V&A: Shoes. Pleasure and Pain.



The exhibition seeks to capture thematic periods evoking a stylistic mood likely to have mused shoe designers of past and present to venture deeper into their creative psyche producing some of the designs on offer at the museum.


Themes include passion, high society, look at me, the way you move, seduction and transformation, which may seem somewhat esoteric without the benefit of seeing the footwear. The glass screens permit the spectator to clearly see the fine details of the shoemakers’ craftsmanship. Some show the work in progress, materials, drawings and workbook of the shoemakers’ thought processes.


Exhibits include, the miniature historical nineteenth century silk embroidered oriental shoes, the provocative long red leather lace up boots, the futuristic DIY Perspex chisled shoe and the impressive creation of architect, Zaha Haddid. Many items exude the shoemaker’s creative flair in differing perspectives. It is easy to understand why the exhibition is rightly titled ‘pleasure and pain’.  The curator, Helen Persson says ‘It is an obsession for shoes and has cultural importance. Some are two thousand years old.”


Helen  has sought to illustrate the cultural premise that shoes are important characteristically they are indicators of gender, status, identity, taste and sexual preference; a window depicting a person’s emotions and behaviour.


The show contains up to 250 pairs of shoes, emanating from 20 countries and 70 designers. It is housed on two levels within the museum.  The installation is cleverly designed. The lower section contains the more historical and dazzling designs, set in a dark and subdued lighting while the mezzanine houses a light simplistic contemporary arrangement encompassing  the more avant garde designs and personal collections.


Collections on display, some of which are on loan to the museum and from designer houses include: Lionel Bussey, Valeria, Katie Porter, Robert Brooks and Manolo Blahnik.


Another aspect of the exhibition are the attractive dissected heels, “The higher the shoe the higher the status of the wearer” remarks Persson.  Heels contain a steel rod within the middle, which support the weight of the wearer. Exhibited are some beautiful heels delicately embossed using Wedgewood ceramic, a technique adopted by H&M Rayne, a designer label favoured by Princess Diana.


Present on both floors are video footages showing the construction of a traditional pair of brogues. There are interviews with designers and shoemakers including Louboutin and Choi.  There are also splices of periodic, classical films focussing on the footwear worn by famous actors, Marilyn Monroe in ‘Some Like It Hot,’ Gene Kelly in ‘ Singing in the Rain’ and Michael J Fox in  ‘Back to the Future’.


In animated rotational 3D format, one is able to see the construction process of up to four types of shoes.

A trip to the V&A to see curator, Helen Persson’s aptly themed shoe exhibition, Pleasure and Pain, is a real treat and should fascinate, garnering appreciation from its visitors.


The Pleasure and Pain exhibition will be at the V&A between 13 June 2015 to 31 January 2016 so there is ample time for shoe lovers, designers, collectors or the curious to visit.


The exhibition, sponsored by Clarks, is also supported by Agent Provocateur and the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers.


£12 and concessions available.

For more information contact: The V&A

Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL

To book: www.vam.ac.uk/whatson or http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/shoes-pleasure-and-pain/

Tel: 020 7942 2000


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