News / Arts & Entertainment

    New York Fashion Museum Shows its 'Shoe Obsession'

    • Rupert Sanderson (Museum at FIT)
    • Chanel 2009
    • Masayo Kushino (Museum at FIT)
    • Janine Alleyne (Alleyne)
    • Maison Martin Margiela
    • Tea Petrovic (Petrovic)
    • Chanel Resort 2009 (Museum at FIT)
    • Manolo Blahnik (Museum at FIT)
    • Nortaka Tatehana
    • Roger Vivier (Museum at FIT)
    • Giuseppe Zanotti (Museum at FIT)
    Carolyn Weaver
    "Shoes occupy a very special place in the female imagination," says Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York.

    The museum’s current show, "Shoe Obsession," presents some of the most extreme examples of those objects of desire: fantastically wrought sky-high heels by leading designers, with prices equally unreachable. 

    Beautifully-made, imaginatively-designed high heels can confer upon the wearer an Olympian sense of power, beauty, and status, Steele says.

    "Handbags have some of that aspect, but shoes are so much more playful than that," she says. "Many women I have talked to say the shoes talk to them. They say, 'buy me, take me home.’ And unlike clothing, shoes have a shape, they are sculptural, and some women said they almost didn’t care whether they would be wearing the shoes much. They said, ‘I can put it on my coffee table and just admire it.’ I think for a lot of women, there’s something about shoes, they’re like little miniature works of art."
     
    Prada Spring 2008Prada Spring 2008
    x
    Prada Spring 2008
    Prada Spring 2008
    With examples both from established design houses like Prada and Chanel, and rising young designers from Europe, the U.S. and Japan, the FIT museum show is about the increased popularity of luxury designer shoes, highlighted by the television show, "Sex and the City."

    "Over the past 10 years, more and more women have become interested in high-end designer shoes, so something that a decade ago was only the province of a real sort of shoe addicts, as in ‘Sex and the City,’ now has become democratized," Steele says. 

    Christian Louboutin (Museum at FIT)Christian Louboutin (Museum at FIT)
    x
    Christian Louboutin (Museum at FIT)
    Christian Louboutin (Museum at FIT)
    "And everyone knows Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin and a host of other designers. So, in this show, we look at the 21st century phenomenon of shoe obsession, and explore how it is that shoes have moved from being accessories to being the main fashion story."

    Steele says that although women of all classes are wearing very high heels, many keep them in reserve most of the time. 

    "Most women are not running down the street in five-inch heels," she says. "They might have a pair in their office that they switch into before a meeting when they want to have an extra shot of confidence."

    Even in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries, she says, where women's dress is required to be modest, the interest in shoes is no less. 

    "It's just that you don't see it in public. The context of showing off your fashion is in private, in all-women gatherings," Steele says.

    History of the Heel

    Heeled shoes may have been invented by ancient horsemen in the Near East, says Elizabeth Semmelhack, curator at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Canada.  A heel helped riders keep their feet in the stirrups. The style was adopted in the 1590s by European men, and then by women.

    "There’s the famous portrait of Louis the 14th, the king of France, wearing high-heeled shoes with red heels," says Steele. "However, it seems that even from the beginning men’s heels were somewhat thicker than women’s. Women’s were more curved and delicate-looking.  And as time went on, women’s heels became taller than men’s heels. And then by the later part of the 18th century, men pretty much stopped wearing high heels, and it became exclusively a feminine fashion."

    In the late 18th century, according to the book, "Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty," by Nancy Etcoff, England’s parliament passed a law requiring the same punishment for female adornment as for witchcraft. Among the forbidden provocations were paints, scents, artificial teeth, false hair, bolstered hips -- and high-heeled shoes.

    "The law was unenforceable," Etcoff writes.  But for the next few centuries, heels had to remain somewhat chunky.  It took new technologies in plastic and steel production in the early 1950s to make possible the stiletto heel, a long, extremely slender spike.

    On Display

    The most fanciful of the shoes in the FIT museum show look like theater props.

    One display consists of golden tie-up sandals supported by figurines of laboring, crouching men. They were designed by Rupert Sanderson for a production of Verdi’s Aida, whose protagonist is a slave in ancient Egypt. Japanese designer Masaya Kushino’s "Wind Horse" shoes have a wooden ball-like platform and a trailing golden ponytail. Shoes designed by Janina Alleyne evoke insect exoskeletons, while Tea Petrovic’s prototypes resemble space-age architecture.

    ​Another design, by Maison Martin Margiela, is literally unwearable. In a reference to the Cinderella story, they are high-heeled slippers made of glass. 

    Shoe by Noritaka TatehanaShoe by Noritaka Tatehana
    x
    Shoe by Noritaka Tatehana
    Shoe by Noritaka Tatehana
    Some of the shoes look like weapons. A sharp horn like a rhinoceros’s protrudes from the top of a hoof-like Noritaka Tatehana design. A Chanel high heel is made in the form of a downward-pointing pistol.

    The sheer difficulty and sometimes painfulness of these designs is part of the challenge: only physically superior beings exercising a powerful will can manage to stand and walk in these shoes.  And only the wealthiest can afford to spend thousands on collections of shoes that are impractical for more than brief display.

    Ultra-high shoes that lack any heels at all are a recent innovation that have been taken up enthusiastically by those few.  The wearer balances on the ball of her foot, always pitching forward slightly, like a long-legged bird.

    Valerie Steele said she exercised her legs and feet for weeks before wearing a pair to the FIT museum show’s opening reception.

    She lasted half an hour in them.

    You May Like

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Valery Alendeev from: Russia, Yekaterinburg
    March 04, 2013 1:25 AM
    Women heeled shoes may have come to Near East and Europe from the temples of South India.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.

    New in Music Alley

    Beyond Category: Arturo Sandovali
    || 0:00:00
    ...  
     
    X
    February 02, 2016 3:53 PM
    Cuban-born trumpeter Arturo Sandoval is one of the most exciting musicians in jazz. The multi-Grammy winner takes the Blues Alley stage to perform, and sits down with Beyond Category host Eric Felten to talk about his life in music.

    Cuban-born trumpeter Arturo Sandoval is one of the most exciting musicians in jazz. The multi-Grammy winner takes the Blues Alley stage to perform, and sits down with Beyond Category host Eric Felten to talk about his life in music.