English shoes, 1760s, silk from early seventeenth century (The Gold Standard exhibition)
Aside from art, country houses and Jane Austen, one of my biggest passions is shoes. I’ve loved shoes since I was very small, the more outlandish and brightly coloured the better, and relished the day that my feet stayed the same size so I could just keep buying more and more pairs, knowing that they would always fit. I think this probably explains why Cinderella is my favourite fairy tale (though shoes made of glass still seem stupidly impractical!).
When I was researching things to do in Toronto, something came up that stopped me in my tracks: the Bata Shoe Museum. A museum dedicated to footwear research, showing the history of shoes, spanning across 4,500 years in their collection of 13,000 items. The collection originated with Sonja Bata, who began her personal collection of shoes in the 1940s, which then expanded so much it became the Bata Shoe Museum Foundation in the 1970s, before the museum opened its doors in 1995. I knew that it would be the place for me (and my love of everything shoe-related).
The museum works on the premise of semi-permanent displays and temporary exhibitions, making sure that lots of their collection sees the light of day at some point. Whilst we were there, they had on a special exhibition called Manolo Blahnik: The Art of Shoes, which is open until January 6th 2019. This was such a great exhibition focussing on the famous shoe designer, his design process and a retrospective of his work. My favourite story from the exhibition is that of when he became a shoe designer: U.S. Vogue editor Diane Vreeland met with Blahnik in 1970 and after admiring his beautiful shoe drawings, told him he should go and learn to be a shoe designer. It’s easy to see how this happened: for me, the star part of the beautiful exhibition were the framed sketches of Blahnik’s designs on the walls. Regardless of the physical shoes on display (of which I of course took many photos), which were stunning, the shoe sketches were works of art in themselves.
We actually began our visit with the exhibition All About Shoes: Footwear Through the Ages, which was really interesting (and I like to think my boyfriend enjoyed more than he thought he would). It took in shoes from all over the world, showing how styles and types of shoes had developed through time, including high heels, and the various uses of different footwear in different places.
The other two exhibitions on display are Art & Innovation: Traditional Arctic Footwear from the museum collection and The Gold Standard: Glittering Footwear from around the Globe. The Artic Footwear exhibition was really different and interesting, showing the results of several field trips that had been sponsored by the Museum to collect objects from Arctic nations. Not only were there shoes on display, but other garments as well and the tools used to make these items, showing the design and making process going into using such different materials. It showed the different cultures and how these are represented in the various shoes, with some of the pieces being so intricate and so beautiful! There was so much craftsmanship that went into these shoes, I loved looking at them.
Visiting an exhibition about gold and glittering footwear appealed to my inner magpie. It wasn’t just about gorgeous glittery shoes however: it was all about the value of gold, what it meant at various points, places and cultures in history. I think this also highlights something important about the museum: whilst it is a great place to obsess over various beautiful pairs of shoes, as well as gorgeous historical artefacts, it explains the cultural significance of various designs, styles and materials.
I’d definitely recommend visiting the museum, even if you don’t think you’re particularly a fan of shoes – it’s quirky, fun and so many of the pairs of shoes on display are just literal works of art. Find out more about visiting the Bata Shoe Museum here.