It has been a while since I attended an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert museum and this didn’t disappoint!

The Shoes: Pleasure & Pain exhibition was put together so brilliantly. It weaves you through display cabinets of the biggest variety of shoes, the shapes, colours and materials, all different. The exhibition showcases shoes and boots from different era’s, cultures and styles, some even as old at 1600.

There was an amazing pair of 20cm high shoes worn by up-market prostitutes in Japan that resembled flip flops. These shoes were so high and most likely difficult to walk in, they at times would have to be held up by attendants!

Shoes are commodities and collectables, luxurious and impractical


CIS:T.149-1974; CIS:T.149A-1974 Evening shoe, beaded silk & leather, France

Roger Vivier (1907-98) for Christian Dior (1905-1957)


“Parakeet’ shoes

Caroline Groves, England 2014


Wedding top-knob paduka, silver & gold over wood, India

The exhibition then takes you up a glass stair case to the second level. Here they display some original sketches and individual shoe moulds from the likes of Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin, along with a deconstructed pair of shoes to show how they are constructed and put together. Also laid out is an array of embellishments and decorations used on shoes and then finally the finished product.

T.48-1914; T.48A-1914

Chopines, Punched kid leather over carved pine, Venice Italy



Andreia Chaves



Zaha Hadid for United Nude

You’re then directed to an open area with a few rows of white polished benches facing a tall curved wall made of shoe boxes made from brown recycled card. Mounted in the middle of this wall was a huge flat screen showing a video of interviews with 5 different respected shoes designers and manufacturers.

I am sure that whoever you are, if you get enthusiastic and excited about fashion design, you will find these designer completely inspirational. I’m talking, go home and immediately grab a pencil and sketchpad, inspirational!

The interviews were with Manolo Blahnik, Christian Louboutin, Sandra Choi, Caroline Groves & Mark Hare, each speaking about their individual design process, how they are inspired and how they use that inspiration in their shoe designs.

What these interviews impressed upon me is how everyones design process is very much individual, which makes sense since design is very creative and creativity is relative to a person.

When I was studying fashion at university, I was, of course, taught the extensive process of design. You first research your topic & trends and then trawl the internet, books, history books and magazines for inspiration. You then document this research and create mood boards to show in one place, where you design is going. You then move on to yet more research into techniques. Then you sketch, and you sketch and you sketch some more. You are required to sketch hundreds of adaptions to your original design to make sure you end up with the perfect design.

Now I’m not saying that what I was taught wasn’t extremely useful! It was important to learn each step of design, you never know where you could use these skills in future. I loved my years at Uni and I learnt a lot from my inspirational tutors, but what these interviews showed me was that it is acceptable to adapt these skills to create your own design process that works for you as a designer.

For example, as I saw from the video interview at the exhibition,  if you were talking to Sandra Choi, creative director and designer for Jimmy Choo, no doubt she would absolutely relate to the comprehensive, cover every corner, design process. Even saying for her it was imperative. And lets be honest, she creates beautiful shoes, so this meticulous approach clearly works for her.

This is where I was most inspired. Listening to Manolo Blahnik’s interview was not only eye opening but gave me a sense of freedom to explore my own design process, and its OK if its different to how I was taught. Manolo commicly commented ‘mood boards, I never did them, they’re are a waste of time, I just draw what I like’ I love this!! His freeness and unapologetic way of designing different from the masses was great.

Caroline Groves, manufacturer of bespoke women’s shoes, shows what you can accomplish without a factory. She only has limited machinery, her main machine simply being a sewing machine. She would habitually buy pairs of vintage shoes, take them apart and study their design and construction.


Installation view of Shoes: Pleasure and Pain


Installation view of Shoes: Pleasure & Pain

All in all the exhibition is brilliant and I would recommend it.

It costs £12, free to members and is open until 31st January 2016.

You can also view more information about the exhibition on the Victoria & Albert Musuem website.

The exhibition is sponsored by Clarks and supported by Agent Provocateur.

All images have been provided by Victoria & Albert Museum press department.



  1. Carolyne Warrell 18th March 2016 at 2:28 am Reply

    Howdy! I know this is somewhat off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could find a captcha plugin for my comment form? I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having problems finding one? Thanks a lot!

    • Chenel 29th March 2016 at 1:55 pm Reply

      hi there,
      you can install the recaptcha plugin 🙂

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