Monday, 13 July 2015

Pleasure and Pain at the V&A

Gorgeous and grotesque, the V&A's new Pleasure and Pain exhibition leads visitors through a wonderland of over 200 pairs of shoes. As it is a special exhibition there is an entry fee but this is reasonable and well worth it. The collection is extensive and includes pairs designed by the greats and worn by the greatest. For example a pair of Egyptian bath shoes tower on their heels above the infamous Westwood 1993 platforms that felled Naomi Campbell and Queen Victoria's slippers are displayed across from Kylie's heels.

Jimmy Choo Lovebird on display
at the exhibition
Naturally the aesthetics of this exhibition are strong. Row upon row of glittering Louboutins, Jimmy Choos and Manolo Blahniks greet you at every turn. The shoes are truly beautiful, with one of my favourites being the emerald green feathered Jimmy Choos. However the way that these are interspersed among seventeenth century chopines and Ancient Egyptian bath shoes marks the difference between this exhibition and window shopping at Harrods' Shoe Heaven. Next to an iconic pair of red-soled Christian Louboutins sit a pair of Louis XIV's shoes. These were the original red-soled shoes, painted in this way as a status symbol because red was an expensive colour and it highlighted the way that rich men did not dirty their shoes like the working classes.

The exhibition also features several pairs
of shoes featured in Sex and the City 
The exhibition also explores our strange relationship with shoes. There is a case devoted to the sexualisation of shoes featuring a pair of fetish shoes that force the wearer to crawl and have transparent soles. And across from this there is a case exploring our willingness to tolerate pain when it comes to shoes. Many of us have experienced the ache that follows hours in heels or the pinch of shoes that don't quite fit but the exhibition presents the extremes of this. The most stark example of this is presented by the impossibly tiny silk slippers worn by Chinese women with bound feet. The ideal foot length to those practicing this ancient custom was a mere 7.6cm. Thus the power that shoes have over us is clear and a part of a long and twisted relationship.

The exhibition is at the V&A until the 31st January 2016 and is well worth a visit for any
shoe/history lovers!