Style: Shoe stoppers

Shoe jokes have become the standard stock in trade of London Fashion Week, which officially begins today. Who will totter around on ridiculously high heels, moaning quietly, yet smiling through gritted teeth? Who carries a spare pair of Manolo's in their Chanel shopper? People with a shoe fetish, that's who. Fashion is full of them. For this reason, The London Museum has decided to put on an exhibition called "Sole City: London Shoes from the 1st to the 21st Century" which started on Thursday.

Marilyn Monroe once said "I don't know who invented the high heel. But all women owe him a lot." So does Manolo Blahnik, Johnny Moke, Terry de Havilland and Vivienne Westwood, whose high, stacked and platformed heels feature prominently in this exhibition. Each of the designers selected two or three of their own shoes, with working sketches and other accessories, to go on display, and these provide a unique insight into their working practices.

The Museum of London has an extensive collection of shoes, dating back to Roman times, others worn by Restoration fashion victims, and there are the obligatory elevated platforms from the Seventies, too. What will be more interesting to style- conscious Londoners, however, is the brief history of the training shoe, with cloven-toed Nikes provided by streetwear shop Browns Focus, and some very ancient trainers.

Apart from the array of different styles on show, the exhibition will chart both the changing face of Londoners' shoes throughout this millennium, and promises interesting social commentary for both students and fetishists alike. Did you know that thigh boots worn by smugglers to hide their stash gave rise to the term bootlegger? I didn't. How about that Roman prostitutes wore soles studded with the words "follow me"? We can only dream of stilettos that say "Don't mess with me"? Now that would be fun.

Top left Oriental sandal by Terry de Havilland, 1997; bottom far left Man's duck-billed shoe made of leather found in Temple Avenue, London, circa 1510-1520, and Nike Air Rift; bottom left Woman's elevated golf shoe, by Vivienne Westwood; above top Silk, satin mule with ostrich feather trim, designed by Manolo Blahnik, 1997; above Woman's shoe with applied beaded decoration, British circa 1775.

All photographs taken from `Sole City: London Shoes from the 1st to the 21st Century', at the Museum of London, EC2 (0171-600 3699)