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Shoephoria! The Fashion Museum’s Must-See Reopening Exhibition

Shoephoria! The Fashion Museum’s Must-See Reopening Exhibition

Following a year-long closure due to the pandemic, the Fashion Museum Bath is provisionally due to reopen on 18 May 2021 with a stunning new exhibition called Shoephoria!. 

(NB reopening is subject to Government guidance – please check the Fashion Museum website nearer the time.)

Showcasing 350 pairs of boots and shoes, many drawn from the Fashion Museum’s world-class collection, alongside ‘star’ shoes borrowed for the exhibition, Shoephoria! will illustrate the evolution of shoe style over the last 300 years. Shoephoria! will run into 2022.

The exhibition will include shoes worn by iconic cultural figures including actors Noel Coward, Ginger Rogers and Margaret Lockwood; music hall star Fred Kitchen; ballerinas Margot Fonteyn and Alicia Markova; and Nicola Adams in Strictly Come Dancing 2020Shoephoria! aims to present a new way of looking at footwear and its wearers in a show that demonstrates the creativity and style of shoemakers and wearers throughout history.

From the oldest shoes in the collection – a pair of red velvet mules from the 1690s – to sneakers and trainers from the 2000s; from shoes belonging to Queen Mary and Queen Victoria to designer shoes by Vivienne Westwood, Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo, Shoephoria! offers a close-up look at the various styles that make up the history of footwear.

The exhibition will be presented in three sections:

A History of Fashion in 100 Objects

On entering, visitors will encounter a series of 20 ‘interventions’ – shoes grouped within different areas of the A History of Fashion in 100 Objects display, inspired by the fashionable dress on display in that area. Visitors can marvel at 18th-century patterns, delicately embroidered baby shoes, treasured silk wedding shoes and sparkling party shoes. They will walk through periods of austerity, through the 1960s space age and the flamboyance of the 1970s, right up to the rise and rise of the sneaker. There will also be a line-up of designer shoes, including a pair of high platform shiny black shoes by Vivienne Westwood from the early 1990s. The shoes will be presented in a series of creative juxtapositions, bringing out new connections and intersections between the historic footwear and fashions on display.

The Wearers’ Walkway

The Wearers’ Walkway will be a photographic presentation of ordinary people and their extraordinary shoes. “The Fashion Museum collection of historic boots and shoes is a springboard for all kinds of personal stories about people and their footwear choices,” said Fashion Museum Manager Rosemary Harden. “We wanted to capture these local and community-based narratives and present them in the galleries in the Wearer’s Walkway, and we really hope that this will, in turn, encourage visitors to share their own shoe stories on social media channels using #MyShoephoria.”

Main Shoephoria! exhibition gallery

In the main Shoephoria! exhibition gallery, shoes will be presented in a sequence of ten large ‘shop window’ display cases, grouped in themes showing shoes for different activities, alongside footwear inspired by that activity. Shoes worn by famous ballerina Margot Fonteyn in the 1940s and 1950s will be set alongside a pair of foldable ballet flats by Cocorose London produced in collaboration with The Royal Ballet, and pairs of pointe shoes by Freed for different skin tones, a recent collaboration with Ballet Black. A pair of thigh-length waders worn fishing in the rivers and streams around Bath will be presented alongside a pair of fishnet fashion boots by American shoemaker Herbert Levine.

The most basic purpose of footwear is to help us to walk, and the main exhibition opens with the soles of Roman shoes found in archaeological excavations in Walcot Street in Bath. These are set alongside prostheses and trainers worn by modern-day Bath resident Harmonie-Rose Allen, who lost her limbs after contracting meningitis as a baby. The display follows her progress from Peppa Pig prosthetic limbs to her first blades – which are both leg and shoe in one.

The exhibition will look at the materials used in shoemaking, from hand-crafted shoes to modern manufacture. The Fashion Museum is pleased to work with PETA to showcase ‘vegan shoes’, different contemporary options to the traditional use of animal skins for fashion footwear. The exhibition will include a pair of bright red platform sandals by leading vegan shoe brand Beyond Skin, as worn by Miley Cyrus in a 2017 Cosmopolitan cover shoot, which are made of recycled plastic bottle tops.

Working with Manolo Blahnik

The Fashion Museum is also honoured to work with Manolo Blahnik to present a selection of the famous shoemaker’s signature classics and footwear inspired by his passions, including gardens and Georgian Bath.

Rosemary Harden, Fashion Museum Manager, said: “Shoephoria! is a celebration of the Fashion Museum’s fabulous collection of historical footwear. The show will be a joyous re-awakening of the Museum, so stand by for variety, originality, creativity, community, and over 350 pairs of fashionable and extraordinary shoes through the ages. We look forward to welcoming visitors back to the galleries when it is safe to do so – please check our website for details.”

Star objects in the display include:

  • Dancing shoes worn by Nicola Adams on Strictly Come Dancing 2020
  • Shoes worn by iconic British ballerinas Margot Fonteyn and Alicia Markova
  • Queen Victoria’s elastic-sided boots from the 1850s, by shoemaker Joseph Box
  • Shoes and prosthetics worn by seven-year-old Harmonie-Rose Allen from Bath, a junior ambassador for Meningitis Now
  • The oldest shoe in the Museum’s collection: a red velvet mule with gold and silver embroidery ca 1690s
  • Noel Coward’s monogram-embroidered velvet slippers ca 1967
  • A pair of long, green Russian boots ca 1900s worn by Lady Ottoline Morrell (1873 -1938), an English aristocrat on the fringes of the Bloomsbury Group
  • Queen Mary’s diamanté bow shoes ca 1930s, by celebrated British shoemaker Rayne
  • A pair of Dr Martens boots (about 2015) digitally printed with an image taken from famous series of Georgian paintings The Rake’s Progress by Hogarth

A History of Fashion in 100 Objects will also be on show at the Fashion Museum when it reopens.

The reopening of the Fashion Museum will be subject to Government guidance, and appropriate Covid-19 safety measures will be put in place, for example, pre-booking for all tickets and a one-way system to enable physical distancing. Please check the Fashion Museum website for the latest information.