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SCAD museum’s “Shoes” exhibit puts the styles of celebrities, royalty and ordinary people on display

You can tell a lot about a person by what they’re wearing on their feet.

SCAD FASH museum is exploring this concept in their new exhibit “Shoes: Pleasure and Pain” starting this week.

The exhibit takes more than 200 shoes, including a few worn by celebrities and royalty, and splits them into six categories that explores how shoes can be used to tell the history of people throughout various cultures.

“We’re telling the history of humanity, but our medium is shoes,” Rafael Gomes, director of SCAD fashion exhibits, said.

The exhibit spans more than two millenium, making the installation process a tedious task. Many of the shoes on display are from the Victoria and Albert Museum collection. The English museum created the “Shoes" exhibit, which has also been on display in Boston and is headed to China after leaving midtown Atlanta. Other museums such as the American Museum of Natural History in New York contributed to the exhibit that is currently on display at SCAD, as well as designers such as Jimmy Choo and Manolo Blahnik.

To help attendees navigate the expansive exhibit, curators have created an app that features an illustration and general information about each shoe. Want to know more about the shoe after reading the app? SCAD FASH visitors benefit from student docents who are on hand to help provide historical and cultural context throughout the exhibit.

Located after a smaller exhibit on photographer, model and designer Senegalese Omar Victor Diop, a neon sign leads museum visitors into “Shoes: Pleasure and Pain.”

Immediately, many will notice a black cube-like structure that features a series of eyes. Walk up to one of the eyes, which are positioned to accommodate various heights, and peer into the “Status” section of the exhibit.

From '80s Gucci loafers to the blue platform Vivienne Westwood shoes that Naomi Campbell made famous when she fell in the same pair on a Paris runway, this portion of the exhibit explores various shoes and what they say about the social status of the people wearing them.

White leather shoes, for example, would convey that the owner is rich enough to afford a new pair once those become dirty. SCAD curators say Christian Louboutins, colloquially known as “red bottoms,” got their iconic red soles from English aristocrats who wore red shoes as a symbol of their class. Shoes from Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother and nude pumps in the style of the ones often worn by Kate Middleton are also featured in this section.

Elsewhere, “Transformation” features the glass slippers from Disney’s 2015 “Cinderella” film. Encased in a glass box, “Obsession” features the items from late shoe collector Lionel Bussey’s private collection. The popular 1920s and 1930s shoes were donated to the Victoria and Albert Museum after being discovered following the mechanical engineer’s death.

“Seduction” offers a look at the eroticism once associated with the Chinese tradition of foot binding. According to curators, a woman’s small foot symbolized wealth and indicated that she did not have to work in the fields.

Moving from the past to the present and the future of shoe design, “Creation” deconstructs a Manolo Blahnik, explores the technology behind Nike's "Magista Obra" soccer cleat, and displays the new Andreia Chaves’ “Invisible Naked” shoe, which was created with 3-D printing.

Created by Gomes, “Touching the Sole” features original shoes and replicas that further explore themes from throughout the exhibit.

“Publilius Syrus said, ‘You cannot put the same shoe on every foot.’ And you don’t have to, as exemplified in a sweeping new exhibition featuring a wide array of loafers, brogues, slippers, mules, oxfords, and stilettos at SCAD Atlanta," SCAD President and Founder Paula Wallace said in a statement. "Footwear has long been on the minds of great thinkers and designers. After all, you can learn a lot about a person from a glance at their shoes—and visitors to “Shoes: Pleasure and Pain” at SCAD FASH will learn even more about the polished pedestals on which we present ourselves every day.”

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Noon-5 p.m. Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays, Fridays-Saturdays, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursdays. Through Aug. 13. Free (age 13 and below, SCAD students, faculty and staff), $5 (SCAD alumni, college students), $8 (seniors, military), $10 (age 14 and older), $20 (families of three or more). SCAD FASH, 1600 Peachtree St., Atlanta.


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About the Author

Jewel Wicker is an Atlanta native, Georgia State University graduate and entertainment reporter. She typically covers local events.