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

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.   

  • Slideshow Photos

    Jay Zukerkorn

    'Killer Heels': The art of the high-heeled shoe

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

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    Killer Heels

    Kicking off New York Fashion Week, a new exhibition at the Brooklyn Musuem entitled "Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe" looks at high-heeled shoes from the 1600s to the present. See some of the quirky and kinky shoes here.

    André Perugia's "Evening Sandals" 1928-29, made of leather and metal.

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    Cat Potter's "Pernilla, Look 5."

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    Aperlaï.'s “Geisha Lines,” from Fall 2013, made of leather.

    Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum / Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum
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    Balenciaga's block heel, Spring 2013.

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    Beth Levine's “Kabuki,” an evening shoe, circa 1965 in silk, metal, and wood.

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    Casuccio e Scalera per Loris Azzaro's sandal, 1974–79 made of leather, synthetic material and cotton.

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    Chau Har Lee's “Blade Heel,” from 2010, made of perspex, stainless steel and leather.

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    Manchu Woman's Shoe, 19th century, from China, made of cotton and embroidered satin-weave silk.

    Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum / Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum
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    Christian Dior and Roger Vivier's evening slippers for House of Dior,1960, made of silk, metal, synthetic and glass.

    Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum / Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum
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    Christian Louboutin's “Metropolis,” Fall/Winter 2010-11, made of calfskin and silver spikes.

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    "Printz" by Christian Louboutin, Spring and Summer 2013-14.

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    French boots from 1900-1920s, made of leather and cellulose.

    Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum / Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum
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    Iris van Herpen X United Nude's, “Beyond Wilderness,” from 2013.

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    French shoes from 1690-1700s, made of silk and leather.

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    Chopine's Italian shoe,1550-1650s, made of silk and metal. High-platformed shoes were especially popular among Venetian women.

    Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum / Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum
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    JANTAMINIAU's “L’Image Tranquille,” 2013. Handcrafted by René van den Bezrg.

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    Miu Miu's "Cammeo Baroque" leather wedge, Fall/Winter 2006.

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    Nicholas Kirkwood's pumps, Spring/Summer 2013, made of suede with gold and clear Swarovski crystals.

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    Noritaka Tatehana's “Atom,” 2012-13, made from faux leather.

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    Prada's wedge sandal in Rosso, Bianco and Nero leather, Spring/Summer 2012.

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    Rem D. Koolhaas' “Eamz,” 2004.

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    Roger Vivier's "Virgule Houndstooth,” Fall 2014, made of calf hair.

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    Salvatore Ferragamo's platform sandal, 1938, made of leather and cork.

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    Victor's platform sandal, circa 1940, America, made of leather.

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    Vivienne Westwood's “Super Elevated Gillie,” 1993.

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    Walter Steiger's “Unicorn Tayss,” Spring 2013.

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    Winde Rienstra's “Bamboo Heel,” 2012, made of bamboo, glue and plastic cable ties.

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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.


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