A trip to London Town

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V&A EXHIBITION 2015

SHOES EXHIBITION at the V&A

Good morning my lovely Sages,

It has been a busy week. Last Wednesday, under a clear cerulean sky, I braved the autumnal nip in the air AND public transport to visit the gorgeous V&A.

Over the past little while, I have been hearing great things about the Shoes exhibition. Shoes are a subject close to my heart, causing me both extreme pleasure and pain. I was clearly not made for striding out in 4 inch stilettos, favouring a felt topped Birkenstock or handmade Marsell shoe of exquisite craftsmanship and a price tag to match. Gulp. So in a moment of self indulgence I decided to clear a day to take a trip up to Londontown to see if the exhibition was worth all the hype.

After a fabulous trip to Fenwicks (more of which in my next post), and a delicious sushi lunch, my husband and I jumped in a taxi to fully enjoy London in the sunshine. Greeted by the most wonderfully enthusiastic lady at the V&A desk, we passed tantalising indian prints and artworks calling for us to visit again another day. But first. Shoes. What a visual feast!

Terry de Havilland Shoes
Leather, snakeskin and PVC platform Sandals, by Terry de Havilland, early 1970’s V&A Magazine

Displayed behind glass cases, like slick skinned pouting night workers in Amsterdam windows, the shoes lie as jewels tumbled on red sheets. A visual riot of colour and texture and sexy as hell. Gilded and incised leather and papyrus sandals from Egypt (c.308BCE-300CE) juxtapose and enhance green feathered Jimmy Choo heels of dreams. Silver and Gold wedding toe-knob ‘paduka’s’ from the 1800’s sit proudly as forebears to Vivienne Westwoods purple mock crock platforms, famous for Naomi Campbell’s tumble in 1993. It’s astonishingly curated.

The detail in a shoe is magnified and elevates it to artwork status when displayed in such a manner. Cultural, anthropological, and clearly expose the fetishes of the day. Feet just a hundred years ago were absolutely tiny, slight. Narrow and of childlike proportions. (Or, as my husband pointed out, maybe the smallest sizes weren’t sold and therefore preserved perfectly for us to pass comment and judgement on 100 years later). Either way, the care and attention paid to footwear that wouldn’t even be necessarily seen, covered as they may have been due to the long lengthed fashions of the time, was jaw dropping. Tiny jewels, exquisite shapes and patterns, hand stitched silks, stretched and dyed to the perfect colour.

Leather and lace platforms, by Nicholas Kirkwood, 2011. V&A magazine. Photo by Jaron James.
Leather and lace platforms, by Nicholas Kirkwood, 2011. V&A magazine. Photo by Jaron James. V&A Photographic Studio.

We took all the shoes in slowly and greedily, every one of them gorgeous and interest-laden in their own way. I delighted in spotting shoes I have owned and still love. A black patented Salvatore Ferragamo pump, beautiful with its silver accented bow, remains one of my most precious possessions. Comfortable and polished, it elevates any outfit. It looked as stunning confined behind that glittering glass as it does on my party foot. And that, I think, is the whole point of the shoe.

Salvatore Ferragamo patent pumps
Salvatore Ferragamo patent pumps

Salvatore-Ferragamo-Trilly-Pumps

One of the most interesting displays was of a collection of trainers, a ubiquitous collection of a mundane shoe, but still imbued with craftsmanship and comfort. I thought of my beloved Stan Smiths at home, and felt proud to be in the tribe. Cool meets culture, and I feel like I belong.

My husband was strangely drawn to a pair of David Lynch/Louboutin designed glass soled fetish shoes which you were unable to walk upright in. These shoes were solely made for crawling, the soft underside of the foot displayed for private viewing. “Twistedly sexy” was his conclusion after much careful consideration. I moved hurriedly along.

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David Lynch/Christian Louboutin Fetish Shoes

Flamboyant as always, I myself was particularly drawn to the brightly coloured bird like creations of Sophia Webster, artworks for the feet that look like they may take flight at any minute. One day I will own a pair. Not the David Lynch/Louboutin ones I hasten to add. Sophia Webster and her flights of fancy are more my personal style.

Sophia Webster Chiara Fuschia Butterfly Sandal
Sophia Webster Chiara Shoe http://www.sophiawebster.com

There was also a beautifully shot installation video marking the end of the exhibition. Cocooned within a high wall of brown shoe boxes, it was transfixing. I delighted in hearing a selection of designers explain the process and thought behind producing the one item of fashion that can actually change your walk, your posture and your whole outlook on the day. I yearned for the skills and passion to produce such items of beauty. Maybe another skill to add to my craft led repertoire…although perhaps I shall master felting first.

Patent leather
Patent leather “Tribute II” sandals, Yves Saint Laurent, 2014. Photo by Jaron James V&A Photographic Studio

I loved this exhibition and I urge you to catch it if you haven’t been. Shoes in all their forms are the bedrock of many fables, (which, my faithful followers, we all love!) and the implied narrative of the well worn shoe whispers and presses against those glass confines of the display panes. The story of the wearer of such a shoe draws me inexorably in.

Fabric & leather Stilettos by Casadei for Fausto Puglisi, 2014. Photos by Jaron James, V&A Photographic Studios
Fabric & leather Stilettos by Casadei for Fausto Puglisi, 2014.
Photos by Jaron James, V&A Photographic Studios

In conclusion my sweet Sages – be more selective and take more joy in choosing your footwear investments in the future. They are not fashion items, but miniature sculptures for the feet, supporting, beautiful and the perfect mix of form with function. I feel a trip to London coming on again soon!

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‘Parakeet’ shoes, by Caroline Groves (1959)