These shoes were acquired by the Museum in 1974 as part of an evening outfit, and had been displayed in 1972 with that ensemble in Cecil Beaton‘s groundbreaking V&A exhibition ‘Fashion: An Anthology‘.
What’s interesting about them is the innovative use of materials and the co-ordination, materially and stylistically, with the rest of the outfit. Throughout the 1960s, Cristobal Balenciaga, the famous Paris-based Spanish couturier, experimented with plastics and unusual textiles. The dress was covered with graduated pink melanex sequins, which would have caused it to shimmer as the wearer (who in this case was Baroness Philippe de Rothschild) strutted to whatever party they were attending.
These shoes were not designed by Balenciaga, but by Roger Vivier, who was also based in Paris, and who designed shoes for other famous houses such as Dior and Yves Saint Laurent. Queen Elizabeth II wore Vivier shoes at her coronation, and her polar opposites, the Beatles, were also regular customers. They are made of clear plastic, now much yellowed, trimmed with pink and with hard-wearing leather soles and insoles. A reinforcing band of leather also runs around the top edge to guard against splitting, although some damage has occurred at the stress points. Such is the nature of plastic.
Vivier is also known as the inventor of the stiletto heel, though these particular shoes achieve a far more modest altitude and raise the wearer only 1.5cm. Anyone who has ever clothed themselves in plastic will know that it can provoke ceaseless perspiration. Thankfully, Vivier seems to have pre-guessed any possible embarrassment which the Baroness might have suffered by including a row of ventilation holes just above the sole, with a cluster around the arches.