Imelda Marcos? I don’t think so. Carrie Bradshaw? A lightweight. At 13,000 shoes and related artifacts spanning 4,500 years, the undisputed Queen of Footwear is Toronto’s Sonja Bata.
It took more than six decades for Bata, founder of the Bata Shoe Museum, to amass the largest international shoe collection in the world. A collector by marriage and not by nature, she married Thomas L. Bata, the soon-to-be-scion of the Bata Shoe empire and set out to learn the business.
But what began as a quest for knowledge morphed into a passionate collection that quickly outgrew her closets. Ms. Bata endowed the Bata Shoe Foundation, which, in turn, created the Bata Shoe Museum to house the collection and support scholarly research on the subject.
Remarkably, every kind of footwear from almost every culture and period of human history lives here. Visitor favourites include Queen Victoria’s silk shoes, John Lennon’s Beatle boot, Elton John’s glam-rock platforms, a sumo wrestler’s geta and chestnut crushing clogs from France. Made with extraordinary attention to detail and the rarest materials, many pairs are breathtaking and curious works of art.
Beyond personal adornment, footwear tells our cultural, historical and technological stories. We’ve wrapped our feet in silk, cotton, leather, metal, grass, fur, feathers and human hair according to climate, personal taste, public customs, faith and the kind of work – or lack of it – we do. Our shoes distinguish social status and reflect attitudes towards gender. And any modern wearer of high heels or pointy boots can identify with the pain of wearing fashionable, yet uncomfortable, footwear. Judging by the many styles on display, including minuscule Chinese foot-binding shoes and the perilous Italian chopine, we have much in common with our predecessors.
Four exhibitions are currently on view:
Fashion Victims: The Pleasures & Perils of Dress in the 19th Century
Until January 2017
From the website:
From the challenges faced by those who produced fashionable dress to the risks taken by those who wore it, this exhibition provides thought-provoking insights into what it means to be a fashion victim.
Standing Tall: The Curious History of Men in Heels
Until October 2017
From the website:
Challenge your preconceived notions of who wears heels and why. From privileged rulers to hyper-sexualized rock stars, explore the history of men in heels from the early 1600s to today. Offering rare examples of men’s heeled footwear from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, mid-nineteenth century military boots, 1930s cowboy boots and 1940s biker boots, visitors can also see John Lennon’s original 1960s Beatle boot and platforms worn by Elton John in the 1970s, all from the museum’s own holdings.
All About Shoes: Footwear Through the Ages
From the website:
Take a fascinating journey and experience the many facets of footwear – its evolution and symbolism through the ages, the methods and materials of its manufacture and its place in our imaginations. The Museum’s flagship exhibition, All About Shoes: Footwear Through the Ages, is a voyage through 4500 years of footwear.
From the website:
..Art and Innovation showcases a vast variety of footwear, garments and tools, highlighting the artistry and ingenuity of the makers, and revealing different cultural identities, crafting techniques and spiritual meanings.
A streaming audio guide is available here.
Italian, Ferradini, 1972-1975. Worn by Elton John. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum.
Image © 2016 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada (photo: Ron Wood)
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