The Bowes Museum > Exhibitions > 2016 > Shoes: Pleasure and Pain

Shoes: Pleasure and Pain

11 June - 9 October

Another major fashion coup for the Museum, the only UK venue outside London, was to stage this exhibition before touring internationally to the USA and China.

The entrance to the 'Shoes: Pleasure and Pain' exhibition

Organised by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London it displayed more than 200 pairs of historic and contemporary men’s and women’s shoes by 70 named designers, including Christian Louboutin, Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo, Christian Dior and Prada, many from the V&A’s unrivalled collection.

Over 200 historic and designer shoes are on display in our Fashion & Textiles Gallery

Exploring the agony and the ecstasy of footwear throughout 2,000 years of history, it also examined the elation and passion they can arouse in the wearer.

The exhibition is divided into five specific themes:

  • Transformation – presented shoes that are the things of myth and legend
  • Status – revealed how impractical shoes have been worn to represent privileged and leisurely lifestyles
  • Seduction – shoes representing an expression of sexual empowerment or a passive source of pleasure
  • Creation - how they’re constructed, the beautiful craftsmanship, supply and demand
  • Obsession - the joy and fascination of collecting, owning and wearing

While the show featured shoes worn by or associated with famous icons including David Beckham, Sarah Jessica Parker, The Honorable Daphne Guinness, Queen Victoria and Kylie Minogue, it also explored extreme footwear such as tiny 19th Century lotus shoes made for the Chinese tradition of foot binding.

19th century Chinese Lotus Shoes

Our Fashion Curators developed one of the exhibition themes - Obsession - to add a unique Northern and contemporary element. We were thrilled to have added to the touring show, a whole wall of sneakers from two private collections belonging to Ross Macwaters and Neil Pestell. The sneaker wall featured about 30 pairs of adidas trainers from the 1960s to the present day.

'Obsession' - a unique element of the exhibition at The Bowes Museum is a 'sneaker wall' featuring over 30 pairs of adidas trainers from 2 private collections

The shoes were exhibited thematically, not chronologically, each section a visual cornucopia of different shapes, styles, materials and colours. They were presented as very beautiful objects, many telling fascinating stories. You can read about the installation of the exhibition in our blog 'Step Inside the Fashion & Textiles Gallery: Daily Updates on the Installation of Shoes: Pleasure & Pain.'

We'd love to hear your experiences of the Shoes: Pleasure and Pain exhibition when you visit. Please share your photos and thoughts on social media using #VAMShoes or complete a visitor survey to win a £50 voucher.

You can also take part in a competition to win a prize for the best photo of your footwear on the red carpet, tagged on social media with #VAMShoes #shoesoftheday and #todayskicks We'll share the best ones on the Museum's channels too!

Related Events

Extraordinary Shoes
22 August, 10.30 – 4.00
Be inspired by this exhibition and create your own extraordinary shoes using card and a range of collage materials. Children are welcome to bring an old shoe and transform this too. Children must be accompanied by an adult, for whom normal admission applies. 

Northern Sole - a celebration of Design, Street Style & Creativity
17 September, 11.00 – 3.00

Sneaker culture kick-starts an event bringing Design, Street Style, Photography, Fashion and Creativity under one roof. The exclusive Adidas collections featured in this exhibition have inspired the Museum to open the doors to sneakerheads, stylists, designers and everyone with an interest in what makes compelling, creative, contemporary street culture.  

Join industrial designer, Alex Taylor, who pioneered the innovative Primeknit Adidas trainer for the London 2012 Olympics, stylist
and photographer Erika Bowes, who will share her passion for street style; Gemma Hanley, Head of Footwear Design at Lulu Guinness, and local visual artist Bobzilla. 

Experience first-hand the skills involved in the creative interpretation of the rich street style culture of the UK, visit this exhibition, and share in the obsession that lies at the heart of design, at this fantastic event which is FREE for under 25s who register online.

Heavenly Heels – Shoe Clips in Fabric & Feathers 
8 October, 10.00 - 4.30, £65.00 Adults £62.00 Friends of The Bowes Museum, inc light lunch and museum admission
Join tutor Claire Spooner for a fun and relaxed workshop. You will make three pairs of fabulous shoe clips using three different techniques with feathers, fabric and ribbon. Enjoy a creative day which includes a light lunch and access to the Shoes: Pleasure and Pain exhibition. There is a small amount of hand-sewing, but no experience required. Students might like to bring a pair of shoes as inspiration for their designs. Booking required.

Image Captions

Banner Image - Roger Vivier for Christian Dior @ Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Right-hand side image 1 - Jimmy Choo Abel Anthracite Lamé Glitter Shoes
Right-hand side image 2 - Salvatore Ferragamo sandals © Victoria and Albert Museum, London