This month brings the last chance to see one of our favourite exhibitons from last year Shoes: Pleasure and Pain at the Victoria & Albert Museum
This exhibition opened in June 2015, which was when we were in the midst of all the renovation work on the Victorian houses that became The Laslett (and there was a lot of work), and lifted the floorboards to find a very battered, and very old pair of woman’s shoes.
At first we were quite confused, and slightly worried about what else might be lurking under the floorboards of Pembridge Gardens. However, Google quickly reassured us that there was nothing strange going on.
It turns out that during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was common to hide a pair of shoes in the walls or under the floorboards, in the hope of warding off evil spirits and bringing luck to the household.
It sounds a bit odd, but for years shoes have been the focus of various superstitions and traditions around the world - at Christmas, children across Europe often leave shoes or stockings to be filled with presents. Shoes also play a significant role in the wedding customs of various cultures, whether as a gift or as part of a ritual – think of that twee image of a car with “just married” on the back and shoes trailing from the bumper.
So its not unusual for our belongings to take on symbolic value, both for individuals and for entire societies. Over the centuries, shoes have acted as indicators of status, wealth and personality, often combining exquisite craftsmanship and beauty with downright discomfort. Its something we are still familiar with today - who hasn’t sacrificed the ability to walk just so they could wear those shoes they just had to buy?
This is exactly what the Victoria & Albert Museum have explored in their exhibition, Shoes: Pleasure and Pain.
The past few years have seen the V&A host a series of exhibitions that focus on fashion as a social, cultural and historical art form, treating designers and their sartorial creations in the same way that they would treat artists and their paintings. This latest exhibition looks at the extremes of footwear from various times and places in order to explore their symbolic and transformative power within a particular society.
The exhibition will include painfully tiny, yet beautifully embroidered shoes for bound feet, as well as towering Renaissance chopines and spiked stilettos from the last century. There are also shoes that look more like abstract sculpture than functional footwear, created by the likes of Zaha Hadid, who brings her architectural perspective to shoe design.
Our shoes may not be as lavish or as strange as some of the shoes on display at the V&A, but we’ve kept them safe, and they have formed part of the permenant display The Laslett in the hope that they can keep on bringing us good luck.