FIT's Shoe Obsession

Dr. Valerie Steele, the director and chief curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, aka one of "fashion's brainiest women," cites the high cost of designer clothes as being one reason for the shift of footwear from the accessories sidelines to the center of fashion. While the prices of designer footwear have shot up in recent years (it's not uncommon these days to come face to face with a four-figure price tag when examining the merchandise), it is still considerably lower than that of high fashion duds. Plus, shoes have the potential of being extremely flattering (even after weight gain). A pair of heels will make anyone look taller, thinner and curvier. There's no denying the sex appeal of protruding calves, or "the breasts on your legs," in Dr. Steele's words, that result from wearing a pair of high heels. On the supply side of the equation, shoes also hold tremendous appeal for fashion students for they can let their creativity run amok, as we shall see from this exhibit.
FIT's Shoe Obsession
by Delia von Neuschatz

It couldn't have escaped the notice of NYSD readers, fashionable bunch that they are, that shoes have become an increasingly important part of the fashion industry in recent years and hence, of the fashion conscious woman's wardrobe. Shoes have come to play such a central role in the sartorial scheme of things that they have replaced the "it" bags of yesteryear as the most important statement-making accessory in the closet of any fashionista worth her Manolos.
Dr. Steele's choice of footwear on the day of our interview – a glamorous pair by Nicholas Kirkwood.
Exploring this ongoing fascination is Shoe Obsession, an exhibit that opened last week at The Museum at FIT.  Featuring 150 examples of some of the most extreme, lavish and imaginative styles of contemporary footwear, the exhibit pays homage to a broad range of designers. While established labels like Manolo Blahnik, Christian Louboutin and Roger Vivier, among others, are given their due, the spotlight is also turned on the adventurous designs of houses such as Alexander McQueen, Azzedine Alaïa and Prada and also on the avant-garde of Kei Kagami and Noritaka Tatehan.  Rounding out the display are highlights from the personal collections of fashion leaders such as Daphne Guinness and jewelry designer, Lynn Ban.  The exhibit is curated by Dr. Valerie Steele, director and chief curator and Colleen Hill, associate curator of accessories.
To the possible relief of some readers, Colleen Hill, associate curator of accessories, heralds the comeback of the "single-sole stiletto." In other words, platforms which made possible heels of 5, 6 and even 7 inches high, are on their way out. Coming back into vogue are slim soles with heels which will still be high, but not vertiginous. Don't pack those platforms away just yet though, as their end is not quite upon us with stores carrying a mix of both styles.
Not only have heels and prices reached dizzying heights, but shoes are now adorned with all manner of embellishment from fur to feathers to biker studs. And department stores, always quick to latch on to profitable trends, have doubled, tripled and even quadrupled the amount of space devoted to the display of this all-too-vital accessory. Last year, for instance, Saks Fifth Avenue, a sponsor of the exhibit, added another 10,000 square feet to its already massive shoe salon which is appropriately called 10022-SHOE because, it is "so big, it has its own zip code." That's not just hype. That really is a government-issued zip code – the first time in US history that the post office has granted a floor its own zip code.
A few pieces from the collection of the sartorially adventurous socialite, Daphne Guinness. Notice the black and mauve, gold tasseled shoe on the right. The more things change … That style is reminiscent of a type of stilts that shod the feet of high-born Turkish women several hundred years ago.
Woman in Turkish Costume in a Hamam Instructing her Servant by Jean-Étienne Liotard, 18th century. For centuries, women in the Ottoman Empire wore kabkabs. They were worn to avoid the dust of unpaved streets and the puddles of the public baths. Extra high ones inlaid with mother of pearl or silver were reserved for brides as a way of showing their submission, helplessness and vaulted status.
Perhaps nothing screams immobility and submissiveness more than this stiletto from Christian Louboutin who can also be credited with … ... the "Fetish Ballerina."
