Somewhere between Carrie Bradshaw’s high heels and the upcoming Halle Berry film Shoe Addicts Anonymous (about a support group for shoe addicts), lies Shoe Obsession, an exhibition at the Fashion Institute of Technology’s museum that examines our love of fabulous footwear.
Valerie Steele, the museum’s director and the show’s co-curator, says: “We have seen an escalation in the interest in shoes in the past 10 years, with designers such as Nicholas Kirkwood competing with masters like Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin. This goes beyond the cultural and the sexual. High fashion has become more expensive and conservative, and people are getting more bang for their buck from accessories. After quite a few years, shoes have overtaken bags.”
Though FIT’s shoe collection comprises some 4,000 pairs, the show itself features a rigorously edited 150 examples of contemporary footwear from more than 50 designers. Shoe Obsession highlights the “extreme, lavish and imaginative styles that have made shoes central to fashion,” the institute says.
Examples on display include Manolo Blahnik’s rhinestone-buckled silver d’Orsay shoes, which appeared in a 2003 Sex and the City episode called “A Woman’s Right to Shoes”; Christian Louboutin’s Pigalle heels from his autumn shows; Roger Vivier’s beautiful Eyelash Heel Pump by Bruno Frisoni from his autumn collection; designs by Pierre Hardy and Lanvin; and black-and-white high heels designed by hot shoe designer Nicholas Kirkwood and artist Keith Haring. Noritaka Tatehana’s Lady Pointe shoes, as worn by Lady Gaga, are also on display.
Several well-known shoe collectors are also highlighted, including Daphne Guinness and jewellery designer Lynn Ban, who owns 20 pairs of heels by Azzedine Alaïa, and three pairs of Prada’s spring 2012 “flame” shoes, examples of which are also exhibited.
Dory Benami, former chief operating officer at United Nude, a shoe brand co-founded by architect Rem D. Koolhaas (not to be confused with his uncle, the famous architect Rem Koolhaas) and much loved by shoe fetishists, says: “Women value themselves by how many pairs they own. And I’ve seen women who have owned hundreds of pairs of the same brand.”
Steele, who owns around 50 pairs of shoes, mostly by Repetto, adds: “Addiction and obsession do fit in here. I have done work on sexual fetishes, which hold some of shoes’ appeal for men. For women it is to do with fashion, and high heels are a prime pinnacle of femininity.”