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VM inspiration: The pleasure and pain of shoes at the V&A

The summer blockbuster exhibition at the V&A has something for everyone: we all wear shoes, everyone has an opinion on them and some of us have a huge number of them. The exhibition explores two facets of our shoe experience: pleasure and (perhaps unintentional) pain.

A ‘shoe-as-test’ cabinet, back-lit, with a backdrop of stylised trees against a blood-red sky, evokes fairy-tale enchanted forests. It alludes to the pain which shoes in this category require the wearer to endure.

These are typified by Cinderella’s glass slipper on its plump scarlet cushion, with gold braid edging. V&A exhibition curator Edwina Persson says there is apparently no truth in the story that glass, verre in French, was a mistranslation of miniver, squirrel, and that Cinders was actually slouching around in cozy, squirrel-lined slippers.

Cut-out trees with acrylic shoe supports provide a support from which to display red ballet shoes inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, also famously a ballet and movie, in which a girl is punished for her vanity when her shoes develop a life of their own and dance continuously. Variations of this flat backdrop would be perfect for a shallow, open-backed, shoe-store window.

In the Status section a series of purple plinths of varying heights showcases desirable shoes. Notice the paler top to each plinth: lilac is one of those a flattering colours that works for both men’s and women’s shoes, which, as they are generally rather darker in colour, become lost against too dark a ground.

For extra special status shoes an individual, padded, pouffe-style, plinth underlines just how special these Perspex mules with their pleated organza tops are. Just imagine the pouffe topped by shoes in a small window by itself.

Next: Seduction. With a predictably red ground, a series of flat surfaces on which to display shoes are supported on rods, either from ceiling or floor. All ideal for a deeper window, no matter the proportions.

Angled cubes are an excellent method of displaying a wall of Status shoes. A mirrored facet adds extra complexity in which the adjacent shoes are mirrored. The addition of the Perspex cabinets, left and top right, protects very delicate shoes from dust. This format would work well for both a shallow window or in-store display.

This is the perfect prop on which to display the Status category’s most impractical shoes. The prop, a red bridge with glass steps, is as impractical as the shoes. A variation, perhaps in more robust materials, could showcase elegant shoes. It might be composed of several layers of bridges positioned one above the other to form an interesting variation on the ‘wall of shoes’ we see in shoe shops.

Upstairs in the Fashion gallery are selections from a number of notable shoe-collectors. Robert’s Adidas trainer collection is classically displayed on the top of uniform brown shoe-boxes, each bearing the details of the shoes displayed on the lid above. Perfect for shoe VM.

This trunk was made, between 1914 – 1919, to contain 24 pairs of identical shoes made by Pietro Yantorny for New York socialite Rita de Acosta Lydig. Yantorny was said to be the most expensive shoemaker in the world at the time and Ascosta Lydig commissioned several hundred pairs of his shoes. As we can see she didn’t wear them all. How nice that he provided storage for them too with this lovely, plush-lined trunk, and what a great window display idea.