Shoes: Pleasure & Pain at the V&A

Although I don't have a huge shoe collection (more on that here), I do love looking at beautiful footwear. So last week, when I had a bit of time spare on a Thursday afternoon, I decided to take myself off to the V&A's Shoes: Pleasure & Pain exhibition.

Unfortunately you weren't allowed to take pictures in the exhibition (and they were being very strict about reinforcing it) so you'll have to make do with this shot of the - albeit very cool - neon exhibition sign.


Inside when you first go in it's all opulent purple velvet drapes and films of famous shoe moments from cinema projected onto the walls, opposite modern shoe designers' retellings of Cinderella. The sound of high heels clicking on the floor echoes throughout the room, creating an oddly unsettling feeling. You truly feel like you're being immersed in a fantasy world with an ever-so-slight edge of danger.

That said, despite the amazing atmosphere, I have to admit I found it quite a confusing exhibition. Apart from the first fairytale-themed case (which featured David Beckham's football boots alongside Cinderella's glass slipper, a pair of stunning scarlet ballet shoes and 'urban shoe myth' Manolo Blahnik Mary Janes), a lot of the displays didn't really seem to go together and I felt it might have been better to organise it slightly different - TV and film shoes, say, or pairing the men's shoes together. Some of the labelling was confusing too; I'd often find myself reading the description of a shoe and then realising it was meant to go with a similar-looking one nearby.

However, if you're a 'shoes person' you'll absolutely love looking at all the beautiful pairs on display wherever they are in the exhibition. Amongst my favourites were a gorgeous pair of feather and bow-trimmed Louboutins, super-cute Salvatore Ferragamo patent pumps I'd wear in a heartbeat and sexy strappy black sandals by Yves Saint Laurent. I loved Roger Didier's shoes for Dior from the 1950s too, and there was also a red pair with bead details I'd have taken home there and then. And even the shoes you wouldn't (or couldn't) wear are seriously stunning, like the array of tiny, delicately embroidered, brightly coloured pointed shoes designed for Chinese women whose feet had been bound as children.

I also really liked seeing the links back between historical footwear and modern shoes, such as the red-soled shoes worn by members of Louis XIV's court compared to Louboutins today and the Chinese shoes on plinths alongside similar pairs from Marni's spring/summer 2014 collection. It was interesting to see the way that similarly shaped shoes took on different meanings too; there were shoes for walking that looked like ballet shoes which laced up the leg, yet a few cases away were extremely high-heeled ballet shoes that forced the wearer to crawl.

Upstairs, meanwhile, was devoted to the creation of shoes, walking you through how shoes were - and continue to be - made, as well as the leaps forward in technology (including an amazing pair of caged booties. I loved the 'feet book' as well, where shoe designers would record the precise foot measurements of their well-heeled clients so when they came to order a new pair they would fit perfectly. To round this off, there was a wall designed to look like stacks of shoe boxes featuring a film where famous shoe designers, including Manolo Blahnik, talked about how they create a piece of footwear from beginning to end.

The final section of the exhibition featured displays where famous shoe collectors were asked to pick out ten of their favourite pairs. It gave a real insight into their personalities and got me wondering about which shoes I'd display in my own personal set of ten

Shoes: Pleasure & Pain is on at the V&A until 31st January, and tickets cost £12 apiece.

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