Chic flats may be dominating the front row but Saturday night at the Brooklyn Museum was all about the heel–from sling-backs to stilettos.
Killer Heels: The Art of the High Heeled Shoe, which opens to the public on Wednesday September 10, runs the gamut of gravity defying footwear via more than 160 historical and contemporary high heels, dating from the seventeenth century through to the present. Overseen by the creative eye of Lisa Small, Curator of Exhibitions, Killer Heels encompasses elevated shoes that “defy categorization” by examining their “sculptural, architectural and artistic possibilities.”
A well heeled crowd gathered to catch a preview glimpse of Marilyn Monroe’s Ferragamo stilettos, House of Dior silk slippers and flaming Prada wedges, all with a healthy dose of champagne and canapés to boot. W magazine’s Editor-in-Chief Stefano Tonchi, who has contributed an essay to the exhibition’s catalogue, could be seen weaving his way through the six sections–Revival and Interpretation, Rising in the East, Glamour and Fetish, Architecture, Metamorphosis and Space Walk–alongside Marilyn Minter, whose high heel inspired short film was on display in the final room, Suzy Menkes and Rem D Koolhaas of United Nude.
Proof that the heel is no modern invention, an Italian seventeenth-century silk specimen on display, called a Chopine, was a symbol of both craftsmanship and status. Sported on the streets of Venice, the shoe, which could tower at up to 20 inches, was allegedly worn by wealthy Venetians to keep their feet dry from the city’s flooding canals. Meanwhile, back in the present, a rather heroic Ferrari Koolhaas glided across the museum in the twenty-first-century equivalent–Zaha Hadid’s “Nova” shoe: a collaboration with Unite Nude and an architectural feat of chromed vinyl rubber, leather and fiberglass.
The stiletto–a name which originates from the word dagger–has reigned provocatively in people’s imaginations throughout its history. A frequent symbol of fetish, it is inextricably bound with femininity. It would have been remiss, then, to overlook the modern erotic charms of Christian Louboutin’s thigh high calf-skin stiletto boots or Vivienne Westwood’s dominatrix-esque Super Elevated Gillie from 1993; not to mention the black leather platform bootie, boasting an 8-inch heel, designed by United Nude for Lady Gaga.
And with works ranging from the just about wearable to the utterly impractical, other flights of fancy included Ferragamo’s famed 1938 multi-colored platform sandal on loan from the Met, Elsa Schiaparelli’s surrealist wool “heel hat” (a 1937/38 collaboration with Salvador Dali) and Celine’s mink fur pump (an ode to Meret Oppenheim’s fur tea cup), all of which serve testament to the ongoing marriage of fashion, art and design that the exhibit sets out to celebrate.
The power of the spike was present throughout the evening in its many variations, no less in Rashaad Newsome’s performance which rounded off the night. Half runway show, half rap battle, Mr. Newsome performed a live version of his video installation KNOT, in which the rapper-stroke-artist explores the relationship between queer black men and women with the red soled Louboutin shoe.
Killer Heels makes clear that, while editors may be donning sensible slip-ons and glittery sneakers, the stiletto is far from out of style.