VICTORIAN ALBERT’S PLEASURE AND PAIN
By Naomi Barling
Examining the transformative power of extreme footwear the Victoria And Albert Museums newest exhibition is titled Shoes: Pleasure and Pain will open 13 June 2015 running until 31 January 2016. The show will explore the sometimes-agonizing aspect of wearing beautiful shoes as well as the ecstasy and obsession they can inspire. Examples of shoes worn by icons as well as collected pieces will be shown alongside a impressive range of historic shoes, many of which have not been displayed before.
Exhibition curator Helen Persson has delved into the museums’ archive and other international collections and the wardrobes of private individuals to select an exceptional range of shoes.
“Shoes are one of the most telling aspects of dress. Beautiful, sculptural objects, they are also powerful indicators of gender, status, identity, taste and even sexual preference. Our choice in shoes can help project an image of who we want to be.” says Persson.
The exhibition has been curated to resemble a boudoir-style environment; the exhibits highlight how the shoes over the years have been used as a powerful indicator of gender, status, identity, taste and sexual preference.
The 200 shoes on display cover an incredible 2000-year period looking at the extremes of footwear from all around the globe. Starting from Ancient Egyptian sandals decorated in pure gold leaf to futuristic shoes created using 3D printing technologies. Also included is footwear for men and women by 70 contemporary designers such as Prada, Manolo Blahnik, Christian Louboutin and Jimmy Choo.
The show considers the cultural significance and transformative ability of shoes and explores the latest developments in footwear technology.
Designs worn by high profile figures like Marilyn Monroe, Queen Victoria and self-proclaimed shoe addict Sarah Jessica Parker feature, as well as foot-binding lotus shoes, 16th-century styles, high silk mules designed to lift skirts above the muddy streets and the ballet slippers designed for Moira Shearer in the 1948 film The Red Shoes are all showcased.
You can also see Vivienne Westwood’s nine-inch purple platforms that caused Naomi Campbell to take a tumble on the runway in 1993 are similar to a pair of chunky blue Chopines from the 1600s, on display. A classically embellished Roger Vivier evening shoe for Dior, and a pair of United Nude shoes that rival some of the world’s most interesting architectural structures, every type of shoe has been explored for us to examine.
The more innovative shoes on display will showcase the designers who push the boundaries of possibility, including the form pressed ‘Nova’ shoes designed by Zaha Hadid with an unsupported 16cm heel and Andreia Chaves’ ‘Invisible Naked’ shoes that fuse a study of optical illusion with 3D printing and high quality leather making techniques.
The show is split into three themes over two floors, transformation, Status and Seduction. Chronicling shoes from myth and legend including the different interpretations of the Cinderella slipper from across the globe. It also looks at the concept of shoes being empowering as passed down through folklore. Illustrated by the Seven League Boots from the ‘Hop o’ My Thumb’ tale, and how this feeds into contemporary marketing.
The theme of status is exploring how impractical designs have been worn to represent a privileged and leisurely lifestyle over the years. Often the designs, shape and material make the shoes unsuitable for walking. They show how shoes dictate the way in which the wearer moves and how they are seen and even heard. Status also demonstrates how historically shoe fashions originated from the European royal courts but today the focus has shifted to famous shoe designers. Desirable shoes such as the ‘Pompadour’, worn by trend-setting women in the 18th-century French court will sit together with designs by Alexander McQueen and Sophia Webster.
Within seduction the shoes express how they can be used for sexual empowerment or pleasure. Like feet, shoes can be objects of fetishism. Extreme heels and tight-laced leather boots will be on display as well as examples of erotic styles directed by mainstream fashion in recent years.
The last section of the exhibition will look at shoes as commodities and collectibles. Six different people’s collections will be presented from trainers to luxury footwear.
The show goes on to examine shifts in consumption and production – with examples from an 18th-century ‘cheap shoe warehouse’, one-off handmade men’s brogues and trainers made in China. It will also look at the future of shoe design, with experiments of material and shapes, moulding and plastics.
Don’t forget to also visit the first floor gallery which is dedicated to dissecting the practical side involved in designing and creating footwear, from concept to final shoe. Featuring animations, sketches, materials, embellishments and shoe lasts (foot moulds in which a shoe is made) including the lasts created by H. & M. Rayne for Princess Diana. It explains how makers have been able to push the boundaries of footwear design, as well as the structural challenges of creating high heels and interesting shapes. Five designers are featured in filmed interviews explaining the process.
The new V&A’s Shoes: Pleasure and Pain exhibition is set to run from June 13, 2015 through January 31, 2016.