extreme footwear at the v&a: beyond the pleasure principle

The V&A are taking on extreme footwear for its 2015 summer fashion show Shoes: Pleasure and Pain

by Sharon Thiruchelvam
Dec 4 2014, 3:55pm

© Estate of Helmut Newton / Maconochie Photography

Next summer's V&A show, Shoes: Pleasure and Pain, will explore serious shoes as sexual, status and folkloric objects from ancient Egyptian gold leaf sandals to lab-engineered Nike trainers. 200 pairs of historic and contemporary shoes will trace an enduring cultural obsession with exquisite and agonising footwear. With exhibits taken from the archives of designers Sophie Webster and Alexander McQueen, the wardrobes of individuals such as Daphne Guinness, and Hollywood prop cupboards, such as the 1948 film The Red Slippers.

"Sexual attraction has always been associated with feet," curator Helen Persson told i-D, "It became particularly prominent in the 19th century when women started being portrayed in art as naked, but still wearing shoes. Women in art became seen as more available - more of a real woman and not just an unattainable goddess."

Feet have long inspired fetish, and shoes long viewed as a source of sexual license and passive pleasure. On display will be footwear that exaggerates and distorts the body and its movements, from flesh-encasing laced thigh-highs, to silk lotus slippers, and Japanese platform geta.

A "Transformation" theme will explore the mythological power of footwear - psychologically and physically - over wearers and admirers. From Cinderella's slippers and fairy-tale shoe-makers, to the modern marketing of football boots.

And "Status" will examine the power of kicks to exalt, literally and figuratively. How the right shoes distinguish their wearer, changing how they're seen or heard, with items like chopines (platform shoes that lifted the wearers' skirt hems above muddy ground), 19th century European slap sole shoes, and traditional toe-curling Indian men's shoes.

Shoes: Pleasure & Pain opens at the V&A on 13th June 2015.



Text Sharon Thiruchelvam

pleasure and Pain