sho es: ple a s ur e a n d p a i n
Below: shoes, not books – Katie Porter’s collection, London, 2014
very morning shoe collector Katie Porter wakes up to the sight of 150 pairs of shoes. They are arranged on shelves where others might have books or ornaments: a riot of colours and styles, and a cache of memories. “They remind me where I’ve been,” she says of the collection that contains everything from red Mary Janes emblazoned with “Happy Christmas” to a pair of Alexander McQueen black-and-white boots that she describes as “an adornment – they’re not comfortable, but they are beautiful”. Porter is not alone in her love of footwear. Research claims that British women spent up to £3.5bn on shoes in 2013, and considering the number of shoe shops in any high street or shopping mall, that’s not hard to believe. Even London’s Oxford Street, where rents are spectacularly high, is lined with shoe shops, suggesting they’re doing brisk business. In 2010 Selfridges unveiled a staggering 32,000 sq ft of shoe retailing, and has more than 110,000 pairs in stock at any given moment, selling “several hundreds of thousands” each year. Harrods reacted swiftly, opening its own Shoe Heaven in 2014. It sprawls over 42,000 sq ft.
V&A Magazine Summer 2015
It will be interesting to see if Harrods and Selfridges see a spike in sales between this June and January next year, as visitors to the V&A exhibition ‘Shoes: Pleasure and Pain’ leave the museum, their appetites thoroughly whetted by a display that features 270 pairs that go back to 30BC. The very earliest example, which is in the V&A’s own collection, is a single sandal from ancient Egypt. “It is like a platform flip-flop with a gold leaf insole,” says the show’s curator Helen Persson. “You would have got flashes of that metallic detail as the wearer walked.” Helen, who is the V&A’s curator of Chinese textiles and dress, started thinking about the show several years ago when she was helping to set up the museum’s Clothworkers’ Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion in Blythe House, Olympia. “Every time I went into the stores, I would find amazing footwear,” she says. “Like incredible gold embroidered shoes with tassels and pearls from nineteenth-century India. The parallels with today’s clothes and accessories were immediately obvious – just think of Prada or Dolce & Gabbana – and the fact that the elite have always wanted to demonstrate their position in this way. It runs through all times, and across all cultures. When everyone could be wearing Birkenstocks, why aren’t they?”
V&A Magazine, Issue 37, Summer 2015 Style, sex and psychology