Christian Louboutin, Design Museum, London
But they are designed to transport wearer and onlooker alike into a world rich with suggestion
Sunday 06 May 2012
When talking of high heels, it's as well to define terms. There are the sort that Marilyn Monroe wore to wiggle along that railway platform in Some Like It Hot. There are the sort that Strictly dancers wear to sharpen their silhouette. And then there are the ones that cause young women to clutch each other for support in the street on a Saturday night, bracing their knees and arching their backs in the attempt to keep upright.
It's largely shoes like these – but very expensive ones – that have kept the Parisian Christian Louboutin in business for the past 20 years, and now the Design Museum has devoted an exhibition to them. It presents an interesting conundrum. If the same museum were to mount an exhibition of, say, vacuum cleaners that didn't pick up dust, we would simply laugh at it. Here, unarguably, is a display of shoes and boots that aren't made for walking in, unless by "walking" you mean covering the few yards from taxi to nightclub door. No, these are shoes designed with another function in mind – at once objectifying the female form, and, bizarrely, by adding impressive inches to the wearer's height, making her feel "empowered" (even if she is hobbled). Louboutins, it could be argued, are the crotchless knickers of the shoe world: devoid of practical function but loaded with aggressive-submissive intent.
Making an event of displaying Louboutin's "personal archive" is a bit of a challenge, too. The Design Museum has gone for moody lighting, cabaret music and mirrored shelving, upmarket shoe-shop style, which has the effect of exaggerating still further the heights of the heels, some of which are so thin, so long, and so metallic, they could double as radio aerials. The mirrors also draw attention to Louboutin's signature red sole, which the designer recently tried (unsuccessfully) to stop anyone else using. You can see why he thought it worth going to court: a flash of that sole is a saucy exclamation mark, a suggestion of a lascivious tongue. It's all of a piece.
The designs are indeed imaginative in terms of decoration and global reference. Thigh-high snakeskin boots have been "tagged" in fluorescent spray-paint by a New York graffiti artist. Another pair in black suede are fringed from thigh to toe like a woolly poodle. A knee-boot sheathes the leg in what resembles lace tights – a nice conceit. A court shoe "inspired by the figure of Marlene Dietrich" comes in flesh-coloured mousseline appliquéd with licks of diamante flames: nudity and bling in a single shapely package.
The museum is oddly sparing with information. It would be good to know how many copies are made of each design. And was the range "inspired by Tina Turner" made for the singer to wear? If so, why no evidence of the items in use? Tellingly, the only designs shown adorning feet are in a section called "Fetish", featuring photographs by David Lynch. Here, naked models sprawl across furnishings – surely because they are unable to stand, such is the footwear's bizarre construction, heels running parallel to sole or curved like a parrot's beak.
It's often been observed that desire defies sense and reason. These, then, qualify as true objects of desire.
To 9 July (020-7940 8790)
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Hilary Mantel 'should be investigated by police' over Margaret Thatcher assassination story, says Lord Bell
- 2 Stamford Hill council removes 'unacceptable' posters telling women which side of the road to walk down
- 3 Kim Kardashian 'nude pictures' leaked on 4chan weeks after Jennifer Lawrence 'The Fappening' scandal
- 4 Alex Salmond: 'The rocks would melt with the sun before I'd ever set foot in the House of Lords'
- 5 Ice Bucket Challenge: US firefighter Tony Grider dies after participating in charity craze near power lines
Friends 20th anniversary: Alison Jackson photographs reunited cast
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written
Friends 20th anniversary: The highs and lows of the cast's careers since TV series ended in 2004
Friends 20th anniversary: Six things we wouldn't have without influential comedy series
Doctor Who, Time Heist, review: Keeley Hawes is marvellous but the Doctor is the real villain
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Plebgate MP Andrew Mitchell called officer a 'little s**t', claim court documents 'exposing ex-Chief Whip's 'record of abusing police'
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God
Hilary Mantel 'should be investigated by police' over Margaret Thatcher assassination story, says Lord Bell