Dutch graphic designer Liza Snook runs the Virtual Shoe Museum. She is co-curator of Shoeting Stars, a new show organised by the Kunst Haus Vienna, part of the Hundertwasser museum. She explains her relationship with shoes and the story behind the exhibition.
“Since I could walk I’ve had a fascination with shoes. My mother had a high-heeled pair from Italy. I still have them, the shoes I played in when I was four.
I started to collect images of shoes 25 years ago, with a postcard of the rocking horse design by Vivienne Westwood. I set up the Virtual Shoe Museum in 2004, and now students from colleges around the world send me their graduate work – the site features more than 4000 pairs.
It’s like there’s something in the air. After showing at a few smaller fairs, I was asked to exhibit at museums in Leipzig and Ulm, where they both had record-breaking numbers of visitors. After Shoeting Stars, I’m speaking to museums in three other countries.
A shoe can be an object of everyday use and a piece of art: with one pair of shoes, you can change your whole outfit – and who you are. I’m a different person if I wear really high-heeled boots or tattered sneakers. It’s a change of personality.
Shoes are partly design, and partly art: everyone can find something that interests them, whether it’s colour, shape or material; whether it’s edible or made from concrete. For me, the most iconic designs are the Vivienne Westwood pair that started off my collection, and Alexander McQueen’s shoes inspired by HR Giger’s Alien imagery, which took shoes completely out of the foot shape.
I like it when there’s a sense of humour in the designs, too: Israeli designer Kobi Levi has made shoes in the shape of bananas, bicycles and supermarket baskets. In Shoeting Stars, we’re showing his Shark design, as well as a pair made out of cutlery by Lauren Johnstone.
Iris van Herpen is one of the most avant-garde designers today, as well as Iris Schieferstein, a German taxidermy artist who turns animal’s feet into shoes. Some people don’t get it, but I think her work is really poetic. People might be offended, but many wear shoes made out of cow leather without thinking twice.
Increasingly, architects are making shoes. When we were planning Shoeting Stars, we came across a photograph taken by the Austrian artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser, showing his feet in shoes he had designed himself.
There are six architects in Shoeting Stars, including Zaha Hadid and Rem D Koolhaas, who collaborated for United Nude with a pair called the Nova. I have just bought it for myself; there is leather inside so you can walk in them, but it’s not something you’d wear to the supermarket.
I think architects are attracted to shoe design because it’s an interesting form that involves construction. It’s more like a technology sometimes, with 3D printed shoes or injection moulding. London architect Julian Hakes builds bridges, and he applied that thinking to his Mojito shoes. They’re moulded from carbon fibre and have no foot plate. Instead, they wrap around the wearer’s foot, providing support for the heel and ball and turning the foot into a bridge.
Some people think about shoes as sexual objects because if you wear really high heels, you change the way you walk. There is a fetish element with extreme heels; the idea is that you can only wear them in the bedroom and not on the street. Dutch designer Peter Popps, whose shoes appeared in Lady Gaga’s Artpop film, creates designs that are impossible to walk in.
Polish designer Erwina Ziomkowska has made a pair of pumps using 2kg of pins. If you look at them from a distance, they seem to be covered in fur: some see them as beautiful, while others believe they are torture objects. It’s just the way you look at it, how you judge a shoe – whether you see it as erotic or just look at it as an interesting material.”