Gianluca Tamburini named his shoe collection "Conspiracy" because it upends the "top down" approach to design. The parts – i.e. the straps and heels, are interchangeable, giving the customer some leeway in designing her shoe rather than having the style completely dictated by the designer. To achieve this flexibility, Gianluca had to dispense with traditional ways of making shoes. The soles of his creations, for example, are made out of an aeronautical aluminum while the screws keeping the various components in place are fashioned out of titanium. As one might suspect, all this ingenuity does not come at a very democratic price. His shoes retail for about $6,000 a pair. They are sold at Saks, and in a few department stores in Russia and in Tokyo and also directly from his studio in Milan. "What are the soles of shoes usually made of?" I asked him after being told the eyebrow-raising price. Gianluca then revealed something which I'm sure designers would rather consumers not know: the soles of virtually all shoes, designer and otherwise, are actually cheaply made. They are constructed from pressed cardboard, foam, a piece of steel to hold the shape and a leather covering. The cost of the cardboard is only about 80 cents! It really makes one wonder about the markups and brings home the profitability of going into the shoe business as opposed to say, the haute couture business.
One of Gianluca's "Conspiracy" shoes.
A native of Sao Paulo, Andreia Chaves has designed an attention-grabbing shoe ironically called "Invisible" because, with its mirrored panels, it reflects the wearer's surroundings. The concept here is one of camouflage. Consisting of a hand-crafted shoe tucked into the outside mirrored envelope, these are made to order and predictably, do not come cheap. They can currently be ordered online at solestruck.com for $3,995.95.
Andreia's "Invisible" shoe.
Charline De Luca is probably the only designer showcased in this exhibit (or perhaps ever!) to have attended both, architecture school and fashion design school (at London's prestigious Central St. Martins no less). Charline was working at Fendi as an architect when she decided that designing shoes was the thing for her. No surprisingly, it is architecture which inspires her creations. The grey and silver shoe behind her, "Zaha," is an homage to the internationally-renowned architect, Zaha Hadid.
Noritaka Tatehana designed these "ballet slippers" for Lady Gaga in 2012. Noritaka may also have taken his cues from the past – namely from these 16th century Venetian "chopines" - when he created Lady Gaga's platforms. Popular in Venice from about 1400 – 1700, chopines were worn by courtesans and patrician women alike. Not only did they protect the wearer from the mud and dirt of the streets, but they also advertised her social standing. The higher the chopine (they could reach elevations of 20 inches), the more noble the woman, of course.
This embossed red leather platform is also by Noritaka Tatehana ...
... as are the "thorny" ones above.
Masaya Kushino credits a variety of inspirations for his wildly imaginative creations: animals, nature, art and antiques. His shoes are basically one-offs which require the skills of multiple craftsmen from woodcarvers to metalworkers to hair dressers …
... yes, hairdressers. That blonde mane is made from human hair, not horsehair, as I originally thought. Why human hair? There's a certain justice in humans sheathing themselves in their own bits along with those of animals, according to Masaya.
Jean and Valerie, the "Idiosyncratic Fashionistas," blog for "women of a certain age." They believe – and rightly so! – that women in their age bracket are vastly underserved by the fashion industry. Sprinkled among the outlandish shoes were a few (very few) examples of practical attire.
Alberto Guardini's "Flutterby" shoe.
Alberto Guardini also designed this lipstick heel.
Chanel is red hot with heels that look like matches …
… and guns. The silver shoe is from Chanel while the "flame-out" is from Prada. Azzedine Alaïa is behind the exuberant black feather one on the left.
On the daintier side, Charlotte Olympia designed these sunny wedges …
… while Brian Atwood charms with this floral concoction.
Nicholas Kirkwood looks like he had a lot of fun designing "Alice", this frothy teacup concoction.
The black pleated boot is from the edgy Rick Owens.
Tom Ford designed the thigh-high on the left for YSL in 2004 …
… and this flirty strappy number is from his eponymous Spring 2012 collection.
The gold booties on the left are from Rupert Sanderson, who conceived them for the 2012 production of Verdi's Aïda at London's Royal Opera.
This somewhat Victorian-looking style was conjured up by Nicholas Kirkwood for Rodarte.
A case displaying Christian Louboutin.
A few more eye-catching, height-elevating samples from FIT's exhibit.
The white shoe on the top left is actually a plastic 3D prototype and last but not least, the glass slipper is from Maison Martin Margiela.