Installation view of Shoes: Pleasure and Pain at the V&A (13 June 2015 – 31 January 2016) © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
What crossed your mind before you put on your shoes this morning? Was it whether they would be comfortable and practical; induce a sense of power and prowess? Give you added height or simply that they went better with your outfit over another pair? Shoes: they have transformative qualities, we know that, and are endlessly mystified by it. Five years in the making, the Victoria & Albert Museum's latest exhibition, Shoes: Pleasure & Pain, seeks to dissect that even further, bringing together a shoe shrine of examples (more than 250 pairs) of both historic and contemporary styles from across the world to explore our obsession.
"This obsession with shoes just really struck me, and how it's gone on. Through social media, it's in our living room. I wanted to go into why are we who we are in shoes? And so often they are not really made for our feet, which are actually quite wide. Fashion is a different thing," explains the exhibition's curator Helen Persson. Funnily enough, for someone curating a show about shoes, Persson's own collection is rather modest - she estimates about 40 and that includes practical shoes, not just the pretty ones, of which there are very many to be found here.
Spanning two floors (a jewel box-style surround carefully and cosily lit downstairs for all the fanciful creations and a bright and airy upstairs for the more pragmatic matters of the making aspect), the exhibition is broken down into categories, shoes grouped by "status" and "seduction". Among the line-up, you'll spot a simple pair of courts belonging to Marilyn Monroe. "Her toe prints can still be seen inside," points our Persson. "There's something very intimate about that because it contains a piece of your body, rather like lingerie." She makes a good point.
From the V&A: "13 June 2015 – 31 January 2016. This exhibition will look at the extremes of footwear from around the globe, presenting around 200 pairs of shoes ranging from a sandal decorated in pure gold leaf originating from ancient Egypt to the most elaborate designs by contemporary makers."