Fabulous, head-turning, extreme. Perhaps not the most comfortable, they’re nonetheless objects of desire. Shoes are truly an obsession – mostly for women – explains Lucia Savi, curator of the exhibition Shoes: Pleasure and Pain at the V&A Museum in London, open until January 31st, 2016.
The exhibition, which portrays over 200 pairs of styles from all over the world from diverse cultures and time periods (from ancient Egypt to Marilyn Monroe), explores this “obsession”, linked to the power of transformation that a pair of shoes exerts on the wearer.
What was the most challenging aspect of organising a shoe exhibition?
Choosing from the great wealth of material and selecting the most representative pieces from the vast V&A footwear collection. Another challenge was how to display shoes as they’re quite small-scale objects in the exhibition showcases. We have done this by using different structures in each section and subsection of the exhibition. Some shoes are displayed upside down, some showing their side or their heels. It creates more dynamism in the display.
What types of shoes will people discover when they visit the exhibition?
The exhibition displays around 250 pairs of shoes: people will see shoes from 20 different countries by 70 designers, both past and present, from 30 BC up to today – spanning a period of 2000 years. We are displaying everything from Japanese Geta to Indian slippers encrusted with jewels, or high-tech trainers and the most delicate designer shoes.
What are the main similarities between the shoe styles selected?
We have displayed the shoes by theme so you will find that, for example, people have always used height – through platforms or heels, to literally stand out from the crowd.
In your opinion why are women so obsessed with shoes and so ready to suffer for a pair? I believe it’s not only a female attitude, if we look back in history and at some of the shoes on display in the exhibition, across cultures, both men and women have worn impractical footwear that often don’t relate to the shape of their feet. I believe this tendency is due to the transformative nature of shoes.
Why do you feel that people gain so much pleasure from shoes?
This is possibly because they can go beyond being a mere practical protective tool that help us move and walk. They are fantastical, sometimes magical objects that help us project an ideal of ourselves.
How many pairs of shoes do you own?
I am a very ‘loyal wearer’, if I love a pair of shoes I will wear them repeatedly every day until they’re completely worn out. This means that my shoe collection is not very extensive, I have never counted them, but I would say around 15-20. Working on this exhibition, however, has inspired me to have more shoes!
What does your own shoe collection say about your personality?
I am a flat shoe person. I walk very fast and people always think I am on the move. I believe my shoes project a dynamism that is typical of my character. Although I am very confident and comfortable in flats, I love the way that high heels transform me when I wear them, although that’s rare and only for special occasions.
If you could choose one pairs of shoes from the collection to take home, which would you select and why?
I would choose the qabâqib; the tallest shoes in the exhibition. These shoes are made of wood and are decorated with mother of pearl. I found these clogs very fascinating since originally they were used to raise the wearer above the heated floor of the Hamman, and with the passing of time they became a potent symbol of wealth and status. In fact the wearer, even when naked draws attention to her status, thanks to the rich decoration and their extreme height.
How has the technology affected the way the shoes are made today?
Technology has always had an impact on how we make shoes in different times. For example the invention of the metal spike in the 1920s and the metal shank in 1950 allowed for the steadier support of the wearer’s weight and for a wider selection of heel design and height of shoes. The designer Rayne, for instance, could then make a pair of court shoes with ceramic heels.
In your opinion type of shoes will we be wearing in 50 years’ time?
I can’t be sure about the style, however, I bet leather will still be the main material we create our shoes with.