“Shoes: Pleasure and Pain” Features the Most Extreme Footwear in History

Marilyn Monroe's pumps still bear her toe prints.

‘Parakeet’ shoes, Caroline Groves, England 2014. Photo: Dan Lowe/Victoria & Albert Museum.
Evening shoe, beaded silk and leather, France 1958-60. Photo: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Evening shoe, beaded silk and leather, France (1958-60).
Photo: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

“Shoes: Pleasure and Pain”, a new exhibition this month at Victoria & Albert Museum in London, will look at the history and future of extreme shapes of footwear from around the world.

The exploration of form, and function, is at the heart of the sprawling show, which features over 200 pieces of fabulous and frightening footwear.

Installation view. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Installation view.
Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The museum categorizes shoes into “status” and “seduction,” and visitors will be able to glimpse a pair of pumps worn by Marilyn Monroe, which still have “her toe prints inside,” exhibition curator Helen Persson told Vogue. “There’s something very intimate about that because it contains a piece of your body,” she added, “rather like lingerie.”

Now that fashion has become a dominant theme in museum exhibitions (see Highlights of the Met Costume Institute’s Dramatic New China Exhibition), it’s no wonder institutions are also turning their gaze south of the body, exploring the history of shoes.

Last year Brooklyn Museum put on a show about high heels (see “Killer Heels” Has Pretty Shoes and Brains To Boot), and this year it will have an exhibition exploring the rise of sneaker culture.

The Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto is a staple in the shoe world; it has over 13,000 pieces in its collection (see New Exhibition Explores Sartorial History of Men in High Heels).

‘Parakeet’ shoes Caroline Groves, England 2014.Photo: Dan Lowe/ Victoria & Albert Museum.

Caroline Groves, ‘Parakeet’ shoes; England (2014).
Photo: Dan Lowe/ Victoria & Albert Museum.

“Porn chic,” “not for rainy days,” and “sitting,” are other categories in the show. An example of sitting shoes would be the cobalt blue lace-up platforms that made supermodel Naomi Campbell tumble on the catwalk.

Other items on view are a pair from the trove of former first lady of the Philippines, and avid shoe collector, Imelda Marcos (see Missing Goya Found Amid Seized Art Trove of Shoe Queen Imelda Marcos), as well as tiny 17th century Chinese shoes for bound feet.

Die-hard Sex and the City fans will be pleased to know Carrie Bradshaw’s feathered sandals, which she lost while running to a catch a ferry, also make an appearance. As a balance, the show also makes a point to include brogues, oxfords, and Wellington boots.

Sex, power, and aesthetics are very much on display in the images below.

Installation view. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Installation view.
Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Wedding toe-knob paduka, silver and gold over wood, India (1800s). Photo: courtesy Victoria & Albert Museum.

Wedding toe-knob paduka, silver and gold over wood, India (1800s).
Photo: courtesy Victoria & Albert Museum.

Installation view. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Installation view.
Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Red ballet shoes made for Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) in The Red Shoes (1948). Photo: courtesy Northampton Museums and Art Gallery.

Red ballet shoes made for Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) in The Red Shoes (1948).
Photo: courtesy Northampton Museums and Art Gallery.

Installation view. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Installation view.
Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Installation view. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Installation view.
Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Men's gilded and marble leather. Photo: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Men’s gilded and marble leather.
Photo: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

InvisibleNakedVersion, (2011). Photo: Andrew Bradley.

Andreia Chaves, Invisible Naked Version, (2011).
Photo: Andrew Bradley.

Installation view. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Installation view.
Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Shoes: Pleasure and Pain” at the Victoria & Albert Museum is on view from June 13, 2015 through January 31, 2016. 


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