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Shoe Obsession

Published by Alex Cohen on 28-Mar-2013 Fashion
Tags: museum at the fashion institute of technology

New York's Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology's latest exhibition is one of its most interesting in recent years, and is one to make time for. Entitled “Shoe Obsession,” the exhibition features close to 150 quintessential examples of the art of the designer shoe from the 21st century. Valerie Steele, the museum’s curator, attempts to explain our obsession with shoes in a press release.

“An intimate extension of the body, shoes convey a wealth of information about an individual's sexuality, social status, and aesthetic sensibility,” Steele writes. “High-heeled shoes, in particular, seem to embody our complex feelings about sexuality, gender and power.”

The exhibition displays a wide range of complex designs. Surreal offerings abound in the dimly lit exhibition hall – Noritaka Tatehana's “Lady Pointe” slippers and Masaya Kushino's “Lung-ta [The Wind-Horse]” shoes are clear highlights of the show in their fantastical themes and design features. Alexander McQueen's Spring 2010 steampunk stiletto and Roger Vivier's 2012-13 “Eyelash Heels” provide a middle ground between more orthodox high heels and “the new concepts, constructions and materials that have positioned shoes at the height of fashion,” described by Steele.

One of the most exciting and unusual designs of the exhibition comes from designer Christian Louboutin, whose red-heeled, painfully vertical “Fetish Ballerine” stands in elegant contrast to his more conventional Fall 2012 “Pigalle” heels. Other conventional offerings of note include Manolo Blahnik's 2008 “Hangisi” and Charlotte Olympia's smiling “Kiss Me Delores” pumps.

The wide range of designs on show at the exhibition – from the unexpected and unwearable, to the conventional and subtle – offer visible evidence of the moments when fashion completely transcends its medium and becomes art. The more surreal offerings made this concept clear, often looking more like sculptures than anything else. The extreme stylings of designer-artists like Masaya Kushino and his ponytailed creations force the viewer to consider aesthetic over practicality. This carries forward to the conventional heels – the exhibition puts design front and centre, and composition is more heavily considered on Blahniks or Louboutins where it may have been taken for granted before.

The overlap between what we wear and what we consider art is evident in the full spectrum of heels on show at “Shoe Obsession.” Art and fashion are merged in such a way as to muddy the line that defines them. Shoes become sculpture with the collection of some of the most exciting and progressive high heels of the last 12 years. “Shoe Obsession” is on show at the Museum at FIT until April 13th.

Alex Cohen is an Art History and Journalism student at New York University.

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