History has a strange way of repeating itself. Today, exactly 120 years since the opening of the celebrated Boot and Shoe Exhibition at Cordwainers Hall in 1895, we are thrilled to be attending the launch of the V&A’s new exhibition, Shoes: Pleasure and Pain, which is being supported by the Cordwainers Company.
The exhibition takes the long view of footwear across centuries and cultures, and demonstrates that it’s often the heart, rather than the head, that governs our choice of shoes. There are some fantastic examples of fancy footwear on display, and we are extremely proud that the work of several internationally renowned Cordwainers is featured: Jimmy Choo, Caroline Groves and Atalanta Weller.
In 1895 the Cordwainers opened up the company hall on Cannon Street for their own Boot and Shoe Exhibition. Wide ranging in scope, it included 754 items, ranging from historic shoes to modern competition pieces from shoemakers around the country and from apprentices at the London Leather Trades School. (Later known as Cordwainers College, this institution is now part of the University of the Arts, London.) The Times reported that the loan collection ‘is very interesting and instructive, the exhibits representing the foot-gear worn in both ancient and modern times and by all nations’. Interestingly, one of the lenders was the authorities of the South Kensington Museum – or the Victoria and Albert Museum as it became known just four years later.