Shoephoria! exhibition to open at Bath’s Fashion Museum

Green cockerel feathers and snakeskin shoe, by Gina, Dress of the Year 2007 (Fashion Museum Bath)
Green cockerel feathers and snakeskin shoe, by Gina, Dress of the Year 2007 (Fashion Museum Bath)

The Fashion Museum in Bath is putting its best foot forward as it reopens with a new exhibition called Shoephoria! on 18 May.

The exhibition, which will run into 2022, will showcase 350 pairs of boots and shoes to illustrate the evolution of shoe style over the last 300 years.

The footwear will be drawn from the museum’s world-class collection as well as “star” shoes borrowed for the exhibition. The museum will also present a selection of Manolo Blank’s signature classics and footwear inspired by the shoemaker’s passions.

Visitors will be able to view shoes worn by big cultural icons such as 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 2020.

The Shoephoria! exhibition was due to open last spring, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The exhibition’s curator, Rosemary Harden, told the Guardian that a small team of curators decided to use time during the lockdown to expand the collection from 100 to 350 pairs, and sectioned the exhibition into three parts, covering three centuries.

Fashion Museum Bath
Fashion Museum Bath

Upon entering the exhibition, visitors will first view 100 pairs of shoes that were integrated into the museum’s existing show, A History of Fashion in 100 Objects. These will showcase 18th century patterns, delicately embroidered baby shoes, silk wedding shoes and sparkling party shoes.

Visitors will be guided through different time periods through footwear - from austerity to the 1960s space age and 1970s flamboyance, up to the astronomic rise of the sneaker. A line-up of designer shoes will also be on display, including a pair of early 90s high platform shiny black shoes by Vivienne Westwood.

In the Wearer’s Walkway, the museum will display photographs of “ordinary people and their extraordinary shoes”.

Ms Harden explains: “The Fashion Museum collection of historic boots and shoes is a springboard for all kinds of personal stories about people and their footwear choices.

“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.”

Fashion Museum Bath
Fashion Museum Bath

The main exhibit will present visitors with a sequence of ten large “shop window” display cases, grouped according to activity themes. For example, shoes worn by Ms Fonteyn in the 1940 and 1950s will be displayed alongside pairs of pointe shoes in different skin tones, a recent collaboration between Freed and Ballet Black.

Elsewhere, a pair of thigh-high waders worn for fishing in rivers and streams will be presented with a pair of fishnet fashion boots by American shoemaker Herbert Levine.

The museum will also show materials used in shoemaking, both traditional and modern. In collaboration with PETA, it will also showcase “vegan shoes” - including a pair of bright red Beyond Skin platform sandals worn by Miley Cyrus on the cover of Cosmopolitan in 2017.

Shoephoria! is a celebration of the Fashion Museum’s fabulous collection of historical footwear. The show will be a joyous reawakening of the Museum, so stand by for variety, originality, creativity, community and over 350 pairs of fashionable and extraordinary shoes through the ages.”

Fashion Museum Bath
Fashion Museum Bath

Councillor Paul Crossley, cabinet member for community services at Bath and North East Somerset Council, added: “We can’t wait to reopen the Fashion Museum as soon as possible and we will be following government guidelines to ensure that our visitors can enjoy the Museum safely.

“We look forward to welcoming people back to explore highlights from our world-class collection of fashion and see the long-awaited new Shoephoria! display.”

Shoephoria! will open at the Fashion Museum in Bath from 18 May.

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