Magazine of art press and reviews from London
David Franchi – Saturday, 13th February 2016
The powerful exhibition “Shoes: Pleasure and Pain” was a great success, at the V&A Museum, London.
The V&A Museum exhibition, “Shoes: Pleasure and Pain”, presented in London more than 250 pairs of historic and contemporary footwear from around the world, with references to 70 named designers, including Manolo Blahnik, Christian Louboutin, Jimmy Choo and Prada.
The Victoria and Albert Museum has an unrivalled shoe collection, with items brought together in London from across the world and covering over 2000 years of history.
On display there were shoes worn by or associated with high profile personas or famous footwear referring, for example to films or TV. Historic lotus shoes made for bound feet, 16th-century chopines and silk mules with vertiginous platforms designed to lift skirts above the muddy streets also featured.
Shoes express your personality, perhaps more than any other aspect of dress. Beautiful, sculptural objects, they are also strong signs of gender, taste and even sexual preference. Footwear has long been a way for a wearer to reveal their identity and their social status.
The exhibition was organized over two floors. The lavish boudoir design of the ground floor gallery explored three themes: transformation, status and seduction.
Transformation focused on the myth and legends where shoes are empowering. Surprising footwear appears in folklore all over the world, for example in the story of Cinderella. Today these concepts are used to sell by the contemporary marketing and shoemaking and to produce a design accepted as magical and transforming the life of the buyers.
Shoes have symbolised the social status throughout the centuries and across cultures. The section Status focused on
high society wearer, those who have footwear often inappropriate for walking but representing privileged and leisurely lifestyles. Physically restrictive, shoes define the movement of the wearer, and also how they are seen and even heard.
Status also revealed that in the past shoe fashions originated from the European royal courts, while today the focus has moved to famous shoe designers. Items on display were: shoes used by trend-setting women in the 18th-century French court, Indian men’s shoes with extremely long toes, and noisy European slap-sole shoes from the 17th century, together with designs by the some of the most well-known names in fashion today, including Alexander McQueen and Sophia Webster, and the legendary Vivienne Westwood blue platforms worn by Naomi Campbell (1993).
Within ‘Seduction’, the shoes symbolised an expression of sexual empowerment or a passive source of pleasure. Like feet, shoes can be objects of fetishism. High Japanese geta, extreme heels and tight-laced leather boots were on display as well as examples of erotic styles channelled by mainstream fashion in recent years.
On the first floor the setting was organised as a laboratory. It was focused on analysing the designing and creating progression of footwear, from initial concept to final shoe. On display were animations and videos showing the art of making footwear, and how today makers blend traditional craftsmanship with technological modernism, and usability with art.
On displays also designer sketches, materials, embellishments and shoe lasts alongside pullovers, remarking the originality in creating innovative styles with ever-higher heels and more spectacular shapes.
The V&A Museum exhibition also focused on shifts in spending and production with examples from an 18th-century ‘cheap shoe warehouse’, one-off handmade men’s brogues and trainers made in China. It also examined the future of shoe design, with experiments of material and shapes, moulding and plastics. A video featured interviews with five significant designers and makers: Manolo Blahnik, Sandra Choi, Caroline Groves, Marc Hare and Christian Louboutin.
The last section of the exhibition explored footwear as commodities and collectibles, and it presented six collections, whose owners were practically unrecognisable – a part from notorious Imelda Marcos.
The Shoes: Pleasure and Pain exhibition was curated by Helen Persson, Curator in the Asian department of the V&A Museum, specialising in textiles and dress.
The V&A Museum exhibition supporters were Clarks, Agent Provocateur and the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers.
The exhibition “Shoes: Pleasure and Pain” was at the V&A Museum, London, from 13th June 2015 until 31st January 2016.