Not all tall girls have big feet but this one does. For me the “pleasure” of shoes is simply finding ones long enough and the “pain” is all too often having to settle for dowdy ones. Retailers plainly think that my feet are too far down for me to notice what adorns them. For the V&A, it is the transformative power of shoes for the blessed majority with either average-sized feet or those lucky enough to have pockets deep enough to have their shoes tailor-made. Fittingly enough, the first case contains a glass slipper ready to transform anybody dainty enough to wear it. For those whom money is no object, all manner of rare leathers, silks and jewels have can be used to signal your wealth to onlookers.
High heels to lift sixteenth century skirts above muddy streets, shoes with toes so curled up that it would be impossible to walk. Marilyn Monroe’s and Kylie Minogue’s shoes are both on display, and for such a tiny woman, Kylie’s shoes look quite large. Chinese Lotus shoes, so small that they would fit a baby, to fit feet rendered useless by binding. Christian Louboutin red heels wink at you here and over there is a pair of thigh-high Stella McCartney boots made from synthetic suede. Men get a look in too: fancy stitched cowboy boots and my particular favourite, this gold-patterned pair dating back to 1925.
One section of the exhibition is devoted to shoes collectors. One solitary shoe belonging to Imelda Marcos has an entire case devoted to it. In response to criticism of the number of shoes she owned she claimed not to own 3,000 pairs but merely 1,060. One man collects three-stripe Adidas trainers and travels all over the world to track down rare specimens; another had an extensive collection of women’s shoes but kept them all in boxes and never wore them. All shoes, whether bespoke or mass produced, will spend some time on a last and the final display case contains a collection of the lasts of the rich and famous.
For coffee at the V&A my choice of venue is always dictated by the weather. This time the sun shone and I sat with my face turned upward like a sunflower in the central courtyard. On my feet a pair coral suede shoes with clunky silver heels, made by Clarks, one of the few high street retails to sell routinely offer size 9 shoes and sponsor of this exhibition.
SHOES: PLEASURE AND PAIN 13 June 2015 – 31 January 2016
Open: Saturday – Thursday 10am – 5.45pm, Friday 10am – 10pm
Admission: £12 (Members of the V&A go free)