Shoes will be in the spotlight this month at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.
On Nov. 19, the exhibition “Shoes: Pleasure and Pain” will open to the public, with more than 300 pairs on display, ranging from rare vintage designs to contemporary works by designers such as Manolo Blahnik, Christian Louboutin, Salvatore Ferragamo, Jimmy Choo and Prada. Organized by London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, the exhibition — which runs through March 12, 2017 — explores the creative potential, cultural significance and transformative power of footwear. It has been organized by five major themes: Transformation, Status, Seduction, Creation and Obsession.
“Our feet are what ground us and help us move through the world,” said Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, PEM’s James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes Deputy Director and coordinating curator for the exhibition. “The shoes we choose for walking are not just about protecting our feet. They project our mood, our identity and our place in the world. By altering stature, posture and gait, shoes signal to the world how you feel about yourself and want to be perceived by others.”
In addition to styles pulled from various private collections (including those of fashion icons Iris Apfel and Marilyn Riseman), there will be a wide selection of shoes from PEM’s own collection, the largest of its kind in the U.S., many of which have never before been displayed. They include historic looks that pay tribute to New England as a hub for shoe manufacturing and design. A number of the shoes on display have been worn by celebrities such as David Beckham, Elton John, Kylie Minogue and Daphne Guinness, as well as British royals Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria. Among the highlights is the pair of towering Vivienne Westwood platforms worn by model Naomi Campbell during her infamous runway fall in 1993.
“Shoes are about the personal creativity of the designer and the person who wears that shoe,” Hartigan said. “It’s a partnership between two people who likely never meet. You can make something wonderful, but if someone doesn’t respond to it, there is something incomplete about the act. Creation is about communication.”
Throughout the run of “Shoes: Pleasure and Pain,” the PEM shop will be transformed into a shoe emporium, stocked with more than 80 different shoes for men and women, representing 20 designers from 15 countries, including several designs commissioned exclusively for the store.
For more information on the exhibition, visit PEM.org. And for a sneak peek at more of the striking shoes that will be on display, check out our gallery here.