Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe

While Fashion Week is invading Manhattan, the Brooklyn Museum is featuring its own fashionable exhibition — “Killer Heels.”

“Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe” is on view at the Brooklyn Museum now through Feb. 15, 2015, and features more than 200 shoes. Showcasing an array of heels — from Italian heels from the year 1550 to more contemporary pieces — the exhibition attempts to examine the mystique and transformative power of the elevated shoe and its varied connections to fantasy, power and identity.

“My goal was to bring together a group of historical and contemporary high-heeled shoes that spoke to all the amazing designs that we have seen over centuries,” said Lisa Small, the museum’s curator of exhibitions. “I was looking for designs that are innovative in some way, that push boundaries, that sometimes don’t even look like a shoe at all.”

These Wedge Sandals in Rosso, Bianco and Nero Leather were made by Prada as part of their spring/summer 2012 collection.These Wedge Sandals in Rosso, Bianco and Nero Leather were made by Prada as part of their spring/summer 2012 collection.

High heels have been around since at least the first century B.C., as there are early statues of the Goddess Aphrodite in high-platform sandals. The oldest set of heels in the exhibit are Italian-made shoes designed in 1550. They are high platforms called chopines that were made out of silk, leather and wood, and were worn by noblewomen and courtesans in Renaissance Venice.

The exhibition is split into six different sections — Revival and Reinterpretation, Rising in the East, Glamour and Fetish, Architecture, Metamorphosis and Space Walk. The heels featured include early forms of the elevated shoe, architecturally-inspired wedges and one with razor-sharp stilettos. One shoe was simply designed to look like a horse’s foot.

The “Metropolis” was designed by Christian Louboutin in the Fall/Winter of 2010-11 and made of calfskin with silver spikes.The “Metropolis” was designed by Christian Louboutin in the Fall/Winter of 2010-11 and made of calfskin with silver spikes.

People walking through the exhibition, which is on the first floor of the museum, will spot heels worn by the likes of Marilyn Monroe and many worn by Lady Gaga, including a black leather bootie with an eight-inch heel designed by Rem D. Koolhaas.

The “Gaga Shoe” was designed for Rem D. Koolhaas in 2012 out of leather and metal and worn by none other than Lady Gaga.The “Gaga Shoe” was designed for Rem D. Koolhaas in 2012 out of leather and metal and worn by none other than Lady Gaga.

“We’re living in a very interesting moment in which footwear is both a focus of cultural meaning, but where many high heels also are seen as works of art,” said Elizabeth Semmelhack, a senior curator at Bata House Museum in Toronto, which has loaned pieces for the exhibition. The majority of the shoes featured at the museum certainly fall into the art category rather than the practical one.

There are also six short films featured in the exhibition that were inspired by high heels that were specifically commissioned by artists Ghada Amer and Reza Farkhondeh, Zach Gold, Steven Klein, Nick Knight, Marilyn Minter and Rashaad Newsome.

“Love” was designed by Georgina Goodman in Spring/Summer 2011 and made from suede, leather and crystal.”Love” was designed by Georgina Goodman in Spring/Summer 2011 and made from suede, leather and crystal.

The exhibition, “vividly demonstrates the incredible staying power of the high heel,” both as a status symbol and as a part of feminine allure,” said Caroline Weber, an expert in 18th century French literature and culture. “In the history of fashion, not a single other accessory has functioned for that long and with that much consistency.”

These shoes are not vegan. “Horse Shoes 3” were designed by Iris Schieferstein in 2006 and made out of horse fur, horse hoof and wood.

“Chimera” was designed by Masaya Kushino in 2011 out of cattle hide, fox tail and brass.

“NOVA” was made by Iraqi designed Zaha Hadid in 2013 out of chromed vinyl rubber, kid nappa leather and fiberglass.

Roger Vivier. “Virgule Houndstooth,” Fall 2014. Calf hair. C

Walter Steiger. “Unicorn Tayss,” Spring 2013.

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