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July 28 2014

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13 posts tagged "Valerie Steele"

FIT’s Foot Fetish

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What is it about women and shoes? According to Dr. Valerie Steele, the director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT and the author of Shoes: A Lexicon of Style (among many other fashion books), the fixation dates back to Cinderella and her glass slippers. But that doesn’t necessarily explain women’s willingness to defy death, gravity, and blisters with the super-stacked platforms and needle-thin spikes of modern day. Shoe Obsession, The Museum at FIT’s upcoming exhibition (which, running from February 8 through April 13, was curated by Dr. Steele, Colleen Hill, and Fred Dennis), explores the female shoe fetish via some of the most iconic, outrageous, and exceptional styles that have come out this century.

Including shoes from established houses (Christian Louboutin’s Pigalle stilettos, Roger Vivier’s feather Eyelash pumps, Prada’s flame shoes, and Chanel’s gun heels), up-and-coming talents (Nicholas Kirkwood’s graffitied Keith Haring platforms, Charlotte Olympia’s Kiss Me Dolores pumps), and experimental designers (Masaya Kushino’s sculptural human hair, Cyprus wood, and lace platforms; Noritaka Tatehana’s eighteen-inch ballerina shoes), Shoe Obsession presents every type of high heel you can imagine—and several that you can’t. Here, Dr. Steele talks to Style.com about the fascination with extravagant shoes, the evolution of contemporary footwear, and the upcoming exhibition.

Let’s cut to the chase. Why are so many women obsessed with shoes?

Well, I think there are a couple of layers. First off, shoes are an intimate extension of the physical body. And they seem to say a lot about our personality, our sexual attitudes, and our social status. And high heels in particular seem to be the focus of a lot of our thoughts about gender, sexuality, eroticism, and femininity. I think there’s definitely an element of sexual fetishism involved in men’s fascination with women’s high-heel shoes. But for women, I think it’s not fetishism so much as it is an obsession with fashion and with shoes as the ultimate sartorial symbol of erotic femininity.

Have women always been obsessed with shoes, or was there a point in fashion history when the infatuation really took off?

It goes way back to Cinderella. Shoes have played an important role in cultural thought for a long time. In Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo?, a film from the sixties about French fashion, there’s a wonderful scene when a TV reporter is interviewing some pompous French sociology professor who says that the Cinderella story is all about the importance of tiny feet and beautiful shoes. Then he says, “So there you are: fetishism, mutilation, pain. Fashion in a nutshell.” [Laughs] But I do think that our show is unique, because we’re not just looking at the social and psychosexual reasons why we all love shoes. We’re focusing on the twenty-first century and calling attention to the fact that in the last twelve years or so, after the end of Sex and the City, the obsession with high-end designer shoes has spread from something that only a few people were really obsessed with to being something that everybody’s obsessed with.

Why have heels risen to such hilariously high heights in the past few decades? And what dictates heel height?

I think the key element there is the acceptance of hypersexual shoe design as part of fashion, as opposed to just a corner of the pornographic industry. Before he died, Helmut Newton said in an interview that in the seventies, you had to go to fetish and porn stores to get the kind of shoes he wanted for his fashion photographs. But by the early nineties, he could go to any high fashion designer—Chanel, Dior, they were all doing fetish-y shoes. So that’s one thing, which I think is crucial to the recent growth of heels. Another is the popularity of platforms on shoes. If you’ve got a two-inch platform, automatically your heel can go from three to five inches, or from four to six, or whatever you want.

What makes women willing to shell out so much money for a pair of shoes that they may or may not be able to walk in?

