Exhibition Review: My Favourite Shoe
11th-29th September 2013, Westfield, Shepherds Bush, London, United Kingdom.
By Elizabeth Kutesko
Image 1. An overview of the exhibition space, nestled in luxury shopping floor ‘The Village’
The opening of the pop-up exhibition My Favourite Shoe in Westfield’s ‘The Village’, the luxury high-end retail area that sells a mix of designer labels including Jimmy Choo, Dior, Prada, Miu Miu, Versace and Burberry, coincided with London Fashion Week. It was a considered choice by exhibition curator Ellen Sampson (Royal College of Art, London) because it celebrated the high fashion status of the displayed shoes. They glittered next to the spectacular window displays, dazzling chandeliers and resplendent bouquets of flowers that adorn the central walkway of ‘The Village’, and emphasised the visual and literal consumption that lies at the commercial heart of fashion. The exhibition’s objective was to engage shoppers and passers-by with examples from the vast collection of footwear and related paraphernalia held by Northampton Museums and Art Gallery (NMAG), displayed in dialogue with samples from five UK-based contemporary shoe designers: Camilla Skovgaard, Joanne Stoker, Mr. Hare, Sophie Cox and Atlanta Weller. These designers were invited to pick their favourite vintage shoe from the NMAG archive, and pair it with a shoe from their own collection, underlining the creative processes by which contemporary shoe design continually references the past in its desire for novelty and change, merging innovative materials and technologies with traditional and bespoke techniques. A memorable choice was that of Mr. Hare, who set up his eponymous label in 2009 with no formal design training, and specialises in high-quality men’s shoes manufactured in limited quantities for a discerning clientele. He picked the ubiquitous red and black Nike Air ‘Jordan 1’ High Top basketball boot from 1985, which he paired with an elegant black ‘Miller Lucida’ Oxford Shoe from his own collection, produced in high shine Italian calf leather with an elongated toe box to make the shoe appear narrower. Mr. Hare praised the craftsmanship and engineering considerations of the ‘Jordan 1’, which he selected because ‘it is perfect and timeless… [and] highlights a point where traditional shoe pattern cutting informed a new way of constructing a sports sneaker’.
Image 2. A constantly evolving digital screen displays the audience’s own selection of favourite footwear.
The paired vintage and contemporary shoes were displayed in pristine glass cabinets like rarefied objects in an art gallery. The shoes were placed atop individual plywood work stations that were designed to reference the designer’s desk – complete with angle-poise desk lamps – and littered with stencilled monochrome designs depicting the tools of the design trade: cameras, pencils, rulers, rubbers, measuring squares, protractors, and notepads. The accompanying interpretative texts provided biographical information about the designer and the inspiration behind their choice of shoe. The viewer was invited to pore over these counters, peering inside the glass cases to inspect the luxury, finished product and consider the couture craftsmanship that went into their creation. This informative and uninhibited mode of display was a far cry from the restricted presentation of shoes that is customary in the museum space. Shoes in museums often take on an abandoned appearance because they are displayed in a manner that takes conservation issues into consideration (shoes have a tendency to soil easily and their materials, such as leather, corrode more rapidly than woven textiles). The exhibition encouraged audience participation and had an interactive feedback station that invited viewers to sketch their favourite shoe and give an explanation of the selection, the results of which were displayed on a constantly evolving digital screen that referenced the cyclical, seasonally shifting temperament of the fashion industry. It was also a constructive attempt to engage young, social-media and Instagram-savvy shoppers who have a passion for shoes, but are less familiar with the historical context and extensive design process behind the luxury items they covet.
My Favourite Shoe should be praised for its attempts to set footwear within a narrative of glamour and seduction, and for providing an easily accessible link between the curator’s specialist knowledge, the NMAG collection, and the unsuspecting consumer in a way that blockbuster exhibitions, such as Christian Louboutin at the Design Museum, London (May-July 2012) and Shoe Obsession at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York (Feb-April 2013), inevitably fall short. Unlike My Favourite Shoe, these museum ventures cannot access the casual passerby, who would not intentionally visit a shoe exhibition. However, given the shopping mall setting, one wonders whether the general public’s engagement with the work was short-lived, bringing into question the sustainability of their learning experience beyond returning home and unpacking their shopping bags.
Elizabeth Kutesko is a PhD candidate at the Courtauld Institute of Art under the supervision of Dr Rebecca Arnold. Her thesis examines the effects of globalization on the representation of Brazilian women’s dress in National Geographic magazine since 1988.
Exhibition Review: My Favourite Shoe
- Categories →