Anna Tomlinson reviews the Shoes: Pleasure and Pain at the V&A
I left this exhibition in awe of the collection of heels, boots and trainers. The exhibition showcases over 200 different shoes from around the world, and now I’m convinced I don’t enough pairs at home.
Shoes: Pleasure and Pain was fun, beautifully laid out and eclectic. It starts with Cinderella’s glass slipper, Carrie Bradshaw’s Manolo Blahnik’s, and a movie clip of the famed ruby shoes from the Wizard of Oz. There’s also an interactive timeline, allowing you to click through to see when boat shoes were first invented or when stilettos became popular.
There’s a montage of film clips throughout the exhibition, showing Marilyn Monroe in Some Like it Hot and Catherine Deneuve in Belle du Jour, emphasising the effect of the women’s shoes on their femme fatale personas. Another part of the showcase is videos showing how shoes are made, and interviews with shoe designers such as Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin. The exhibition explores every aspect of the footwear industry and shoe ownership.
Shoes are displayed as a symbol of class and status, with, for example, Louis XIV’s court shoes. They are explored as fetishized objects, with stripper heels and red leather boots. They are shown as both a part of the fashion industry and as a reflection of our history, with Chanel pumps popular with businesswomen in the 80s, court shoes worn by Madame Pompadour or nude heels popularized by the Duchess of Cambridge. Yet, the exhibition also addressed the darker side, showing, the tiny shoes worn by women in the Han dynasty who had their feet bound. The diversity of the exhibition extends beyond the expected.
The exhibition is enjoyable, and mostly light-hearted. It’s eye opening in revealing the role shoes play in the fashion industry and popular culture, and a worthwhile visit if you’re passionate about fashion.
Featured Image: Victoria and Albert Museum, London