Part of it is that shoe shopping is probably the highest form of fashion shopping. It’s the most pleasurable. I mean, who doesn’t look good in a pair of beautiful shoes? And compare it with something like bathing-suit shopping, which is the nadir of horror. Also, you can get a lot more fashion bang for your buck with a pair of shoes. You know, it might be a thousand dollars, but if you’re going to buy a jacket or a dress by that same or a comparable designer, you’d be talking three, four thousand dollars or up. And right now, people are, in a way, dressing in more of a uniform. For instance, many people just wear a well-cut pair of jeans and a great black jacket. But with shoes, they can play and transform themselves—they can change the style image that they’re creating. Continue Reading “FIT’s Foot Fetish” »

Diana Vreeland Lights Up Paris Once More

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There are few people who could warrant a breakfast of Champagne and caviar, but Diana Vreeland is one of them. Yesterday, in collaboration with Barneys, Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s (pictured, center) film about her legendary grandmother-in-law, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel, made its Paris debut. And given the editor’s relationship with the city (she was born here, after all), it was a significant screening, with the likes of Grace Coddington, L’Wren Scott, Michele Lamy, Olivier Rousteing (pictured, right), and Patrick Demarchelier all turning out to Paris’ Pagoda Theater for the event. “Mrs. Vreeland was such a dramatic personage that if anybody was cinematic, it’s her,” said Valerie Steele, who was seeing the film for the first time. “She totally worshiped Paris and the whole world of Paris fashion. I think she would be delighted to be here. And for all we know, maybe she is.”

Mrs. Vreeland’s presence was felt. “I remember when she was the editor of Vogue in the sixties, she moved the entire offices to adjoining suites at Le Crillon,” Vreeland’s grandson Alex recalled. “They took out all the beds and it looked like something from a James Bond movie because you’d open the door and see all these women running around or typing letters.” After the film had ended, viewers were given red gift boxes cleverly filled with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a bottle of scotch. The editor notoriously enjoyed the unorthodox combination for lunch every day. The box also contained a notecard with one of Vreeland’s most famous quotes: “Fashion must be the most intoxicating release from the banality of the world.” Certainly, her words provided a poignant reminder at the end of a very long, albeit intoxicating, fashion month.

Photo: Courtesy Photo

Preen Back On The London Scene, And More of Today’s Top Stories

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Preen by Thornton Bregazzi is headed back to London. After showing in New York for five years, the label’s co-founder Justin Thornton feels the time is right. “We originally left for New York because we wanted to expand the business and grow internationally,” he said. “Today, London is a very different fashion week to what it once was, and it’s a great place for us to show.” [WWD]

Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince of the Kills are looking back on ten years of touring. To mark the occasion, they have reinterpreted the Fleetwood Mac classic “Dreams” for their new album Just Tell Me That You Want Me: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac. Catch a decade of photos accompanied by the duo’s rendition of the song on Nowness.com today. [Nowness]

Care to see the results of Swedish electronic king Avicii’s collaboration with Denim and Supply? Ralph Lauren has finally released images of his first-ever ad campaign, which was shot in New York by Mark Seliger. Avicii is front-and-center showing off the collection’s earthy palette of flannel and leather. [Rolling Stone]

Valerie Steele is toasting gay fashion designers. The Museum at FIT director has announced plans for her latest exhibition, entitled Queer Style: From the Closet to the Catwalk, which will highlight gay designers and their influence on the industry. Dior, Saint Laurent, and Versace are just a few names on Steele’s list to be included in the showcase that is slated to open next year. [Vogue U.K.]

Photo: Courtesy of Preen

Fashion’s Nights (And Days) At The Museum

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When we set out to tell the story of 2011 by the numbers, one loomed especially large: 661,509, the record-breaking number of visitors who lined up, often for hours at a time, to see the Costume Institute’s Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty (left) at the Met.

But it wasn’t just a banner year for the Met and the late, great McQueen; designers and museums forged a strong bond this year, one that looks likely to continue well into the next. Museums across the globe invited designers into their halls and the results have made for some of the best exhibitions in memory.

During Couture week, Hussein Chalayan opened a retrospective at Paris’ Musée des Arts Decoratifs, where next year, Marc Jacobs and his work for Louis Vuitton will take up residence. The City of Light also played host to Ralph Lauren and his collection of automobiles (it also now boasts an enormous new RL store and restaurant, one of the town’s new favorite spots for burgers). And Florence is the new home of the Museo Gucci, opened during Milan’s Spring 2012 week with all due fanfare, and a Blondie performance to boot.

