It doesn’t matter what kind of shoes they are: serious stilettos, beaten-up trainers, sparkly slippers or the smartest brogues… everyone’s shoes are a part of them, always journeying with the wearer.
In the accompanying exhibition catalogue Shoes: Pleasure & Pain, cultural historian Caroline Cox remarks, ‘we make contact with the world through our feet – this is why shoes are so significant.’ With reference to the catalogue and Shoes: A Brief History from V&A Publishing, this blog post focuses on the stories behind the shoes…
1. Pair of bright blue punched leather Mock-Croc platform shoes, blue silk ribbon laces, platform soles by Vivienne Westwood (b.1941); U.K. (London); from the Autumn/ Winter 1993 – 94 Anglomania Collection.
These infamous mock-croc platforms have a well documented life story – soaring to fame in 1993, when supermodel Naomi Campbell walked the Vivienne Westwood runway show in Paris in a pair of Westwood’s notoriously high platform heels—and fell.
From that moment onwards these 12 inch heels instantly became famous. Their iconic status has taken them on a journey that has led them to their worthy current position within this exhibition that looks at the extremes of footwear around the globe.
2. Woman’s leather shoe with latchet fastening
British 1660 – 80s, found hidden in a chimney. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Our second pair looks rather unassuming and modest in comparison, but with an equally interesting story to tell. Shoes: A Brief History reveals this particular shoe found hidden within the neck of a chimney. From its blackened, well worn state and style such stories can be deduced… it has a suggested date of 1640s – 1650s and probably belonging to a working-class country man.. but this doesn’t explain why it was found within a chimney? Shoes are often associated with good luck, witness all the holiday souvenirs in the shape of shoes and the fact that we still tie them on the back of wedding cars. Shoes: Pleasure and Pain describes this strange symbolic importance that shoes have ‘with certain objects, there is an enduring tension between the practical and the symbolic. For shoes, the symbolic has arguably become more important than the practical’. Shoes have often been found concealed in buildings, the important role of this shoe was probably to ward off evil spirits, and in some way protect the property and its occupants.
3. Red boots, glace kid leather, handmade in Belgium for National Shoe Store London, late 1920s. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
This pair of Red Boots came from the collection of Lionel Bussey, who only collected mint-condition women’s shoes that sat on a shelf, as fetishistic objects, all their life. Bussey collected women’s shoes from about 1914 until his death in 1969, by then he had acquired about 600 pairs. His obsession meant that these shoes were never worn, they went on no adventures, and therefore their story seems a sad one, of imprisonment, sat on a shelf purely for display. Author Hans Christian Andersen, reinforces the festishistic power that shoes can hold, and in particular the effect of red ones: ‘There is really nothing in the world that can compare with red shoes’ – Taken from Shoes: Pleasure & Pain.
4. Shoe, Probably Spain 1800-1899. Leather Shoe
Shoe of slashed leather with a modest horned toe.
Probably London 1520s – 1540s, Hand-sewn tanned leather. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The two styles of shoes above are called ‘Crackows’ and ‘Duckbills’. Shoes reflect the time and place of their creation, providing unique insights into human history and identity. The Crackow style of shoe, with long, unnatural toes, was associated with luxurious living and were particularly fashionable in the late fourteenth century. The Duckbill on the other hand, with it’s square toe, were popular amoung the nobility as well as the moderately wealthy. Due to their functionality, many examples of Duckbill shoes were found on the wreck of Henry VIII’s 1545 warship, The Mary Rose. Although we do not know the identity of the wearer we can only imagine the journey that these shoes may have taken through Tudor court life, across the seas, to the bottom of the ocean and then resurfacing to find itself within the V&A Conservation Department.