The evolution of the Brit girl group’s fashion statements through the years — beginning as self-styled bargain shoppers and evolving into polished pop stars — is chronicled in “Spiceworld: The Exhibition,” launching on July 7 at the Watford Colosseum in Watford, United Kingdom.
The theater celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Spice Girls’ debut hit, “Wannabe.”
When Scary (Mel B), Sporty (Mel C), Baby (Emma Bunton), Ginger (Geri Halliwell) and Posh (Victoria Beckham, nee Adams) were catapulted to international fame in 1996, their lyrics were as infectious as their striking fashion choices.
But from the very beginning, none of the girls were quite posh.
“Those were the days they styled themselves and they would go to (London’s) Camden Market and buy cheap stuff — really cheap stuff. They would go to this U.K. shop called Miss Selfridge,” Liz West, whose collection of more than 5,000 Spice Girls footwear, costumes, merchandise and memorabilia will be on display, tells Footwear News.
West, a visual artist, holds the Guinness World Record for the largest Spice Girls collection.
Some of the pieces that have posed the most challenges for West to acquire are from the group’s breakthrough year.
“The stuff that they wore when ‘Wannabe’ was released is gone,” she explains. “I’ve never seen stuff from that period.”
One of the oldest footwear items from the collection that reflects the group’s early style is a pair of black leather Muzo knee-high biker boots worn by Mel B that she donned for an appearance in Smash Hits magazine in 1997.
“Mel would’ve probably bought them herself,” West says. “She would’ve worn them day to day, and not just for photo shoots. You can see how flat they are and there’s very little going on, but very plain. They were quite comfortable. A year later, you’ll see (shoes with) a bigger platform and much more intricate leather. These were made for Mel, and I believe Geri [Halliwell] had a pair made as well.”
West says that as they rose to fame, the Spice Girls began wearing customized footwear that was produced in multiple copies “so they never wore them day in and out.” Overall, shoes in circulation from the pop stars — who went on hiatus in 2000 — are “in good condition” for that reason.
Of course, their style needs varied depending upon the occasion.
For concerts, the footwear designs have lower platforms, “designed with dancing in mind,” she says, unlike the shoes worn for appearances, which feature much higher heels.
“You can see quite a lot of times when they’ve been given shoes and modified them,” West notes. In the collection she has a pair of Halliwell’s Prada boots that were “spray-painted.” She adds that some of the footwear was modified by the girls, themselves, or their team.
Memorably, the Spice Girls popularized German-manufacturer Buffalo’s cartoonish platform 1310-2 sneakers, which were designed with four-to-eight-inch platforms.
“Buffalo offered sponsorship as well as Shelley’s,” she explains. “Shelley’s made shoes especially for them that you couldn’t buy in the shop. I remember distinctly going to Covent Garden [in London] as a young girl and they had all of the platforms, similar to the Spice Girls shoes, but not especially handcrafted. They were given mountains of shoes – it was a great thing for [the brands], and it increased their sales. They started a trend.”
At the height of their success, the Spice Girls licensed their brand to lollipops, rulers and even pencil cases. Naturally, they launched their own shoe line featuring the very same styles they popularized.
“It was the Spice Girls marketing their own success,” West says of their line of footwear. “You could buy strappy sandals to wedges. It was medium quality. They were casual and they all had the official Spice Girls logo on them. I guess they were trying to give fans a chance to copy them because lots of fans wanted to mimic how they looked and they couldn’t afford original Buffalos, I imagine.”
She adds that they produced a range of children’s shoes that “were everywhere across the world, but the adult the line was in America.” The Spice Girls brand footwear featured in West’s collection were “imports” that were sourced exclusively from North America, she explains.
West began collecting Spice Girls memorabilia at age 11, after the group released its 1997 sophomore album,“Spiceworld.”
Anything featuring the Union Jack, the United Kingdom’s national flag, is highly prized by Spice Girls collectors, West says.
The Holy Grail is Halliwell’s Union Jack dress that was worn for the group’s first Brit Awards performance. “It’s in Las Vegas at the Hard Rock Hotel and they don’t have it on display,” she explains.
However, West did obtain Halliwell’s Union Jack ankle booties from the group’s 1997 Girl Power Live! In Istanbul concert. The shoes designed by Shelley’s feature a glitter finish, two-inch platform soles and four-inch heels.
But there’s always room for the collection to grow.
“I would love a pair of Scary Spice’s [Mel B] leopard-print platforms or a set of five shoes that they all wore at the same time,” she says. “I would have to build that up.”
Haggling prices and sourcing high-quality memorabilia from sellers on eBay isn’t the biggest challenge as a collector, West admits.
“The problem is Victoria Beckham hasn’t sold things that have value,” West explains. “I’m interested in seeing things people remember from concerts and award shows. Mel C never sold a pair of Sporty Spice trainers because she probably wore them out.”
Halliwell and Mel B have the most memorabilia in circulation compared to their counterparts Victoria Beckham, Mel C and Emma Bunton.
“As Geri famously said,” West says, “she’s got the memories and doesn’t need the stuff, whereas Victoria desperately wants the stuff for Harper (her daughter).”
While West believes that Beckham has hidden away most of her collectibles, the rest of the girls have returned items to designers, given them away to fans or staff. “Nothing’s all in one hangar, but if there was such a place I’d love to go there,” she adds.