Pacific Place Takes Shoe Lovers On A Historical Journey


October 3, 2018 | BY Hong Kong Tatler

The “Shoes: Pleasure and Pain” exhibition from the Victoria and Albert Museum will be on display at Pacific Place, the final stop in its debut tour around Asia

It is the knife-edge walk between pleasure and pain that forms the basis of this fascinating exhibition. Pacific Place, in partnership with London’s storied Victoria and Albert Museum, is showcasing 140 pairs of alluring shoes from around the world in “Shoes: Pleasure and Pain” from September 28 to October 28.

An intriguing exploration of the role footwear has played across different cultures, it includes shoes dating back to the 1370s and exhibits from as far back as 1st century BC.

The V&A is one of Britain’s best-loved museums, a world leader in design and performance art that houses more than 2.3 million objects spanning 5,000 years of human creativity. When it debuted in London, “Shoes: Pleasure and Pain” attracted critical acclaim for illustrating how humans around the world use accessories to demonstrate status and identity.

 “The persistence of wearing impractical footwear can be found in many cultures and historical periods,” says curator Helen Persson. “So in a broader sense, shoes are a universal language, and adorning feet has been used by many cultures and societies as a way to reveal a person’s identity and status.”

As the exhibition illustrates, some shoes have brought great joy, others have left wearers crippled with pain. Men, women, fetishists and shoemakers are all represented. There are shoes by iconic designers and even items worn by international celebrities. 

The painfully small 19th-century shoes for Chinese women with bound feet, some measuring no more than 10 centimetres, may cause some visitors to wince. Next to them are bath clogs typical of the qabqab worn all over the Ottoman Empire from the 16th century.

At 28.5 centimetres tall, they are higher than any other shoes in the exhibition and were used to raise the wearer above the heated floor of the hammam. Like today, footwear then was a potent symbol of wealth and status—the higher the clogs the richer you were.

Photo: Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Photo: Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Photo: Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Photo: Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Not quite as vertiginous but just as impressive are the intricately decorated shoes designer Roger Vivier made for Christian Dior in the 1950s. And even architecture greats such as Zaha Hadid are represented—her sculptural cantilever shoe allows for an unsupported 16-centimetre heel.

Then there are the fairy tale-like pieces by London-based Caroline Groves, who creates bespoke luxury heels for women. Her sandals in the exhibition were completely custom-made using precious materials, including bird wings and vintage French silk, and look like a dove about to take flight.

Another exhibit you can’t help but smile at is Salvatore Ferragamo’s rainbow sandals. Ferragamo brought the high platform heel back into fashion in the late 1930s, inspired by musicals and the golden pedestals actresses stood on to perform—Judy Garland in particular was rumoured to be his muse.

Other highlights include the Swarovski crystal shoes from the recently released Cinderella film, David Beckham’s football boots, the Vivienne Westwood platforms worn by Naomi Campbell when she stumbled on the catwalk in 1993, and a terracotta shoe sculpture from the first century BCE.

Taken together, the exhibits add up to a delightful ensemble that illustrates the oddly powerful place footwear has always occupied in our world.

Complimentary guided tours are available in both English and Cantonese, register online at

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