I was 16 when I purchased my first expensive pair of shoes. I scrimped and saved by toiling many long hours at a German bakery. That magical day left an indelible impression on my mind. With great anticipation, I entered Trash and Vaudeville on St. Mark’s St. in NYC to buy my first pair of Creepers which completed my Punk Rock-Rockabilly uniform. These incredibly well made shoes lasted me for years and I came to appreciate and understand the value of a shoe crafted from quality materials. I learned my lesson never to settle for cheaply made, low quality synthetic shoes from China.
Years have gone by and I still adore shoes. So when the exhibit “Shoe Obsession” opened at the Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T) in NYC, my heart was palpitating.
Ah what to wear to a shoe exhibit? Elie Tahari leopard ankle boots, Sharagano Paris satin pants, McQ Alexander McQueen zip sweater, red fingerless leather gloves, Liza Reitz cloche from etsy.com, A.B.S by Allen Schwartz patent leather & satin jacket (seen at end of post).
In the exhibit, 150 shoes and boots of the 21st century are displayed. The highly curated collection, explores an amalgam of styles from sculptural (Rupert Sanderson’s design for Verdi’s “Aida” opera), to obscenely high, (Christian Louboutin’s “Fetish Ballerina”), to literal depictions of artwork, (Nicholas Kirkwood’s “Keith Haring” pump) to whimsy evocative of an iconic childhood fairy tale (Martin Margiela’s “Glass Slipper”).
Sanderson photo: Tmagazine.com – Louboutin photo: ©Museum of FIT – Kirkwood photo: Nicholas Kirkwood – Margiela photo: stylecurated.blogspot.com
A good portion of the designers represented are well known brands which were catapulted to fame by the shoe-centered TV series, “Sex and the City”. Names such as Manolo Blahnik, Christian Louboutin, Prada and Chanel became pop culture icons. But the designers which excited me most were those under the radar names such as, Masaya Kushino, Andreia Chaves, Rupert Sanderson and Janina Alleyne.
The curators Dr. Valerie Steele and Colleen Hill delivered a show of great breadth along with a clever narrative. One aspect which helped to elevate the lowly shoe to sculptural heights, was the displaying of one shoe of a pair only. I was so blown away by this exhibit that my (mental) wheels were spinning throughout the next day. I was completely and utterly inspired.
The stand-out collection which made its greatest impression was Masaya Kushino’s “the Wind Horse,” Janina Allyene’s “Exoskelton”, and Nicholas Kirkwood for Rodarte bandage boot.
Kushino photo: Tmagazine.com – Allyene photo: Janina Alleyne.com – Kirwood photo: deccanchronicle.com
The exquisite “Wind Horse” is made from lace, white leather, Japanese cypress and human hair. Aside from the use of white leather I picture a PETA ad campaign of an animated horse wearing these and whinnying, “if you really need to eat horse meat or have me pull humans in a buggy across Central Park, then I am going to snip off your pony tail to make this fabulous shoe”. After a night on the town that pony tail will need a deep conditioning KÉRASTASE® treatment and tender loving care.
“Exoskeleton” – Janina Allyene studied insect external skeletons and marine invertebrates and produced them through 3D Printing to deliver this unusual design. She succeeded in creating a work which is sculptural, eery and powerful without color or embellishments. The shoe depicted the natural state of marine life. In my view, I saw more than just skeletal remains. Rather, the creation took on an alien form which could have been commissioned by the queen of the Lost City of Atlantis.
Nicholas Kirkwood’s bandage boot for Rodarte had me shaking in fear. I have never been scared of a boot! This is a boot to rival all boots. My mind was going in circles as I was quaking in fright. Some thoughts to share-wow, that’s alot of leather-were one or more cows killed to make this boot? Is this something in which Edward Scissorhands would encase his beloved wife? Can one person manage to put on this boot or is a cadre of assistants necessary? Bravo Nicholas, for creating something so formidable and so labor intensive, that a modern day gladiatrix would kill to don this boot before doing battle.
The majority of the shoes exhibited are designed to torture, empower, exude sex, and hobble the wearer. I left the show wondering as Virginia Slims once touted, “women have come such a long, long way, baby”. Why do women revert to things that are beautiful but bind them? When ski poles are necessary to wear those Zanotti 6″ heels, doesn’t it defeat the notion of what is alluring and sexy? On the contrary, a woman can be glamorous and grounded. A woman teetering on heels isn’t powerful, unless she uses her stiletto as a weapon.
I credit the F.I.T. exhibit for creating a visually stunning fantasy. In reality, few women could own or wear these museum pieces. But when the privileged owner puts on her fantastical shoe, she is transformed into the star of her one-night only sold-out Broadway performance.
What could possibly top off an afternoon spent visiting an exhibit of spectacularly sculpted shoes which delivered the message of power, sex and confidence? MACBETH, of course! That evening I attended a performance of Shakespeare’s Macbeth starring Tony Award winner, Alan Cummings, at the Ethel Barrymore theater.
As a high schooler, Macbeth was my least favorite Shakespeare play. It was so brutal and dark; the play explored the theme of lust for power at any cost without regard of consequences. It was tortuous being forced to memorize and recite a portion of the play in front of my English class. “Something wicked this way comes,” “Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble”, and “Out, damned spot! out I say!”
I never understood the purpose of memorizing these lines. Cut me some slack since I was merely a rebellious teen, who years later came to appreciate the genius of Shakespeare.
Macbeth at the Ethel Barrymore theater is a limited run production with only 6 performances a week, which ends June 30th. Alan Cummings plays the lead role of a suicidal patient in a psychiatric ward. He inhabits the major characters of Macbeth and recounts the entire story, without intermission, for an hour and 45 minutes. Alan Cummings performs this ambitious role so convincingly that the audience feels as though they are part of the mental asylum world. When the two other actors, who play nurses, walk onto the stage, Cummings views them as the characters in the storyline of Macbeth.
Cummings is outstanding in this contemporary interpretation of Macbeth. You needn’t be well versed in Shakespeare to appreciate this play. I suggest reading the synopsis in preparation for a full understanding of this work. Trust me, you will be very impressed.
Two final things made my evening at the theater memorable. Firstly, my talented and handsome cousin, Chris Kipiniak, is the understudy to the male nurse. It was so great to see him! Secondly, I had a star sighting and my own “brush with greatness”. R-E-A-D-Y? LIZA MINNELLI was in the audience and I saw her after the show right before she entered her Town Car. She was fabulous as always, dressed in black head-to-toe and beaming at her fans. I’m not one to get star-struck, but….there was indeed stardust in the wake of Liza-freaking-Minnelli!!!
Macbeth at the Ethel Barrymore Theater – 243 West 47th St. – Directed by John Tiffany and Andrew Goldberg. Also starring Jenny Sterlin and Brendan Titley.