From Karen Mok’s shoes to the boots that took down Naomi Campbell – V&A’s Hong Kong show
Exhibition of seven centuries of shoes curated from collection of London’s Victoria & Albert Museum tells stories of their famous wearers and of customs around the world
See a new exhibition in Hong Kong about the history of footwear and you may never think the same way again about the shoes you put on each day.
“Shoes are not only status symbols, but also containers of memories. They’re like the diary of the owner’s life,” says Helen Persson, curator of Shoes: Pleasure and Pain, which features 140 pairs from the collection of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.
“Of course,” she adds, “the most central in [a woman’s] life is her wedding shoes,” pointing to a pair of intricate white heels worn by Hong Kong singer and actress Karen Mok when she married Johannes Natterer in 2011.
Mok has lent 14 pairs from her personal shoe collection – worn for concerts, in films and for more intimate moments – for the exhibition, which is on display at Pacific Place in Admiralty.
Other exhibits with stories to tell include the tall Vivienne Westwood pirate boots that caused supermodel Naomi Campbell to tumble on a Paris catwalk in 1993, a pair of David Beckham’s boots, and a crystal slipper used in the filming of Disney’s Cinderella in 2015.
The oldest shoes featured are from the 1370s.
A highlight of the collection is the pair of lotus shoes from China. Seeming impossibly small, the embroidered shoes were worn by adult women whose feet were bound. Under a practice that persisted until the 1950s, their feet were maimed in childhood by wrapping them tightly in cloth to ensure they never grew longer than a “three-inch lotus flower”. This caused them lifelong suffering and heavily affected their ability to walk.
One particularly tiny pair of lotus shoes, from the mid-18th century, were designed to give the impression the wearer’s bound feet were even smaller. “The women must have gone through a lot of pain. But it was an optical illusion where the heel was up at the back flap, so part of your foot would be outside the shoe. Still tiny, but not this tiny,” Persson says.
“These shoes were for people with money. Cultures can be very different, but there seems to be the perception that if you can’t walk, you are wealthy because someone else will do the walking for you,” she adds.
If just looking at shoes does not sound enticing enough, the public has the chance to get hands-on. Swire Properties has arranged a shoemaking workshop as part of the exhibition, hosted by local crafts company We Make Gifts.
During the one-hour workshop, participants are taught how to make felt shoes, from hammering holes into the material to threading the uppers and soles together with ribbon. The end-product may be rudimentary but the process lets attendees step into the shoes of cobblers and see what it is like to make footwear from scratch.
The collection has been touring Asia for the past year, being shown in Swire Properties venues. It will be on show at Pacific Place until October 28, and the shoemaking workshop is available for booking.