COLLECTING
Thomaï Serdari on Fine Arts & Luxury
“Shoe Obsession” at the Museum at FIT
Noritaka Tatehnana boutique. Courtesy of the designer.

Noritaka Tatehnana boutique. Courtesy of the designer.

Contrary to other accessories, such as hats or bags, women’s shoes exhibit a great degree of mechanical malfunction. This stems from the shoes’ impossible structures, contorted shapes, and dizzying heights, all of which render them unfit for everyday use. That’s not necessarily bad.

Certain models of luxury watches are known for unprecise time keeping. Luxury cars are notorious for a variety of mechanical problems. The exhibit “Shoe Obsession” at the Museum at FIT (February 8 through April 13) makes it clear that designer shoes belong to the same category, luxury.

Unquestionably, luxury, as attractive as it may be, is not totally accessible. The great number of shoes exhibited at FIT and the “great designers shoe wars” of premium department stores would have us think differently. But luxury is not a matter of numbers. It is a matter of ownership. In other words, even if supply meets demand when the entire industry is taken into account, acquisition and donning of designer shoes do not infer status automatically. Most of the women who torture their feet for the sake of these impossible designs are tangential to the dream the shoes represent to them.

Noritaka Tatehana’s creations, for example, have served Lady Gaga’ s performative appearances just fine. Women who buy his shoes, however, do not aspire to be Lady Gaga—she is odd. They aspire to be Daphne Guinness, the Scottish industry heiress, who has been a catalytic force in the world of fashion and design. Daphne, like a modern Marie Antoinette, walks up and down Madison Avenue as if it were Versailles and graces her court with her elegance and exuberant presence.  She is so otherworldly light and delicate that Tatehana’s shoes complete her outfit. She can handle the structural unbalance the same way a good driver can master a Ferrari.

Daphne Guinness in Noritaka Tatehana shoes.

Daphne Guinness in Noritaka Tatehana shoes.

Keeping these subtle differences in mind, differences between those who can buy and those who can truly own, I very much enjoyed the exhibit at the Museum at FIT. For the cognoscenti of fashion and design, the show is an opportunity to increase one’s vocabulary and practice the language: A Louboutin is a Louboutin is a Louboutin. For the general public, the sensational arrangement of those fantastic objects (one of each pair) closely resembles a rococo exhibit of the decorative arts. That is to say, that Valerie Steele, the show’s curator, proves through her work that commercial products can be as important artistically as other objects that are already part of art institutions.  While the Metropolitan Museum of Art displays costume as contextual to the current exhibit “Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity,” the boundaries between commerce and art are not as defined as the academy would claim.

© Thomaï Serdari