If the Shoe Fits…
At the end of January, I visited the Victoria and Albert museum on the closing weekend of their exhibition: ‘Shoes: Pleasure and Pain’, a voyage through time and place exploring the motif and meaning of the shoe in various contexts. The exhibition presented the shoe as having transformative power in legend or folklore, as being a status symbol in society, a sexual signifier or fetish object, a product of exquisite craftsmanship and the focus of obsession for collectors.
If you like the sound of this but you missed it, I can recommend getting hold of the book, if only to look amazing on your coffee table!
Over the course of the summer 2015, three large exhibitions on the theme of the shoe opened in London, the V&A exhibit among them. There was a really interesting article about it in The Guardian at the time, which you can read here.
While this tells us that the shoe is obviously a bit zeitgeisty, it also tells us that there is something a bit special about shoes as a worn object. You probably wouldn’t see three major galleries in London simultaneously paying homage to the T-Shirt (although never say never, I’d love to see what that could look like!)
Here in Norwich, we feel the special significance of the shoe perhaps more keenly than other places in the world, as shoes are a vital part of the heritage of our fine city. People who have lived in Norwich all their lives may remember Norwich as it once was, a thriving centre for shoe production. Nowadays, unable to compete with low costs of production abroad, the myriad shoe factories that once employed over 10,000 people in Norwich have all closed, aside from one. The Van Dal site on Dibden road is the last remaining working women’s shoe factory in Norwich.
Some of you may know that I currently work at the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell, which has a whole gallery devoted to the story of the Norwich Shoe industry and the people who made it great. I love the Shoemakers gallery, which as well as keeping our heritage alive, also showcases some really special pieces that both appeal to me from a fashion perspective and also demonstrate just how skilled the Norwich shoe workers have always been. Here are a few of my favourites…
Ladies court shoe, purple calf leather with layered leather rosette detail Edward and Holmes, mid 1960s
Blue printed leather willow pattern shoe, designed by P.W. Meadows and made at James Southall and Co Ltd of Norwich, circa 1926-1930
V&A, eat your heart out! With amazing collections like this in Norwich, we have the obligation to shout about it, which is why I am so excited about what I’m about to tell you:
As part of Norwich Fashion week this year, on Wednesday 16th March, the Museum of Norwich is opening its doors for a special evening event, entitled ‘If the Shoe Fits’. The museum has teamed up with Van Dal, the last remaining women’s shoemakers in Norwich, to celebrate the Norwich Shoe industry, past and present! I don’t want to give too much away, but I will tell you a little bit…
Do you love our poster image? Shot by the incredible Kerry Curl, aka Missy Vintage, aka Girl_Camera, aka Norwich Fash Pack member extraordinaire…? Watch out on social media for a few more of these in the lead up to the event! I could write a whole other blog post about the day we did that shoot in the museum, involving running around the city collecting bits of mannequin in the rain and me demonstrating my reflector-thingy-holding-skills. By which I mean, my Photographer’s Assistant skills, of course…
As part of the event, people will have the chance to see what is involved in the creation of a shoe from conception to manufacture; our friends at Van Dal will be showing visitors what is involved at all of these stages. We will also have our museum curators showing objects from our collection of shoes that are not currently on display in the Shoemakers gallery.
Green suede court shoe with applique detail, Edward and Holmes, mid-1960s.
This wouldn’t be a Norwich Fashion Week-worthy event without an element of showmanship to it, though. As people explore the museum they will find installations of ‘live mannequins’ who are modelling the latest Van Dal collections. We have teamed up with the very fabulous Fabulous Miss K for this, who is rapidly becoming one of my favourite people. Karen, as I am occasionally allowed to call her, is a force of nature and is currently involved in approximately one million events during Norwich Fashion Week, including the incredible Vintage Show at Open on Sunday 13th March, and a very exciting exhibition to be held at Fairhurst Gallery (very near the museum of Norwich, why not pop along to both…?) called A Portrait in Vintage.
Because I like shoes and fashion and things, Karen is showing me the ropes in the world of styling, and we will be choosing the shoes for the models to wear very soon; gosh, my job is hard…
We hope that ‘If The Shoe Fits’ will help to showcase our amazing Norwich shoe heritage, and also show people that it lives on, today! There is so much amazing creativity in Norwich, and that’s what Norwich Fashion Week is all about- I’m really excited to be a part of it at the Museum of Norwich and I look forward to seeing lots of you on the 16th!
Written by NFW Blogger Kate Cooper
‘I’m Kate. I work in a museum and I studied Fashion at university. I like drinking hot beverages, eating all the foods, buying clothes from charity shops and looking at art. I like doing all of these things in Norwich, where I live with a ginger, bearded man, who is quite nice actually, and a vast collection of mugs.’