The name of the exhibit is “Killer Heels,” and I think I really did die and go to heaven.
No, really. All of the classic symptoms were there: sweaty palms, a racing pulse, sensory overload and finally, metamorphosis.
I say this not because I am a woman, because the shoes on display are by and about men as much as they are women. Nor is it because of some unscrupulous fetish I have for high-heeled shoes, because truthfully, my own shoe preference is one of low-altitude and maximum utility, such as the sneaker or – even better— the house shoe.
I say I died and was then transformed, because with all the hullabaloo surrounding high heels (which I never before seemed to quite grasp), I can finally say, I get it.
The exhibit Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe, which opened at the Brooklyn Museum on September 10, 2014, running through February 15, 2015, is a multi-media exhibition of 160 artfully designed high-heeled shoes. Each shoe is paired with contextual annotations with the addition of six dynamic short films.
In short, Killer Heels will inspire in you an appreciation for the precise architecture, still meditation and decadent emotion that go into creating the high heel.
The exhibit features the work of more than 60 designers, dating back from the mid-Seventeenth Century until today, including Rodarte, Balenciaga, John Fluevog, Chanel, Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood and many more.
There are literally a thousand variables in the exhibit to pique your senses, with just enough low lighting to elucidate yet urge you in for a closer look. The exhibit is organized into six themes: Revival and Reinterpretation, Rising in the East, Glamour and Fetish, Architecture, Space Walk and Metamorphosis.
Killer Heels Curator Lisa Small said when she first began to think about how to organize the exhibit, the idea of shoes as metamorphic objects stood out.
Think about it: One of our earliest childhood stories where shoes became featured objects was in The Wizard of Oz whereby Dorothy’s shoes effectively transported her to her own subconscious world of Id and Ego. Another is the tale of Cinderella whose glass slippers transformed her from servant girl to princess.
“Shoes have featured a variety of fairy tales as magical objects of transformation,” said Small. “The high heel affects the change on your body, your posture, makes you taller and changes the weight distribution. So the idea of metamorphosis is enmeshed in the idea of high-heeled shoes.”
Two glass slippers are featured—one from 1988 by the Maison Martin Margiela. Another designer, Iris Schieferstein, takes the idea of transformation much more literal in her creation of boots, “Horse Shoes 3,” which are made of actual horse fur and horse hooves.
Silk, leather, glass, vinyl rubber, wood, mink, metal, virtually every wearable material is employed across the handiwork of the featured designers. One such designer who was present at the exhibit, Winde Rienstra from Holland, said the materials in front of her are what spark her design ideas.
“I always start with the material,” said Rienstra, who is also a fashion designer. “I look at what material I like, and then I start to play with that and the design just happens, and I build the show.”
In the Architecture section, you’ll come to understand how architecture and shoe design share some of the same concerns. Julian Hakes, a bridge engineer, designed his first shoe by wrapping tape around his foot to check the biometrics behind how he should design the topology, explained Small.
And Jean Paul Gaultier showed his literal interpretation of architecture’s importance with his shoe “Eiffel Tower Pump,” where the heel is the inverted Eiffel Tower.
Other highlights include Marilyn Monroe’s Ferragamo stilettos from 1959; stiletto mules of silk, metal and glass by Roger Vivier for House of Dior, and a wool shoe hat made by Elsa Schiaparelli in collaboration with Salvador Dalí.
From the literal, to the conceptual, to the playful to the surreal, “Killer Heels” is guaranteed to lure you into its magical underworld.
Whether you are amongst the millions of high-heel-wearing stiletto worshipers, or more like me– a flip-flop-wearing sun worshiper who prefers the feel of sand over concrete– you’ll find your own slice of heaven at this exhibit. You will be seduced.