When I heard my beloved V&A was going to open an exhibition called “Shoes: Pleasure and Pain” I was filled with excitement, after all, it focuses around my magic word: shoes.
Not only that, it looks at footwear extremes, a subject, in fact, I am particularly fascinated by. On top of it, these 250 pairs, spanning 2,000 years, 20 countries and 70 designers, chart cultural, sociological and historical significance of shoes, as well as their power of transformation, which I can personally vouch for. And obsession.
You can read my squees of excitement here when I found out about the exhibition – so you can only imagine the extra loud squee for me being at the preview and seeing it all three days before it opened to the public.
I enjoyed the shoes groupings as it is not chronological, but focuses on the theme, usually around wearer’s emotions. I also like they are shown in pairs, as, even though some seem too extreme, they were all designed to be worn.
The exhibition is set over two floors and has shoes from the V&A and other museums collection, as well as designers and private individuals.
The first, quite moody, in dark lighting, showcases sensations of how footwear makes us feel and be perceived.
It is split in three parts. Transformation, on which the shoe changes – rewarding and punishing – the life of the wearer, real or imaginary, such as Cinderella’s glass slipper. It is the meaning of shoes instilled in our psyche, at a young age, through fairytales or folklore.
A few attendees had a really lovely – and quite intimate – post intro chit chat with curator Helen Persson, and I managed to squeeze in my vanity question and got an exclusive bit for SMLT! Drum roll….
When I asked: “If you could pick one pair, which one would it be?” I found out that in this section lies her favourite: the 1943 Ocelot leather and fur boots that managed to circumvent the WWII rationing, because they are “telling a lot about us, about humans – in the middle of war, still want something nice and new and beautiful (…) so they sacrificed” – in this case an old coat – and made the wearer feel “WOW”. I love a shoe that tells a story and for me, that is what it is all about. Plus that encapsulates transformation, just there.
Status, with impracticality being its main point (a “don’t need to walk” mentality), which changes the way the wearer moves, from “Pompadours” to today’s “dinner shoes” from McQueen and Sophia Webster, and many other luxury, towering designer footwear.
It touches on several aspects of status, such as grabbing attention by “jewelling our feet”, being part of a performance and being able to be another person – closely linking to the transformative power of footwear, trend/designer following or even historically raising the wearer physically to symbolise a higher status in society.
Seduction – my favourite – is all about pleasure and sexual empowerment brought about by shoes and eroticism made mainstream with the advent of porn-chic. The way the body moves in a different way when wearing heels and shoes and feet being objects of fetishism add to the sexual nature of footwear.
Go up to the second floor by following the holographic shoe prints on the floor (dead cute), be greeted by Cinder’s “One shoe can change you life” sentence and face a very different enviroment, digging deep at craft involved in designing and creating, as well as consumption.
In a lab style setting, we can find out about sketching, materials, techniques, innovation, creativity, ingenuity and story telling involved in designing a shoe – this also became clear to me when I saw Christian Louboutin talk about how he designs his collections.
Here, craftsmanship meets tech to produce works of art. Simple as.
There is a film playing, featuring interviews with Manolo Blahnik, Sandra Choi, Caroline Groves, Marc Hare and Christian Louboutin, talking about their art and inspiration. Film, by the way, is plays a great part here and it is dotted around the exhibition.
Also looking at the future and the experimental nature of shoe design, as well as current cutting edge examples, such as Zaha Hadid’s Nova, the exhibition closes with shoes as an investment and collection – even counting with a shoe from Imelda Marcos collection.
My top five shoes? Blimey. Tough choice.
1. Louboutin Anemone. I mean, come on. It’s me, as a shoe.
2. Cinderella’s slipper – because we all want to be princesses. Naaah, not really, but I wouldn’t mind those shoes, they are sparkly and colour-shifting.
3. Louboutin’s (sense a theme here?) “Sous de pied”, created for David Lynch’s “Fetish”, as it is hot. Angled heel to force the wearer to crawl, see through sole. One shoe that defines fetish, in my view.
4. Caroline Groves Parakeet shoes. How can I not love? They are gorgeous, almost surreal, from 1959 but wouldn’t feel out of place in a collection today.
5. The red ballet slippers Moira Shearer wore for “The Red Shoes”. They are red, they are shoes and they thug at the heart strings with my ballet background.
5.1. it’s allowed, right? Julian Hakes Mojito is a shoe that has been in my heart for a while, as it was my first contact with the “future” of footwear. A piece of art, architecture piece, footwear. It kind of sits as the “future” category for me. .
Very important to the V&A, which is a free museum, is to highlight this exhibition sponsor, Clarks shoes, which is completing 190 years and remains a family business, supporters Agent Provocateur lingerie (hot!) and Company of Cordwainers, which helps students and entrepreneurs to follow their shoe designing dream with bursaries.
For me, the pleasure will always be bigger than the pain. And mind you, at the V&A, you can get all the pleasure of lookign at these beauties totally pain free!
Needless to say, for all the reason above and many more, it is highly recommended.
Do not wait – get yourself down to the Victoria & Albert museum! The Shoes: Pleasure and Pain exhibition opens on the 13 June (Saturday) and goes to January 2016, tickets cost £12 (concession available and members go free) and you can book online here.
Of course, worth noting the V&A has an unrivalled collection of shoes – more than 2,000 pairs spanning more than 3,000 years. Oh, and there was little me thinking I had a decent shoes collection…