From Louis XIV to Louboutin: 500 years of French footwear in Hong Kong show

Shoes are the stars of the wardrobe, says woman behind free exhibition in Hong Kong that charts the evolution of shoemaking in France

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 May, 2015, 1:45pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 May, 2015, 2:12pm

Most people see shoes as a practical fashion item, a necessary accessory. But not Parisian Anne Camilli - she sees footwear from very different angles, looking at their role in history, politics, sociology, creativity and fashion. And no more is this evident than in her latest curated exhibition, "500 years of French Passion for Shoes", at Pacific Place in Admiralty until May 24.

As part of Le French May, the free exhibition walks the viewer through the historical evolution of French footwear. It shows the richness of shoe history, creativity and know-how with a stunning selection of French vintage and contemporary shoes, documents and tools from a collection on loan from Le Musée de la Chaussure (International Footwear Museum) in Romans-sur-Isère as well as private collectors.

"Celebrating shoes seemed obvious to me. Shoes are women's and even men's treasured and essential fashion accessories and are often turned into collectable items. They are the stars of the wardrobe and in this exhibition they are presented as the 'stars' walking down the steps of luxury staircases during Le French May, just as actual movie stars are now walking down the red carpet steps at Cannes Film Festival," says Camilli.

"Shoes are also very important as witnesses of their time: as signs of social status they tell us about history, politics, sociology, creativity, decorative arts, crafts, industry, fashion and brands, of course.

"My purpose in the selection was to underscore the back and forth in time and the ongoing inspiration of shoemakers through time, as a never-ending process and also to show how a craft turned into an industry where you still need between 150 and 170 operations to produce a shoe. Shoes of the past and contemporary shoes are therefore mixed throughout the exhibition, often as a response to one another."

Camilli says highlights of the show include the poetical Andrée Putman limited edition Charles Jourdan, a grey suede pump with "wings".

"Imagine if your shoes could fly and take you wherever you want."

She is also a fan of the Love Stéphane Couvé-Bonnaire zebra and giraffe-heeled pumps. "I also love the 17th-century man's boot which reminds me so much of The Three Musketeers … the precious jewelled heels of the early to mid 1920s. And the André Pérugia sandals created in 1922 are also striking, as is the Robert Clergerie grey satin pump with a metal heel and the Roger Vivier poulaine-type red shoe embroidered with pearls. It's never-ending."

Sandal, spartan, clog, poulaine, chopine, slipper, brogue, ankle strap, Mary Jane, loafer, derby, sneaker, stiletto … the sheer abundance of names for different types of shoes illustrate why this fashion item has fascinated both men and women for centuries, says Camilli, adding that sandals are the oldest known footwear.

Showcasing how shoes have become art pieces, the exhibition will cover nine sections, including "Major steps in shoe history, from shoemakers to shoe designers"; "Signature heels - when heels become sculptures"; "Little black shoes - the epitome of elegance"; "Ballet pumps - indoor and outdoor"; "Sandals - first shoes ever"; "Boots - these boots are made for walking"; and a section on men's footwear.

The exhibition is linked to a series of educational workshops. Go to frenchmay.com for details.