On a recent trip to London I visited the V & A, which is just my favourite museum in London. They had a Shoe exhibition on. Now I am a bag girl and definitely not a shoe girl. Having size 9 feet growing up (now a positively petite 8) made sure of that! Laughing shop assistants ensure that going shoe shopping becomes a thing to avoid rather a thing you just do. I do not do shoes!
I decided to go into the exhibition nevertheless as I thought it would be something I could blog about. And I am so pleased that I did. What a fascinating, well presented and interesting experience this was.
This is quite a large exhibition staged on two floors. As you enter the first display cabinet is of the most famous shoe story there is – Cinderella. The glass slipper made for the most recent Cinderella film is something to behold. We are told that the story is as old as time and exists in most cultures including 1st Century Egypt. Obviously the shoe in these old stories is not a glass slipper but the premise of the story, a shoe that fits only one owner and transforms her life forever, remains the same.
A hole in the wall just past this case then shows you probably the most famous pair of shoes – the ruby slippers. There is no sound but you can ready Judy Garland’s lips…”there’s no place like home…”
Then the exhibition of various shoes starts displayed beautifully and clearly in large glass cabinets. A pair of carriage boots from 1860-70 caught my eye. They looked extremely cosy for a winter’s night trip home in a draft carriage!
In another cabinet are a pair of strappy glitzy sandals donated by Kylie Minogue CBE.
There is a display about lotus feet – the practice in China of binding feet as a girl grew to ensure that they only reached the ideal length of 7.6cm.
Marilyn Monroe’s Salvatore Ferragamo pink stilettos grab your attention as to Mirs Anderson’s pink heels made by Joseph Box Ltd. Apparently though bought for the ‘boudoir” she liked them so much she wore them outside! They looked crippling.
So many types of shoe, winkle pickers, mens clubbing boots, flat slippers, pointed poulaine’s, fish shaped mules, ghatela and sissy heeled platforms.
Great designers names including Roger Vivier are presented including a pair of buckle shoes based on the pilgrims shoes, apparently these were highly sought after in the 1960’s as worn by Catherine Deneuvre.
There’s a pair of Mary Quant ankle boots in clear PVC. They had a daisy on the heel so that you left a trail of daisy’s when walking.
Naomi Campbell’s renowned blue platforms, the one she fell over wearing.
I was the Laboutin red soles and a pair of shoes made by Jean-Louis Francois Pinet, the first celebrity shoe maker. He made a beautiful painted satin boot with a slim elegant heel. Apparently they were instantly recognisable as having been made by him and therefore highly sought after.
I learnt things I had just never thought about although once thought about I suppose they become obvious. Shoes transform you. A shoe changes how you walk, it changes your stride, your gait. A shoe can turn a skipping girl into a seductress. High heels are designed to force out a woman’s breasts and buttocks and make her hips move from side to side. Much as there was a whole display upstairs of Adidas trainers my old faithful’s were making me feel a bit dowdy by this point. It became obvious that my bottom wasn’t forced out at all!
Upstairs I was able to take the weight off my feet as I watched a great video featuring Manolo Blank, Sandra Choi from Jimmy Choo, Caroline Graves, Marc Hare and Christian Louboutin. They talk about inspiration, how they make shoes, how they design shoes and what being a shoe designer means to them. I absolutely loved Manolo Blank, what a character he is! It was interesting, and a little scary, to learn that Caroline Graves buys vintage shoes to deconstruct them so that she can design new shoes using old techniques. Eek to losing those pieces of history and it makes me feel a little bit like how I do when people paint Ercol chairs. It’s ok if that’s all that they’re good for.
Upstairs a number of amazing shoe collections are also featured including that of Lionel Ernest Bussey who collected shoes from 1914 until his death in 1969. Most were unworn, in their original boxes with their receipts. Imelda Marcus – of course! There is a quote on the side of her display cabinet, “I did not have 3,000 pairs of shoes. I had one thousand and sixty”. So there!
This exhibition is truly fascinating and I loved it. I loved that downstairs the background music was just someone walking in heels on concrete. It is a really powerful and dominating sound. Completely appropriate. And my hatred of shoes was dulled a little. My softening may lead to the purchase of a nice pair of shoes because, according to Cinderella, “…one shoe can change your life”…
Shoes is showing at the Victoria & Albert Museum until January 2016. Tickets are £12 on the door.