Museum Exhibits the Most Extreme Shoes in the World (Photos)

Shoes worn by Queen Victoria, printed in 3D technology, or designed by architect Zaha Hadid are among 200 pairs from all over the world displayed in the exhibition Shoes: Pleasure and Pain, opening on June 13 at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. “The V&A has the best, the most extreme, and most fashionable footwear, so it was their story that drove the process and the themes,” said Helen Persson, curator of the exhibition. Here are highlights.
Seduction
Seduction

An installation view of the theme “Seduction” in the ground-floor gallery. (The floor as a whole is a cozy space with a boudoir feeling to it, and includes exhibits exploring the themes of transformation, status, and seduction.) Among the shoes on view here are the Japanese geta and extreme heels.

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Two-Teethed Geta, circa 1920, Japan
Two-Teethed Geta, circa 1920, Japan

An affluent woman wore these shoes on cold days. We know this because geta were what Japanese men and women would wear traditionally, but for the wealthy they were decorated, for instance, like we see here, with gold and fur. 

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Parakeet Shoes, 1959, Caroline Groves
Parakeet Shoes, 1959, Caroline Groves

These sandals by London-based shoe designer Caroline Groves were custom-made using bird wings and vintage silk. Groves is one of only a few designers creating bespoke high-heeled shoes for women. 

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Wedding Toe Knobs, India
Wedding Toe Knobs, India

These Indian silver toe-knob sandals, known as paduka, were often given to brides as a wedding present. A precious gift, they were then passed on to other female family members. Thanks to their height, the bride wearing the sandals would stand out among the crowd. 

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Lotus Shoe, 19th century, China
Lotus Shoe, 19th century, China

The practice of foot binding probably started in Chinese court circles in the mid-13th century and was practiced by the wealthy. But during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), it became a normal practice for the majority of Han Chinese women—and while it was finally banned in 1912, it continued in rural areas until the 1940s. The ideal length for a woman’s foot was considered to be 7.6cm (roughly 3 inches).

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Noritaka Tatehana
Noritaka Tatehana

Japanese designer Noritaka Tatehana hand-makes beautifully crafted, extremely tall heel-less shoes, using traditional materials and techniques. Fashion icon Daphne Guinness was able to walk in these dizzying shoes. 

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Women’s Slap Sole Shoe, 1640-50, England
Women’s Slap Sole Shoe, 1640-50, England

In the ground-floor gallery, the “Status” theme reveals how impractical shoes have been worn to reflect a privileged lifestyle. An example of this is the slap-sole shoe (so-called because in the 17th century, to avoid heels from sinking into the dirt of unpaved roads, a flat sole was added to the bottom of the shoe, creating a slap-slap noise).

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Pair of Qabaqib, 1800-80, Egypt
Pair of Qabaqib, 1800-80, Egypt

The qabaqib, worn in the Ottoman Empire from the 16th century, had the purpose of raising women wearing them above the hammam’s heated floor. They were a symbol of wealth and status. The pair on view, made of wood, silk velvet, leather, and shell and metal inlay, is 28.5cm tall and comes from 1800-80 Egypt.

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Status
Status

In the back of this status-themed installation are the Vivienne Westwood blue mock-croc platforms, unfit for walking, that were made famous by Naomi Campbell’s fall on a Paris catwalk.

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Super-Elevated Gillie, 1993, London, Vivienne Westwood
Super-Elevated Gillie, 1993, London, Vivienne Westwood

The blue mock-croc Vivienne Westwood platforms that were responsible for supermodel Naomi Campbell’s fall on a Paris catwalk. 

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Queen Victoria’s Slippers
Queen Victoria’s Slippers

A pair of Queen Victoria’s white satin slippers with bars of gold.

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Rainbow Sandal, 1938, Italy
Rainbow Sandal, 1938, Italy

Salvatore Ferragamo, who brought the high platform heel back into fashion in the 1930s, was thinking about Judy Garland when he designed this multicolored sandal in 1938. 

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Nova Shoes, 2013, London/China, Zaha Hadid for United Nude
Nova Shoes, 2013, London/China, Zaha Hadid for United Nude

It was, of course, an architect who designed this sculptural system that allows for an unsupported 16cm heel. Zaha Hadid created a shoe whose different parts appear to be one. 

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Creation
Creation

An installation view of the “Creation” section, which includes 3D-printed shoes as well as Zaha Hadid’s unsupported 16cm heels.

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Invisible NakedVersion Shoes, 2011, Brazil, Andreia Chaves
Invisible NakedVersion Shoes, 2011, Brazil, Andreia Chaves

On display as part of footwear that pushes the boundaries of possibility, this shoe brings together the best of traditional craftsmanship—the inside leather slipper—and advanced modern technology (the outside skeleton created with 3D printing).

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Master John Men’s Platform Boots, 1973, Canada
Master John Men’s Platform Boots, 1973, Canada

Rock stars would wear high platform boots such as these in the early 1970s. They were often sumptuously decorated and worn to clubs. This pair is 14cm high.  

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Imelda Marcos Shoes, 1987-92, Beltrami, Italy
Imelda Marcos Shoes, 1987-92, Beltrami, Italy

Imelda Marcos, the widow of former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, is known for her lavish collection of shoes, which was discovered when she fled the Philippines after an uprising in 1986. The collection became a symbol of her extravagant lifestyle.

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Obsession
Obsession

A view of “Obsession,” featuring six private collections of shoes from trainers to luxury footwear.

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Beaded Evening Shoes, 1958-60, Paris
Beaded Evening Shoes, 1958-60, Paris

The Fabergé of shoes, this highly decorated design by Roger Vivier for Christian Dior was the ultimate in footwear luxury that could be afforded only by the wealthiest. 

 

For more information on the exhibition, visit www.vam.ac.uk/shoes.

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