Curator's Choice: Abby Potter on Vivienne Westwood Shoes at the Bowes Museum

Abby Potter interviewed by Ben Miller | 10 June 2011
A photo of a young woman holding a pair of high-heeled shoes
Curator’s Choice: In her own Words...Abby Potter, of the Bowes Museum’s Vivienne Westwood Shoes show, on a beautiful Guinness shoe in a display full of high-heeled highlights.

"Having to chose a favourite shoe from the collection displayed is possibly one of the hardest jobs I’ve had in the process of preparing this show.

I could go for a more conventional design – one I could see myself wearing – or one of the more beautifully outrageous designs, which made Westwood famous for her defiance of the rules of wearability.

In the end I’ve decided on a shoe that I like to think I would wear but in the same breath is also very ‘Westwood’.

Affectionately nicknamed the Guinness Shoe by team Bowes, it’s a design from the 2005 spring/summer collection, Ultra Femininity, as well as the Coca-Cola Shoe and the Heineken Shoe.

The open sandal includes a mixture of different qualities and materials, but perhaps the most significant element of the shoe is the collection of textures.

The composition of silk ribbon, snake skin tassels and print is brilliantly joined by a heel and platform covered in tin cans. This particular shoe has a Stella Artois-covered platform and a Guinness in cased heel.

For me there is something very British about this design, and I don’t just mean the larger reference. This style of shoe is something we see repeated in British high street collections time and again.

The platform sandal, I daresay, will have visited the wardrobe of most girls (and occasionally boys) who love their shoes, owning a similar style at some point in their high heel-wearing careers.

This style has also stood the test of time – in fact, Dame Vivienne has been known to delve into her own archives for inspiration and to reinterpret earlier designs.

The platform and heel of this particular shoe was inspired by the 1993 Anglomania collection, which included the Super Elevated Gillie of Naomi Campbell-tumbling fame.

The elegant yet boisterous and familiar style of the Guinness Shoe has seduced many who have witnessed it so far. To quote Vivienne herself: 'Shoes must have very high heels and a platform to put women’s beauty on a pedestal.' I concur completely.
While walking around the exhibition I would suggest playing the “would you or wouldn’t you wear it” game. While me and my colleague Louise were doing this, we started to notice familiar styles and designs and the influence Westwood has had on commercial shoe design.

The shoes are chronologically placed, so this game can turn into a trip down memory lane. Although she will now deny it, I know my older sister had something similar to the Apollo Wing shoe in the early 1990s.

For me, the most outrageous shoe in the show has to be the Penis Shoe from the Erotic Zones collection of spring/summer 1995. I shall say no more – just keep an eye out for it.

Another gorgeous knee high boot, and one very fitting for its setting, is the Toile de Jouey print boot of the Les Femmes collection from spring/summer 1996, inspired by French print.

The pattern is often mistaken as that found in delftware ceramics. The contrast of high fashion and historic collections is symbolic of Vivienne’s student years, when she would draw inspiration from the V&A’s collections – particular their textiles.

The exhibition at the Bowes Museum is the result of a promise from Vivienne Westwood made in 2006. Westwood visited the region to donate pieces and open the lace exhibition, Fine and Fashionable.

She fell in love with the exhibition and the area and offered Joanna Hashagen, the Keeper of Textiles here, a collection of her shoes to display.

Unfortunately at the time there was nowhere in the museum to display such an exhibition, but four years later, with the money raised and the work done, the new Fashion and Textiles gallery opened in late 2010.

Around this time the Vivienne Westwood team announced the world tour of the shoes, Joanna called in a favour, and the rest is history."

  • Vivienne Westwood Shoes is at The Bowes Museum until July 10 2011. Read our preview.
More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
  • Back to top
  • | Print this article
  • | Email this article
  • | Bookmark and Share