Recollect : Shoes @ The Powerhouse

Shoes (pair) Womans Love Leather, Suede, Rubber, Christian Louboutin, designed in Paris, made in Italy, 1991-1996
Shoes (pair) Womans Love Leather, Suede, Rubber, Christian Louboutin, designed in Paris, made in Italy, 1991-1996

‘Shoes are like makeup for the feet’ (Edmund Castillo).

Shoe aficionados rejoice and slide, stumble, teeter, bourree, glide, tango, tap, ooze, march, or run your way to this fabulous exhibition at the Powerhouse.

The exhibition is down on Level 1, near the Wiggles exhibition, and is the first time that the Museum has used the particular area as an exhibition space.

Shoes can be disposable, comfortable or extremely uncomfortable, bespoke or mass produced. They can be works of art, more like a piece of sculpture than wearable footwear. They can also be specially made for protection (for instance, fire fighter boots) or specially made to help with medical conditions.

The Powerhouse ‘s collection of shoes numbers over 1,000 pairs, dating from the 16th century to now. This is the third ‘Recollect ‘ exhibition (previous exhibitions were on the themes of cars and architecture). It shows us how the Powerhouse collects, stores and maintains its awesome shoe collection and how the theory of conservation of shoes has changed over the years. It is interesting to note that some materials used to conserve shoes actually end up destroying them.

A major highlight of the display are the historic shoes from the internationally significant Joseph Box collection. Joseph Box Ltd (today owned by John Lobb Bootmaker Ltd) was a London based shoe company which had its origins in a business making women’s shoes founded by James Sly in 1808.

There are 5 showcases devoted to the Box collection , some of which were not meant to be worn but rather were designed to show off the skill of the particular shoemaker.

The detail and exquisite design are breath taking. There are remnants of leather shoes from the Middle Ages, which were excavated from British archaeological sites, intact European shoes from the 16th century to the early 19th century, ethnographic shoes, shoe buckles, tools and spurs, as well as an extensive company archive.

The exhibition also includes a range of shoe-making equipment, including an early 20th century clicking press, various shoe lasts, including those for Kerry Packer and Bob Hawke, and assorted patterns to demonstrate the process of making bespoke (made-to-measure) shoes, in addition to a collection of recent acquisitions.

There is a section called ‘Wear in the world ‘ with wonderful shoes from around the world including reindeer skin boots, shoes for bound feet from China, toe hold truck tyre sandals from South Africa .. .There are roller skates and ice skates , polo boots, pointed shoes, worn and signed by Ruth Gaelene, and a special section featuring children’s shoes.

The Streetshoes section includes bright unmissable sneakers and Adidas. A favourite of mine were the Jeremy Scott silver teddy bear sneakers. We follow the development of the wedges, and the development of the high heel and lethal stiletto.(Dior ones for example).

We can see the now fragile, very first pair of elastic-sided boots in the world, worn by Queen Victoria, and can trace how this influenced RM Williams among others.

A special section of the exhibition towards the start is the haunting shoe lasts from the famous Perkal Brothers of Surry Hills who passed away in 2013.

Catherine Martin ‘s major collection is also featured  and is enormously impressive and beautiful- everything from Jimmy Choos to Prada ( oh the leopard skin ones!) to Donna May Bolinger. I loved the yellow Christian Laboutier with black detail.

There were shoes designed by Mary Quant, Yves St Laurent and contemporary Australian shoe designers ( eg Stepping Out).

Other celebrity shoes you can see include those worn by Colin Lanceley and Johnny O’Keefe , Vivienne Westwood’s ‘Super Elevated Gillies’, Marc Newson’s cosmonaut-inspired sneakers for Nike, a pair of Charles Jourdan heels worn by Nicole Kidman in the film Moulin Rouge and a pair of cricket boots autographed by Sir Donald Bradman. There are also exotic shoes for Mardi Gras …

One could easily spend days examining this exhibition.

Another quote to end with:- ‘A woman can carry a bag but it is the shoe that carries the woman’. (Christian Louboutin).

RECOLLECT: SHOES @ the Powerhouse is on exhibition until May 2015.

For more information about RECOLLECT: SHOES visit:-