These days, fashion designers rarely agree on seasonal trends such as hemlines and skirt shapes, but runway watchers remain abuzz over statement shoes, even if they are all but invisible to those without front-row seats. Celine’s minimaluxe ready-to-wear and steady stream of hit handbags was recently outshined by the house’s furry stilettos and sandals, including a Meret Oppenheim-gone-grandpa style that is flying off store shelves. The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology has seized the moment to present an exhibition that highlights the extreme, lavish, and imaginative styles that have made shoes central to fashion. We asked writer Nancy Lazarus to put on her reporting shoes and size up the show, on view through Saturday.
Roger Vivier’s Eyelash Heel pump, designed by Bruno Frisoni for the fall 2012 “Rendez-Vous” limited edition collection. (Photo: Stephane Garrigues, courtesy Roger Vivier)
“Everything here is wearable, it’s just not walkable,” said Colleen Hill, co-curator of the Museum at FIT’s “Shoe Obsession” exhibit. Leading a tour of the show during its final week on display, she explained that the focus was extreme, extravagant 21st-century shoes and boots. Hill and co-curator Valerie Steele included not only fan favorites like Blahnik and Louboutin, but also the latest experimental prototypes.
The exhibit’s selections represent a commentary on an era rather than a reflection on wearability, Hill noted. “The inspiration for these shoes is sculpture and architecture. Some are shoe objects, one-of-a-kind or limited editions,” Hill said. Three styles are on display: single-sole stilettos, platforms, and more avant-garde heel-less shoes favored by the likes of Daphne Guinness and Lady Gaga.
Recent shoe designs tend to rely more on manmade materials. A few prototypes utilized 3-D printing processes. One experimental design was made of resin, while a pair of slippers was glass. A pair of Pierre Hardy heels sported neoprene, more often associated with athletic wear.
“Women now are building their shoe wardrobes, and the average number of shoes women own has doubled to twenty,” according to Hill. And even designer flats come with high price tags. “$458 now is the cost of just one pair on sale,” she noted. Of course, not everyone shops at Saks (an exhibit sponsor that lent the museum several pairs of shoes), where shoppers can speed to the eighth-floor footwear paradise–the famously expansive 10022-SHOE–via a designated express elevator.
While some designers’ attitudes toward shoes remain static, others are evolving. Hill credits Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin as the two most important shoe designers of this century. Blahnik, the stiletto master whose name is linked with the democratization of high-fashion shoes thanks to Sex and the City, considers platforms “inelegant.” Louboutin, famous for his red soles, was inspired by showgirls and fetish shoes. “He’s unapologetic that his shoes aren’t more comfortable,” Hill said. On a positive note, the increase in female designers means that more are wearing their own shoes, so they’re making them more comfortable–in other words, walking the talk.