Museum at FIT's Shoe Obsession Exhibition a Footwear Feast for the Eyes

3/19/2013
The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (MFIT) presents Shoe Obsession, an exhibition that examines our culture's ever-growing fascination with extravagant and fashionable shoes. In fact, designer shoes have overtaken "It" bags as the most coveted fashion accessories. In response, shoe departments in major department stores have undergone significant expansions, and the "great designer shoe wars" have escalated.

Shoes by established designers such as Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin continue to be bestsellers, while the number of rising stars within the footwear industry is multiplying. Over the past decade, heels have reached new heights — as have prices. High-heeled shoes — the fashion shoes of the 21st century — have become so tall that even a 4-inch heel is considered "low."

Shoe Obsession features approximately 150 examples of contemporary footwear, highlighting the extreme, lavish, and imaginative styles that have made shoes central to fashion.

The popularity of designer shoes has grown rapidly. Little more than a decade ago, appreciation of Blahnik's feminine, elegant designs was limited primarily to fashion insiders. Then the style-conscious characters on the popular television series Sex and the City were presented as obsessive about his shoes, and Manolo Blahnik became a household name. Shoe Obsession will include a pair of Blahnik's rhinestone-buckled, silver D'Orsay shoes — a version of which was used in a 2003 Sex and the City episode titled "A Woman's Right to Shoes."

Blahnik's success paved the way for other high-end shoe designers, a number of whom have become celebrities in their own right. Christian Louboutin's undeniably sexy shoes — with their signature red soles — have established him as one of the best-known footwear designers in the world. The designer's cherry red, fiercely spiked Pigalle pumps from fall 2012 are among his many influential styles on view in the exhibition. Bruno Frisoni, as artistic director at Roger Vivier, has maintained that brand's legacy of opulence and impeccable craftsmanship, yet Frisoni also cultivates a style all his own. His modern, seductive aesthetic will be highlighted by his exquisite Eyelash Heel feathered pump, from the limited-edition Rendez-Vous line. Also featured are shoes by Pierre Hardy, whose work is defined by strong, graphic silhouettes and bold color combinations. While Hardy's own brand has grown steadily since its launch in 1999, the designer is also known for his collaborations with Balenciaga, HermÈs, and even Gap.

At just over 30 years of age, Nicholas Kirkwood has already gained a loyal following for his edgy silhouettes and unusual mixes of materials. Kirkwood has also created some of the most memorable shoes to grace the fashion catwalks in recent years, collaborating with fashion labels such as Paco Rabanne and Rodarte. Other up-and-coming designers featured include Alexandre Birman, a young Brazilian born into a family of shoe designers. Birman is known for his expert use of exotic skins, many of which are vibrantly hand-painted. Charlotte Olympia Dellal's glamorous shoes are often inspired by the 1940s, yet the designer's bold choices of print and color exude a fresh, modern charm. Although Alessandra Lanvin's shoe label, AperlaÏ, was founded just three years ago, the designer's sophisticated references to fine art — including her Cubist-inspired Geisha heels — have positioned AperlaÏ as a brand to watch.

In addition to showcasing leading shoe designers, Shoe Obsession features extraordinary styles from major fashion houses. Givenchy, now under the creative direction of Riccardo Tisci, produces shoes that complement the moody elegance of Tisci's clothing. The exhibition features a style from the spring 2012 couture collection, adorned with a metal T-strap and sharp "piercing" detail that mirrored the extreme jewelry worn by the models at the collection's debut. While many 21st-century shoe styles may be perceived as extreme or extravagant, avant-garde designers such as Japan's Noritaka Tatehana push the envelope even further. An example of Tatehana's Lady Pointe shoes, a style worn by Lady Gaga in a recent television performance, will also be on view. The shoes measure a vertiginous 18 inches tall. While not as extreme in silhouette, Andreia Chaves's remarkable Invisible shoes feature an asymmetrical faÇade of mirrors that reflects the wearer's surroundings, acting as a unique form of camouflage.

Although the average American woman owns about 20 pairs of shoes, the collections of true shoe fanatics are vast. Shoe Obsession feature footwear from women with incredible collections. Jewelry designer Lynn Ban owns 20 pairs of heels by Azzedine AlaÏa, as well as three pairs of Prada's fall 2012 "flame" shoes, examples of which are on display in the exhibition. Baroness Monica von Neumann, whose love of exquisite high heels was outlined in the 2011 documentary God Save My Shoes, will be represented by styles from eminent luxury brands such as Gucci and HermÈs. Daphne Guinness, one of today's most influential style icons, also lends a selection of her heels, including extreme examples by Alexander McQueen and Nina Ricci.

Shoe Obsession is co-curated by Dr. Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT, and Colleen Hill, associate curator of accessories, together with Fred Dennis, senior curator of costume. The exhibition is on display through April 13, 2013.

The exhibition is accompanied by a book, also titled Shoe Obsession, published by Yale University Press. In addition to essays by Steele and Hill, the book will feature more than 150 color photographs of exceptional 21st-century shoes. All royalties from sales of the book will benefit the Fashion Institute of Technology.

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