Recommended Show: Killer Heels

by Whitney Kimball on December 11, 2014 Reviews

Chanel, "Light Bulb Heels", 2008

Chanel, “Light Bulb Heels”, 2008

Critics who’d assumed that Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition Killer Heels, a show about high heels, digs a new low in museum pandering (me, for one) will be pleasantly surprised. Rather than the standard chronological checklist you’ll find in the historical wings, the loose, light-hearted exhibition flutters between centuries, favoring visual themes, as fashion does. 18th century court slippers, Qing Dynasty chopines, and foot-tall double-stilted shoes of the Turkish aristocracy mix liberally with Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, and Fendi. It’s not only fun, but it’s a record of civilization through fetishes.

Killer Heels is packed with historical tidbits and high-heel origin stories. Notecards reveal that the Geta, Japan’s now-ubiquitous platform sandals, derived from the need to elevate farmers’ feet above muddy rice fields. Similarly, an ancestor of the chopine– a delicately embroidered slipper atop a tall, curved platform, popular with the 15th century aristocracy– may have initiated from Ottoman Empire-era stilted wooden shoes which served to keep women’s feet dry in bathhouses.

Scary Beautiful (Leanie van der Vyver) from ACONSUMER on Vimeo.

More recent shoe-inspired concepts: “Heliotrope” (2013), a crazy, possibly-unwearable lobster claw-shaped boot, adorned with ruffles and accented with Swarovski crystals by Karin Janssen and Rene van den Berg. Then there’s Leanie van der Vyvre’s architecturally-inspired “Scary Beautiful” (2012), a pair of enormous, backward high-heel stilts which force the wearer to adopt the posture of a praying mantis.

And general fashion-related gems include the 1939 black-and-white short Eve AD 2000!, showcasing various outfits which designers envisioned for our space-age future. Among them: glass wedding dresses, lightbulb hats, electric belts, wire breast plates, and pants.

I could go on, but most of the show imposes cultural variants on the same basic formats of heels and platforms. It’s why I’m not in that industry, but after this show, the cultural significance of even the most frivolous and crowd-pleasing accessory can not be denied– turns out, shoe shopping is timeless. Photos below.

On the left: "Heliotrope", 2013, Rene van den Berg.

On the left: “Heliotrope”, 2013, Rene van den Berg.

Geta, first half of the 20th century

Geta, first half of the 20th century

Manchu women's shoes, 19th century, Qing Dynasty

Manchu women’s shoes, 19th century, Qing Dynasty

Zaha hadid x united nude, "Nova", 2013

Zaha hadid x united nude, “Nova”, 2013

Still from "Eve AD 2000!", 1939

Still from “Eve AD 2000!”, 1939

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