SHOES: PAIN & PLEASURE
When dressing this morning, what notions went through your head? Did you want to be sport-luxe, contemporary casual or maybe more couture for a special event. Top-to-toe co-ordination is now a must in any fashion followers guidebook. From underwear to umbrellas and hats to high heels everything has to have a ´sense of unity´within your daily dilemma.
Many people like to dress for comfort, until it´s down to their shoes. Before wearing them comes the selection process. Do you opt for practicallity with comfort or power with aesthetic performance? Whether its adding some height or simply a contrast, shoes have been noted over the centuries to give their wearer transformative attributes. Acknowledging the serious role of shoes in fashion and society today, the Victoria & Albert Museum´s soulful showcase Shoes: Pleasure & Pain continues to delight its public. With over five years of preparations, the V&A´s top trending treasure trove strives to de-mystify societies shoe obsession using their history and development along side case studies to bring together over 250 pairs of shoes in every style imageinable under one roof.
´This obsession with shoes just really struck me, and how it’s gone on. Through social media, it’s in our living room. I wanted to go into why are we who we are in shoes? And so often they are not really made for our feet, which are actually quite wide. Fashion is a different thing.´ – Helen Persson
The principal curator, Helen Persson explained how she was struck by the shoe obsession of society, which has become more apparent of present through social media advertising. Retaining a modest 40 or so pairs herself ranging from the pretty to the practical gave her a chance to indulge her wildest foot fantasies during the exbibitions compilation. As well as the shoes themselves, a full array of history, designers, techniques and quotes adorn the walls of this central London shrine to fashion.
Taking pride of place next to the central courtyard and covering two floors, the cleverly lit exhibition space is reminiscent of a very decadant jewellery box with it´s dull, seductive lower level which gives way to a light flooded higher volume filled with all the drama and spectacle of its resident wares. The main categorisation of the shoes are either ´status´ or ´seduction´. Don´t be amazed if you see a pair of court shoes belonging to Marilyn Monroe. ¨If you get the chance to look inside her shoes, you can still see her toe prints as she reguarly wore these shoes. There’s something very intimate about that because it contains a piece of your body, rather like lingerie.¨
Standing next to these classifications with a juxtaposition sharper than Nigella´s famous fetish heels are the ´porn chic´ shoes. Attention commanding sapphire and red diamond shoes sparkle next to ´those´ blue Vivienne Westwood platforms which sent Naomi tumbling during her autumn/winter 1993 show. Other offerings from Jean Louis Francois Pinet, Manolo Blahnik and the lady who made him famous, Carrie Bradshaw. ¨Sex And The City – it was in the papers, you couldn’t avoid it. It became part of the street vocabulary. It’s been talked about so much that one could feel tired by it, but one should not underestimate it¨ Persson reminisced. Any nineties prime time watching, fashion following fantasist will remeber with the clarity of a Harry Winston the time then Mr Big proposed to Ms Bradshaw with the infamous Manolo Blahnik Hangisi Jewel Satin Pumps.
´If you get the chance to look inside Marilyn´s shoes, you can still see her toe prints. There’s something very intimate about that because it contains a piece of your body, rather like lingerie.´ – Helen Persson
However, putting the aesthetics aside, it is important to remember the purpose that shoes actually served which was to protect the feet. At times, it can be easy to forget that these little works of art you walk on are actually ingenious feats of of engineering and construction. Back in time, hundreds of years ago, although gladiator sandals were common place, platforms and high heels were actually being attempted, in their crudest forms. “The fashion was to wear really high platforms to be above everyone else and show off¨ Helen found from her discovery after researching sculptures from the from the women of the time.
The exhibition closes with an impressive shoe wall of boxes towards the exit. Polariods of various styles from the permanent collection adorn the frontages of their little cardboard coffins which sadly never made the light of day, which is a stark contrast to reality today and why the V&A commissioned such a commendable offering.
Article: Charles Daniel McDonald
Photography: Victoria & Albert Museum