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GUCCI, Spring 2010; Courtesy of Monica von Neumann; Photograph by The Museum at FIT.
Shoe Obsession

A Potent Cultural and Commercial Phenomenon




Unless you are looking in a mirror you do not see much of your jacket, or any of your collar, or the backside of your pants or skirt. But your shoes are visible every time you look down. They become familiar, like friends who can influence our moods.

I like shoes. Honestly speaking, I buy more shoes than I need. Without walking into my closet and counting the shoeboxes and loose pairs, I cannot remember how many shoes I have or what they all look like. Case in point: recently I rediscovered a pair of cocoa brown velvet brocade kitten heels that, Imelda Marcos-like, I had forgotten. They were nesting unobtrusively in their box out of sight in a corner of my closet. They would have been ideal for several dressy events I attended last winter. Kind of embarrassing.

Then there are the shoes stashed in other parts of the house. Should a tally of my inventory include the flip-flops and running shoes I keep in a tub by the back door? Or the French rubber gardening boots standing ready for action on the back porch? Also I own various pairs of flat-but-decent-looking shoes and easily packable boots that I wear only for traveling. But surely those are more travel accessories than footwear. Anyway, I am not adding them to my shoe tally.

I mention all this only to establish my bona fides as a serious admirer and acquirer of shoes. I am familiar with the shoe departments of major fashion retailers on both coasts and have favorite shoe boutiques in U.S. cities I regularly visit. I buy shoes online. I buy shoes when I travel overseas. There is a small boutique in Florence, Italy, that is my shoe nirvana. Decades ago, on my first trip to Italy, I tried on the shop’s beautifully made, private label dress shoes. I needed a half size larger than the shop carried. No problem, the owner said, we will have them made in your size and send them to you in the U.S. It was my Cinderella moment. If they were not exactly custom shoes, they were undeniably made for me. I still have the shoes, which have given years of stylish service, and their boxes. For a long time I had the embossed package wrapping they arrived in carefully folded in my dressing bureau drawer like a religious relic.  





Robin Updike
Robin Updike is an arts writer in Seattle who never walks past a shoe store without pausing to look. That is why the idea of visiting “Shoe Obsession,” an astonishing show of twenty-first century haute couture for feet, was so appealing. Organized by the Fashion Institute of Technology’s always insightful Valerie Steele, the show had a lot to say about contemporary society and fashion. In the next issue Updike reviews the aptly named “Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion,” which recently showed at the Seattle Art Museum and is moving on to the Peabody Essex in Salem, Massachusetts.





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