The Art of the shoemaker

 
 Andreia Chaves, ‘Invisible Shoe’, from ‘Shoes: Pleasure and Pain’ at the V&A. Internal leather, handmade in Italy + external 3D printed nylon structure.

Andreia Chaves, ‘Invisible Shoe’, from ‘Shoes: Pleasure and Pain’ at the V&A. Internal leather, handmade in Italy + external 3D printed nylon structure.

 
 

October 24 2015

As an advocate of the skill and craftsmanship of the maker, I have always admired the art of the shoemaker; the creator of beautiful objects, comprising many different parts and using a wide variety of materials, which are also functional. Today, as we continue to research new technologies and expand our knowledge of material and process, the art of shoemaking will continue to evolve. For example, the fabulous Invisible Shoe (pictured here) by Andreia Chaves was developed through a fusion of leather making techniques with advanced 3D printing technology.

But having studied material culture I now also appreciate that, in addition to practical necessity, craft and aesthetic (which should be enough in itself), there is so much more to shoes. The notion of shoes as objects of desire and social signifiers dates back many centuries and their power has also moved into the realm of myth, folklore, fiction and popular culture. Who isn’t aware of the transformative powers of Cinderella’s Glass Slipper or Dorothy’s Ruby Slipper? Also, did you know that, in the seventeenth-century court of Louis XIV, the right to wear red heels became the sole prerogative of the privileged few at court and therefore shoes with red heels took on a special significance? Sound familiar anyone?

Shoes: Pleasure and Pain, at the V&A, London until January 31, 2016, is a wonderful exhibition of shoes from ancient Egypt to designs by contemporary ‘celebrity’ shoe designers. The shoes are not shown in chronological order but more interestingly by theme and so we learn about shoes as expressions of status, as fetish footwear, as magical objects and much, much more.

 

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Frances McDonald