Shoes are on the most evocative aspects of dress. Sculptural and beautiful, shoes are adored by millions. The V&A exhibition, opening on the 13th of June 2015, Shoes: Pleasure and Pain will examine this obsession and discuss how shoes are powerful indicators of gender, status, identity, taste and sexual preference.
The exhibition will include over 250 pairs of alluring and non-functional footwear, both male and female. It will be based on the V&A’s rich collection of Asian and Western footwear, complemented by loans from other institutions worldwide and private collection. Also included are famous shoe wearers and collectors, masterpieces by unknown craftsmen and well-known pieces by celebrated shoe designers.
It will not be the history of shoes, nor encyclopaedia of shoe designers. The displays will be non-chronological and thematic. It will look at how humans have encased their feet in elaborate and highly ornamental footwear usually with little consideration for comfort, functionality or suitability. The dates of the pieces in the exhibition range from ca. 30 BCE to the Spring /Summer 2015, and many of the V&A’s footwear haven’t been on display for over 100 years, if ever.
The earliest footwear in the exhibition is this sandal, dated to late Pharaonic Egypt / early Roman period. The insole is gilded with near pure gold, but it show signs of actual wear. Can you imagine walking on gold? They would have made a rather emphatic statement about the wearer’s status.
Other exciting examples in the exhibition will be the excessively long-toed Medieval shoes, the extremely high-heeled 1890s fetish boots, jewel-encrusted Indian slippers, a beautiful array of Roger Vivier pull-overs (these are a bit like shoe prototypes), the tiny shoes for the Chinese bound feet, and of course Vivienne Westwood’s blue mock-croc platform shoes in which Naomi Campbell fell over – the original fashion roadkill.
The exhibition and its publication has been five years in the making and require team-work, from the logistics of loans to the conservation, and photography, not to mention the very difficult selection of the objects. This shoe-blog will reveal all the pleasures and pains in putting together an exhibition at the V&A.