesting sketches by genius shoe makers outlining genius feet.
Christian Louboutin, Alexander McQueen, Manolo Blahnik, Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood, Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo, all feature in the shoe exhibit, along with a film featuring interviews with five designers: Sandro Choi, the creative director of Jimmy Choo, Caroline Groves, Louboutin, Blahnik and Marc Hare.
The layout is a sort of goodie box of jewel encrusted stilettos and an allsorts of shoe history, on the ground floor, followed by a laboratory of leather and heels, on the first floor, with collectors suitcases full of sought after strappys and sandals.
A historical focus on lotus shoes made for bound feet, add a contrast to the layout, alongside silk mules whose sole purpose was to lift silk skirts above old cobblestones, are exhibited beside Victorian velvet carriage boots and red ballet shoes.
These boots were made for walking. Or where they. Shoes were once solely for posing in, and a sign of freedom in ancient times. Socialite goddess Aphrodite, was shown in art wearing heels and the allure of height has always been considered something to ‘rise to’. In ancient Greek and Roman times, noble ladies wore elevated footwear, as a sign of respected femininity.
Status and seduction
Impractical shoes have been worn to represent leisurely lifestyles, such as Carriage boots, to get a lady from ‘house to carriage’, unsuitable materials for strolling around in the rain. Shoes always dictate how we are seen and heard. A stiletto looks and sounds seductive, and like feet, shoes can be an object of fetishism.
Sexuality and sensuality are addressed, in the sense that shoes can be an expression of sexual empowerment or a passive source of pleasure. High Japanese geta, extreme heels and laced leather boots are an example of this, as well as highest of high heel styles seen in mainstream fashion in recent years.
Shoes obviously have a strong effect on how we hold ourselves, literally. A film shows a woman at home strutting around in different shoes, and how her walk and mood are affected. Her gait transforms and strut somewhat more assured in the red Louboutin heels, a stark contrast to her light, fanciful steps in the white ballet pumps.
Helen Persson, the exhibition curator says: “Shoes can help project an image of who we want to be.”
Shoes as art
Christian Louboutin’s limited edition ‘Marie Antoinette’ shoes, hand stitched by Francoise Lesage. One of only 36 pairs, available in a soft pink, canary yellow, or a bright azure blue.
No shoes exhibit would be acceptable without a special Carrie Bradshaw hello. It was Sarah Jessica Parker who introduced Manolo Blahnik to the HBO series wardrobe team.
Some Sex & the City shoes quotes:
“I’ve spent $40,000 on shoes and I have no place to live? I will literally be the old woman who lived in her shoes!”
“The fact is, sometimes it’s hard to walk in a single woman’s shoes. That’s why we need really special ones now and then – to make the walk a little more fun.”
“I’m not afraid of heights. Have you seen my shoes?”
Beautiful, sculptural objects, shoes are powerful indicators of gender, taste, identity and even sexual preference. Our choice in shoes can be aspirational, even fantastical. Inspired by the Disney fairytale Cinderella, Swarovski designed this special crystal shoe.
Dorothy’s red ruby slippers obviously must get a special mention. Whether it be the glass slippers, or the red ruby slipper, shoes have a special way of creating a wish come true. Or, an idea that shoes can transport someone from one reality to another. All you have to do is follow the yellow brick road. Just don’t ruin your Louboutin heels on the cobblestones.
Shoes: Pleasure and Pain
Sponsored by Clarks and supported by by Agent Provocateur.