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 Experts Warn World Losing Ebola Fight

Doctors Without Borders says world is losing battle against Ebola, unless wealthy nations dispatch specialized biological disaster response teams More

Video Experts: Rise of Islamic State Significant Development in Jihadism

Many analysts contend the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years More

US-Based Hong Kongers Pledge Support for Pro-Democracy Activists

Democracy advocates call on Chinese living abroad to join them in opposing new election rules for their home territory More

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.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Beyond Category

Pianist Myra Melford’s new CD “Life Carries Me This Way” features solo piano interpretations of drawings by modern artist Don Reich. She performs songs from the album, talks about turning art into music, and joins host Eric Felten in some Chicago boogie-woogie on "Beyond Category."