Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Shoe Stoppers

We came across a fab article today on Australia's Brisbane Times online that mentions our own VFG member Jonathan Walford of Kickshaw Productions and his fabulous new book 'The Seductive Shoe: Four Centuries of Fashion Footwear'. Lara Zamiatin | April 2, 2007 As the proud owner of more than 300 pairs of shoes, it’s little wonder the Sydney fashion designer Vivian Chan Shaw is nicknamed “Imeldific” after the infamous Filipino footwear-fixated Imelda Marcos. “Some women just have a shoe thing,” says Claudia Chan Shaw of her mother’s obsession. “In the 1970s my mother wore outrageous flares. Beneath the trousers you had to have the mad, gigantic platforms hanging out so they could be seen. One of her platforms had a seven-inch [18cm] heel. I used to think she was much taller, but now I know why.” From next week 38 pairs of shoes from the Vivian Chan Shaw collection – including a pair of 1970s Brazilian platforms with vertiginous heels and a pair of Parisian Charles Jourdan leather shoes with an incredibly distorted metallic wedge heel from 1980 – will be on show at the Queen Victoria Building. The exhibition, Two Centuries of Fabulous Footwear, celebrates antique, vintage and modern shoes with 100- plus pairs from design houses such as Versace, Maud Frizon, Stephane Kelian and Bruno Magli. Also on loan for the exhibition are 57 pairs (dating from 1760) from the Darnell Collection’s 3500 vintage garments and accessories, owned by collector Charlotte Smith. There are contemporary items from QVB retailers and several final-year students at TAFE NSW – Sydney Institute. Shoes that made the grade had to be dramatic, says Claudia Chan Shaw, who is acting as the Australian curator for Fashion Group International, the global organisation presenting the exhibition. “Some of my mother’s plainer shoes, the grey ones and dusty pink shoes, didn’t do it for me,” she says of the pairs that were rejected. “The shoes on display are fine, visually amazing shoes of their era. Shoes from Vivian’s collection were collectables 30 years ago; now they’re museum pieces.” One of the aims of the exhibition is to show that shoes in past times “really mattered”, Shaw says. She talks fondly of a pair of her mother’s bottle green embroidered Christian Dior boots from the 1970s that are included in the exhibition. “In the 1960s and ’70s the shoes were so exciting and individual,” she says. “Not only did you make a statement up top with your outrageous hair and big jewellery, but the shoes made a statement. They were not shy shoes; they were outrageous.” Charlotte Smith’s vast vintage collection comes from her American Quaker godmother, Doris. For the exhibition, Smith has focused on shoes that are typical of their era or whose origins are surprising, such as a pair of intricately embroidered silk shoes from about 1890 that look almost modern. Highlights from the Darnell Collection include black silk ankle boots from about 1790 and a pair of 1920s silver lame flapper shoes that were custom- made for the Chicago socialite Mary Vaughan Williams. There’s also a rare travelling shoebox from the 1930s complete with six unimaginably tiny size 3 shoes. Comfort was another matter. Smith says that before 1822, shoes weren’t made with a right and left foot, and no consideration was given to the shape of feet. Shoes came in two sizes: slim and stout. In 1856, an American, W.S. Thompson, patented a machine that could sew soles to uppers and this led to mass production of any style, shape and size. “From 1880, it was acceptable in society for women to wear shoes which mirrored their natural shoe size and shape,” Smith says. “There were obviously women who continued to wear shoes too small and too tight, but several of my shoes in the exhibition show this larger foot size in the 1890s and so on. “Shoes in the earlier days were really worn as foot corsets, intended to make the foot look delicate and narrow which was a sign of good breeding. Now, with our sporting lives, shoes are made for an active lifestyle.” An admirer of the renowned Parisian shoemaker Maud Frizon, a couture shoemaker in the 1980s, Smith refers to Frizon’s take on footwear as sexy statement dressing. “[Frizon] used to say that certain shoes where a woman’s toe peeped out are the equivalent of a plunging neckline,” she says. Of course, some shoe styles, sexy or not, never go out of vogue. The Sydney shoemaker Jodie Morrison, who makes shoes for film and theatre productions, says the lace-up boot and the court shoe are classic styles. “The court shoe is the little black dress of the shoe world,” Morrison says. “It’s not the comfort or the fit. By tradition, you make them half a size down so they stay on. But they’re simple and they just keep coming round.” Morrison has several of her creations on show, including a pair of thong boots she created for Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (the stage musical) and a pair of shoes that Cate Blanchett wore in the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Hedda Gabler. Janis Dahto, of the family- run custom-made shoe business Dahto Shoes, cites an elegant stiletto sandal as a style that never falls from grace. Keep them simple, she suggests, with one strap across the toes and a sling-back heel. Toe cleavage does it for Mary-Kyri Pallaris, 27, an Adelaide newcomer who launched her footwear label, Mary-Kyri, last April. “A beautiful pump – no matter what the colour – that’s cut back just enough to show the beginning of the toes is sexy and will always remain in fashion,” she says. Sometimes, though, comfort wins over style and there are some shoes that remain in the spotlight regardless of their aesthetic appeal. A case in point: Birkenstocks.

In the new book, The Seductive Shoe: Four Centuries of Fashion Footwear (Thames & Hudson), the Canadian vintage fashion historian Jonathan Walford talks of the popular German shoes with the orthopedically enhanced contoured foot beds. “Although Birkenstocks are regarded as being plain ugly, they show no sign of falling from favour,” Walford writes. “Sales for the original, contoured foot bed sandals were higher in the 1990s than the 1970s, inspiring trainer and sport-sandal manufacturers to use contoured foot beds.” But they are an exception. As most footwear obsessives will testify, it’s not usually the comfy shoes that garner a cult following. When the supermodel Naomi Campbell took a tumble on a Parisian catwalk in 1993, dolled up in Vivienne Westwood mock-crock platforms 25 centimetres high, the shoes were used for British Safety Council posters, with the message to workers: “For your job wear safety shoes.” Westwood, however, went on to sell 300 pairs of the gravity-defiers. Such stories aren’t confined to international models. Claudia Chan Shaw recalls a show-stopping incident in 1970s Sydney, when her mother, who was running for a train wearing a pair of spongy crepe sole shoes, bounced all the way down the ramp at Ashfield Station and slammed into the indicator board. Alas, Shaw says, this particularly perilous pair is now too well-worn and tired to grace the exhibition. But, she asserts, “the right pair of shoes will always make a statement”.

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