In America, socials flocked to San Francisco for the opening of Balenciaga and Spain (which also traveled to New York) and to Dallas for The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier, which debuted earlier this year at Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts. Just this month, Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte opened RODARTE: Fra Angelico, a show of the dresses their created for their June presentation at Pitti, at L.A.’s LACMA.

Farther afield, Dior went to Russia, where house jewelry designer Camille Micelli sent us this postcard, for Inspiration Dior, attended, naturally, by a lavish party. And the Netherlands continues to be a slightly off-the-radar destination for fashion’s cultural tourists. A retrospective of the work of Azzedine Ala├»a is now on view in Gronningen, outside Amsterdam, and the capital’s contemporary-photo museum, FOAM, which hosted the likes of Jefferson Hack for a panel on What’s Next, which followed a retrospective of work by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin—one which eventually became the germ of their new career-spanning anthology, Pretty Much Everything.

Here in New York, the more traditional homes of fashion, like FIT’s Fashion Museum, were busy, too. The museum recently opened the first part of The Great Designers, including Armani, Dior, Givenchy, and McQueen, and plans to open part two in March. Chief curator and museum director Valerie Steele also worked with clotheshorse and collector Daphne Guinness on an exhibition of her own holdings—which, it turns out, Guinness keeps organized via computer database.

Next year, all eyes will be on Miuccia Prada for the next Costume Institute exhibition, Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada on Fashion. But before then, there’s a Louboutin retrospective in London to look forward to, on the heels of the shoemaker’s victory-lap 20th anniversary year. And WWD reports today that several fashion labels are taking a renewed interest in their own histories, too. Balmain is ramping up its archival holdings, and Chloé recently brought on an in-house archivist, in anticipation of a retrospective planned for its 60th anniversary next year.

Photo: Courtesy of the Costume Insitute

Great Exhibitions

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In Manhattan, where a walk-in closet is a covetable luxury, finding the space to house over 50,000 garments and accessories is no small feat. Over the course of several years, that’s exactly what the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) has managed to do. Now, a hand-picked selection of looks are coming out of storage for two consecutive exhibitions, The Great Designers: Part One (opened yesterday) and Part Two, along with a pair of books to match (due out next year).

“For the general public it’s going to be the big names—Armani, Chanel, Dior—that are the attraction, but personally, I’m really excited about the opportunity it gave us to build out our contemporary collection,” Valerie Steele, the museum’s director and chief curator, said at the press preview of the Part One exhibition (co-curated by Jennifer Farley and Colleen Hill) this morning. Of the tomes, highlighting 500 looks by 100 designers from the twentieth century onward, Steele added, “I have wanted to do a book for the museum with Taschen for a long time, ever since they did a fantastic publication for the Kyoto Costume Institute.”

Both the exhibitions and books gave Steele a fun excuse to “shop”—two of the most exciting purchases are a black wool coat with delicate gold embroidery from Alexander McQueen’s Fall 1997 collection for Givenchy and a liquid silver Thierry Mugler mermaid dress from 1987. Part One features approximately 50 garments from several generations of designers. It was surprising to see how easily current looks by designers like Prada (a black and baby blue guipure lace and cotton frock from the memorable Fall 2008 collection) blended with early-twentieth-century pieces. The black Paul Poiret silk faille coat from 1908, trimmed with fine black and gold fringe that doubled for fur at a distance, is great for today’s pelt-wary. An Elsa Schiaparelli gown in black rayon, cut on the bias and with a swirling flower print, had an asymmetrical shoulder seen on many of the gowns in recent runway seasons.

The Great Designers, Part One at the Museum at FIT, Seventh Avenue at 27th Street. On view November 29 to May 8, 2012.

Photo: Courtesy of The Museum at FIT