Of all my years travelling to places and only having a limited amount of time there, I have learned the value of choosing one vital thing to see. For me the one vital thing in Toronto is to see the Bata Shoe Museum. (www.batashoemuseum.ca)
For those of you who know me and my love for shoes this will be no surprise. Others may think this is a ridiculous thing to want to see but hey it’s my holiday and I’ll spend it how I want to. I’m not sure why shoes are such an important part of my life. Maybe it’s because I’m tiny and they are a way of feeling a little bit taller. Maybe it’s the pretty, sparkly, magpie effect. Maybe it’s because my grandfather was a shoemaker and it’s in my blood. Who knows? I just know I love them and as a performer they have worked their way into my poetry and show costumes with ease. So how could I go to a city which has a museum dedicated to my favourite things and not see it? That would be sacrilege!
I learned a lot from the four floors of display shoes. I also rediscovered how shallow I actually am, in that the displays I enjoyed the most were the girly, twinkly ones, not the ones talking about the ancient history of shoes. In saying that, the Footwear through the Ages exhibition was quite interesting. The first pair of shoes made by ancient man was crafted by tying vines together and using animal skin to protect the feet. Modern scientists also discovered when they did a walking test of the shoes that they were surprisingly comfortable and practical. This exhibition also contained many examples of shoes from different cultures from ceremonial shoes that Buddhist priests wore to the shoes that bound women’s feet in China. They also had shoes from Hollywood, in the Star Turns gallery. The High Heels and Hemlines exhibit was focused on the 1920’s and it was one of the ones that I enjoyed the most but I think that’s because I’m really interested in the decadence of that period in history.
I also enjoyed the exhibit showcasing the designs of Roger Vivier called Process to Perfection. He is a designer who worked closely with Dior in the 1950’s and is well known for his beautifully crafted and intricate designs. In 1959 he invented the Choc heel, which is a C shape and showed the beautiful curves of a shoe. Vivier described this as heel as a concern for the negative space between the breast of the heel and the sole of the shoe, where it meets the ground.
This exhibit showed pictures of his designs and then the finished shoe and it was lovely to see the inspirational idea and then the finished product. It also showed the wooden blocks which make up part of the process of making a shoe. His shoes were laden with details, from buttons, bows, sparkles and feathers and most of them were beautiful and I would have bought them in an instant. The whole museum felt like a space dedicated to works of art and that’s how I think of shoes. The ones I buy are not expensive because I just cannot afford it but each of them are unique and beautiful in their own way…..well I think so (others may disagree!)
One of the quotes I enjoyed most was a story about a lady who had bought a pair of Vivier’s heavily embellished shoes and returned to the store the next day to complain that some of the beads had fallen off. Michel Brodsky, who was Vivier’s business manager was claimed to have said in response “But Madam, you wore them” and sometimes that’s how I feel. Some things feel too pretty to be worn, just like some meals look too delicious to be eaten. But this is one of the joys of living. Eat, drink, dance and be merry but don’t forget that there is no excuse not to wear fabulous shoes while doing so.