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Sunday, 28 June 2015

Shoes: Pleasure and Pain | Review


This exhibition boasts 200 different pairs of shoes from across the globe with the oldest pair of shoes dating back to Ancient Egypt and spanning a time period right up to futuristic 3D printed footwear. Based in the Fashion Rotunda of the Victoria and Albert Museum the display is set on 2-levels with the collections of shoes on the ground level drawing on themes of Transformation, Status and Seduction and the higher tier presenting a not-so comprehensive process of Creation and then an after-thought of Obsession.

The stuffy, crowded displays of the vast collection of shoes made it difficult to gage what one was supposed to be gaining from each window. The themes and the overall structure of the show limited the viewers understanding of 'Shoe Evolution'. But then perhaps this was purposefully not the focus.


Transformation explored footwear in folklore. Stories in which a character's life is changed in ways of status, vanity, punishment, freedom and reward: Karen's red ballet shoes, Cinderella's glass slipper and footage of Dorothy's ruby slippers. Transformation takes a look at how shoes can give the wearer powers, the Avengers would be proud of and how these qualities are prominent in the advertising of modern shoes today.
Leonaide Massine and Moira Shearer in The Red Shoes (1948). Photograph: Ronald Grant Archive

Status takes us on a 'journey' through the impractical, limiting, cultural influenced designs. Shoes with debilitating platforms often changed and dictated the way in which the wearer had to move, were seen and heard making them stand out from the rest. In this series we can discover pedestal shoes worn by the Manchu people of China, red heels worn by Louis XIV’s court, exquisite embroidery and bound shoes worn by the Chinese Song dynasty (1850) which involved tightly wrapping young girls feet to stem their growth.

Shoes for bound feet, China, late 1800s. Photograph: Victoria & Albert Museum

Seduction, of which this exhibition is heavily alluded to with the soundtrack of a woman gasping similar to the Herbal Essence advert and the purple drapes and mood lighting cleverly emitted that overall euphoric feeling of finding and wearing a new pair of shoes that men and women alike for what ever reason find themselves unable to resist. Shoes with transparent soles, skyscraper heels and boots spanning the length of the wearers whole leg are represented through Fetishism. Similar to the illusions of status the different designs in different cultures dictates how the wearer must move. The wedge-like Geta worn by Japanese Geisha's that are tread by walking in circular dragging movements make the wearer walk slowly so that their beauty and allure can be admired by all. A pair of shoes with inward-facing, flattened heels, impossible to be walked on makes the wearer crawl creating a sense of vulnerability of which can be dominated through sexual exploits *fans self*.

Shoes for bound feet, China, late 1800s. Photograph: Victoria & Albert Museum 

And then we come to the Creating process summed up in a rushed through display of the modern shoe and a 'that-will-do' video comprising of famous shoe designers; Marc Hare, Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin and one humble shoe maker, Caroline Groves. From inspirational starting points, sketches, to selecting the Last (the shape model) and the heel to the mass production of this commodity. Rounded off by stories of Shoe Obsession: collectors of designer shoes to an Adidas trainer obsession.
Shoe Lasts
Slightly lacking in chronological structure and not enough about the Creative process and how it has changed from highly-mastered craft through to the invention of technology but a thrill nonetheless for any shoe-a-holic.

Shoes: Pleasure and Pain is on at the V & A Museum, South-Kensington, London 
from 13th June 2015-31st January 2016.  
Tickets are £12 here.

By need for a linear pattern of historic footwear has been fulfilled by a timeline found here