Saturday, 20 June 2015

Shoes: Pleasure and Pain

I've always had a bit of a love-hate relationship shoes. Whilst on the one hand (or should I say foot?!) they can be undoubtedly pretty, stylish and glamorous, and give a much-needed boost to my 5 foot 2 inches, but they can also hurt like hell. Which is why the V&A's new shoe exhibition 'Shoes: Pleasure and Pain' is so perfectly named. 

On display are hundreds of shoes through the ages, each encapsulating a specific aspect of footwear. There is an area dedicated to shoes inspired by the fairy tale, including the iconic red ballet slippers worn by Moira Shearer in The Red Shoes as well as Lily James's glass heel from the recent Cinderella. Another display showed shoes worn by royalty, from Queen Victoria's pumps to Kate Middleton's nude LK Bennett's. 

The exhibition also delved into the more psychological aspect of our relationship with shoes. In a room hidden behind a velvet curtain were a collection of shoes chosen for their connection to desire and fetishism. For hundreds, if not thousands of years, shoes have been worn to reveal and conceal, and like any piece of clothing they say something about the wearer. In the 18th century, a fashion for shoes laced low on the foot was thought scandalous, as it revealed the wearer's coloured stockings beneath. And, of course, who can forget the stiletto, synonymous with femininity, sex, power, and one Carrie Bradshaw.

Pleasure and pain go hand in hand when thinking about the 'lotus' shoes worn by Chinese women right up until the early 20th century. These tiny, intricately embroidered shoes showed the extremes women underwent through the tradition of footbinding to gain a shoe size and gait that was deemed attractive. It's incredible to think that this was still in practise just a little over a hundred years ago.

Another aspect of the exhibition explored our need to collect and display shoes. Showing various shoe collections, from a society woman of the 1920s who kept her shoes in a specially made vanity case, to a more contemporary Reebok trainer collection, there is definitely something special about shoes that makes us want to cherish and preserve them, and showcase them as pieces of our personal identity.

A final showreel of cinematic shoe moments is displayed at the end of this expansive exhibition and if you ever needed a reason to re-watch the likes of Belle du Jour, The Red Shoes or Sex in the City, you'll want to now, if only to observe the beautiful shoes.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

The Secret History of Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland fever is everywhere at the moment. The much-loved story turns 150 this year, and unless you've been living under a rock you might have noticed a few white rabbits, mad hatters and March hares cropping up around the UK. I've always felt a connection to these stories, and now that I'm living in Oxford, I'm not too far from where Lewis Carroll first met Alice Liddell, and where it all began.

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to win a couple of tickets to the Charleston Festival, and of course I chose the talk on Alice. 'The Secret History of Wonderland' took the form of a conversation between two writers. The first, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, recently published a book entitled 'The Story of Alice' which chronicles the life of Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and his relationship with Alice Liddell. The second author was Vanessa Tait, who is the great-granddaughter of Alice herself, and whose novel 'The Looking Glass House' retells the story of the Liddell family through the perspective of their governess.
It was fascinating to hear from Vanessa Tait about the experience of having such a famous relative, and one who was a literary heroine. Vanessa spoke about growing up in a house filled with Alice's memorabilia, from gloves and jewellery to treasured first editions of the Alice books. There is a real sense of mythology surrounding the story of Alice, from the photographs of her as a street urchin staring unflinchingly at the camera, to the nature of her relationship with Charles Dodgson, so much is unknown and unexplained, and both authors spoke of this uncertainty openly. Whilst we'll never know many of these unanswered questions, there must be something special about Alice in Wonderland. The book has become such a widely used cultural reference, from Japanese Harajuku costumes to Beatles lyrics. I can't wait to go back and reread the stories and be inspired once again.

These photos are of the house and gardens of Charleston, which is just so beautiful in the summer months. See last year's review of the festival here.

Have a great weekend! Xx