High-heeled shoes step into the fashion spotlight in 'Killer Heels'

Casuccio e Scalera per Loris Azzaro (Italian). Sandal, 1974–79. Leather, synthetic material, cotton. The Bata Shoe Museum.
"Killer Heels" are on display at the Brooklyn Museum through February 2015.Bata Shoe Museum / Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum

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By Jane L. Levere

Just in time for New York Fashion Week, a new exhibition of “killer” high-heeled shoes is coming to Brooklyn.

Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe” was created by the Brooklyn Museum and opens Wednesday. The exhibition featuring these alluring designs, some dating back centuries, will eventually travel to museums around the country. 

The show will feature over 160 historical and contemporary shoes, including mid-17th century Italian chopines made of silk, leather and wood; silk-embroidered, Manchu platform shoes from China; a late 1930s, wool “heel hat” made by Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dali; a black leather platform bootie with an eight-inch heel designed by Rem D. Koolhaas for Lady Gaga in 2012; and a mink-covered pump made by Celine last year.

Other designers with shoes in the exhibition include Manolo Blahnik, Christian Louboutin, Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo, Roger Vivier for House of Dior, Zaha Hadid, Iris van Herpen, Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood.

Shoes on display come from the Brooklyn Museum costume collection housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and from the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto.   

High-heeled shoes — a signifier of sexiness, femininity, glamour and status through the ages — are on display at the Brooklyn Museum.

Lisa Small, curator of exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum, who organized “Killer Heels,” said these shoes are very popular. “People are fascinated by them,” she said. “They’re a sought-after commodity, status objects.”

She said she hoped visitors would come away with an appreciation of the long history of high heels. “Although the show can be appreciated as eye candy, beautifully crafted fashion with a capital F, there is history there,” she said. “An interesting connection can be made between shoes of different periods.”

High heels, she added, did not change a lot over time. "It’s a design with many variations on a theme, elevated shoes, stilettos, platforms, wedges.”

Cat Potter — an award-winning, London-based maker of bespoke shoes who comes from a small mountain village in Switzerland, studied shoemaking at the London College of Fashion, and has a computer-designed shoe from her Pernilla collection, created of pear wood, with brass fittings and a black acrylic sole, in “Killer Heels” — said it would be “a wonderful opportunity to see the scope of shoes which are out there today. 

“Many concept-driven shoes are also very wearable, and this may encourage people to be a bit braver with their choice of footwear,” she said. “I am encouraged by the amount of young talent being exhibited, which will hopefully remind the industry how important it is to support footwear students throughout their education and into their first jobs.”

Besides high heels, the exhibition will also feature six, specially commissioned short films inspired by the shoes. One of the filmmakers, Zach Gold, proposed his film to Small three years ago, leading her to come up with the concept for “Killer Heels.”

The exhibition will be on display in Brooklyn through Feb. 15, 2015, and then travel through 2016 to the Albuquerque Museum, Palm Springs Art Museum and Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire.