Sunday, May 30, 2010

Fancy Dress Apron

Many of us can remember our mothers wearing aprons. Back in the days when laundry was even more of a pain than it is today, aprons were a practical solution to protecting one's clothing during cooking and other household chores. And there was a time when fancy dress aprons were all the rage. Sometimes made out of silk or organza and often decorated with intricate embroidery or applique, they were worn only for special occasions like dinner parties.

After reading my recent post on Apronology, my friend Louise remembered an apron that her mother wore. Louise, who is both a talented artist and writes the blog My Ipod is my Sketchbook, photographed the dress apron that her mother wore for Friday night Shabbat dinners. Dating back to the 1960s, it is made of what looks like delicate organza and overlaid with colourful applique.

For many people aprons embody memories of happy times with their mother or grandmother. They represent love, security and simpler times. Are there any other aprons out there? If so, please send me your photos and your memories.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Exhibition Review: The Enchanted Palace

 Photo credit: HRP
The princess will fall into
the arms of the beloved. She will be
happy, for a while.
On her wedding day
there will be angels
passing, gods pronouncing
sages advising, and
crowds strewing the
roads with roses
red as desire.
But the shadowy form
has always been behind
She was running towards love
and dancing with death
all her life.
                                             by Mercedes Kemp

This excerpt of a poem called Charlotte at the Kings Staircase by Mercedes Kemp encapsulates the exhibition The Enchanted Palace now open at Kensington Palace in London. Not your run of the mill installation, this collaboration between fashion designers and artists including Vivienne Westwood, Stephen Jones, Boudicca, Echo Morgan, Aminaica Wilmont and William Tempest remakes Kensington Palace into a contemporary art gallery.

Focused on the lives of seven royal princesses, the exhibition challenges the viewer to actively engage in the installations. The thematic rooms incorporate site-specific art, fashion and poetry to give the viewer clues as to which princess the room is paying tribute to, but it is not until the end of the exhibition that the answers are revealed in light boxes which cleverly turn into mirrors. Undoubtedly frustrating for many of the visitors that were expecting to see more run-of-the-mill, fusty royal displays, I laughed with delight at the whimsy and incredible creativity of the artists and designers who participated in this project. In fact, I felt somewhat jealous that I hadn't been part of it! 

Seven former residents of Kensington Palace served as the inspiration for the exhibition and included:
Queen Mary II 1662-1694
Queen Anne 1665-1714
Queen Caroline 1683-1737
Princess Charlotte 1796-1817
Queen Victoria 1819-1901
Princess Margaret 1930-2002
Princess Diana 1961-1997

The three installations that were in my mind the most enchanting included:

In the Cupola room, there were three mannequin's torsos suspended from the ceiling with sculptural elements that looked like steel crinoline hoops and metal time pieces. I'd hazard a guess that some people walked into this room and didn't even look up to the ceiling to see these extraordinary works by Boudica and William Tempest.

Photo by Richard Lea-Hair HRP

A Dress for a Rebellious Princess was a magnificent Vivienne Westwood gown suspended on a back staircase to look like a headless princess running down the stairs. The saucy button on the bodice reads "I AM EXPENSIV" (sic).

Dress of the World by illustrator and set designer Echo Morgan was a washi-paper dress sculpture which takes the shape of Kensington Palace's infamous 17th century Rockingham mantua. This dress sculpture was covered in tiny drawings and set on top of a wire frame with baby carriage wheels. This room also included a curiosity cabinet filled with whimsical artwork.  

 Photo by Richard Lea-Hair HRP

In the realm of the royal Kensington Palace, these engaging artworks take on a deeper significance alluding to the nightmarish and often troubled fate that befell most of these princesses.

She is dressed each morning
she is fiercely corseted,
encased in dresses that
feel like coffins.
                           by Mercedes Kemp

This exhibition created in association with WILDWORKS was a mash up of fashion, site-specific installation art, history, poetry and performance. It really and truly was enchanting. Kensington Palace's show The Enchanted Palace continues until January 2012.

Hyde Park
London, England

Note: All images were provided by HRP and are under copyright.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Exhibition Review: Grace Kelly, Style Icon

Grace Kelly
Photograph by Erwin Blumenfeld New York, 1955. 
© The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld 2009

The thing that made her stand out is what we call 'style'. 
McCall's magazine 1955

Classic beauty, cool elegance, and impeccable style are the words that come to mind when I think of Grace Kelly. And even though she died nearly thirty years ago, I seem to have lots of company in my admiration for this legendary actress and princess. On a daily basis, there are crowds of people attending the Grace Kelly: Style Icon exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the shows are selling out.

Installation Shot copyright of V&A Images 2010

On display are an exquisite array of clothing and accessories that trace the transformation of the actress into a princess. The exhibition includes costumes from High Society and other movies, dresses from her trousseau, the ballerina style wedding suit worn for her civil ceremony to Prince Ranier, and an selection of haute couture gowns worn in her role as the Princess of Monaco including several fancy dress ballgowns. Several of the exhibition cases are backed with mirrors making the backs of the garments visible and the show is enhanced by photographs and film clips. Nevertheless, I heard a few grumbles in the crowd from people who were disappointed that the gown worn for the formal wedding ceremony was not on display (apparently because of its fragile condition).

Installation Shot copyright of V&A Images

Having studied the press materials and the book Grace Kelly Style in advance of the show, I had some idea of what to expect. But seeing a photo of a dress and seeing it in person do not equate! With a few exceptions, all the dresses have a simplicity of line and understated embellishments which create a harmony and elegance of form. My favourite pieces included:
* a floral silk dress made from a McCall's pattern that she wore on her first meeting with Prince Ranier in 1955 (shown in the first installation shot above),
* a stunning purple evening gown in silk by Hubert de Givenchy from 1960 (seen in the second installation shot above),
* the silk organza dress in pale blue designed by Helen Rose for the movie High Society.

My overall impression was that Grace Kelly embodied elegance, both in her clothing choices and in her life.

Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier of Monaco, 1956
© Snap/Rex features

If you have the opportunity to visit this exhibition before it closes on September 26, 2010, be sure to buy your tickets in advance to avoid long line ups and disappointment. Also worth considering are the lectures and workshops listed in the events calendar.

Victoria and Albert Museum
South Kensington London SW
+44 (0)20 7942 2000

Note: All photos in this post were provided by the Victoria and Albert Museum and are subject to copyright.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Threads: Six Masters of Fashion Photography

It seems like it was only recently that fashion photography was acknowledged as an art form. But even so, it is not often featured in gallery shows and it was by chance that I stumbled across a show called Threads: Six Masters of Fashion Photography at the Diemar/Noble Photography Gallery in London. On display and for sale was the work of six fashion photographers including:

Edwin Blumenfeld
Guy Bourdin
William Klein
Helmut Newton
Norman Parkinson
Edward Steichen

This coherent and elegant presentation of iconic black and white images from six masters of light and composition is well worth a visit. Highlights of the exhibition include
Polaroids by Helmut Newton
One of two known prints of Guy Boudrin's photo of a model wearing a hat in front of gutted rabbits in the now infamous ‘Chapeaux – Choc’
A rare group of vintage prints by Norman Parkinson
Rare Surrealist fashion images by Erwin Blumenfeld

There is no charge to see the exhibition and it was a real delight to see such exquisite work up close without having to jostle for elbow room in a crowded museum.  If the gallery owners hadn't been so deep in conversation, I would have asked them why they didn't include a  female fashion photographer like Lillian Bassman in the show. (And if I wasn't so shy, I might even have handed over a business card - sigh!)

Threads: Six Masters of Fashion Photography
Diemar/Noble Photography
May 13 - July 11, 2010
66/67 Wells Street
London, UK    W1T 3PY
44 (0)20 7636 5375

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Drunk on Inspiration

Stepping out of my routine to go to London was like falling down the rabbit hole into another world. Far away from home and by myself, I savoured each moment. I was free to think, free to dream and free to wander. Without the tether of the computer, cell phone or to-do list, I had time out, time away, time for myself. And even though it was exhausting to prepare for, grueling to get there with a delay caused by the volcanic ash cloud, challenging to deal with the five hour time difference and the loneliness of eating meals alone, and overwhelming to return to a huge to-do list and about 300 emails to answer, it was worth it. The installations I saw, the galleries I visited, and the beauty I took in, filled me up. I feel drunk with inspiration!

Prince Albert Memorial in Hyde Park, London by Ingrid Mida 2010

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My Vintage Parisian Coat by Ingrid Mida

I am a coat person. My GH (gorgeous husband) likes to tease me on how many coats I have - he says I have one for every few degree of temperature variation. Of all the coats I own, this one is my favourite as it comes closest to portraying the real me. This beauty is a vintage coat from Paris (circa 1955-1960 if I had to guess) and has a glorious turquoise lining. And although the sleeves are about an inch too short for my arms (who was the tiny gamine who wore this coat before me?), I often wear it with fushia pink leather gloves that come to the elbow. The  tweed wool rose which is pinned to the label was an addition sourced from a run-of-the-mill retailer. I also consider it my lucky coat since I wore it to a portfolio review at Wagner Rosenbaum Gallery and was awarded my first commercial gallery show while wearing it!

I hope you will join me in sharing the memories behind your favourite dress, coat or outfit. I'd also like to hear stories and memories of outfits that might have belonged to your mother, grandmother, sister or other female relative. Please email me at with your photo and stories.

Monday, May 17, 2010

May is Museum Month!

May 18th is Museum month! When was the last time you visited your local museum and fed your brain? For me, museums are my fuel, providing inspiration for my art practice. I'll be jetting off to London this morning to do some research and visit some fabulous exhibitions in London including the following:

Kensington Palace
March 26 - June 30, 2010

April 28 - June 27, 2010

April 17 - September 26, 2010
I'll be back to post the winners of the Wild Rose Giveaway at Memories of a Dress on Saturday, May 22, 2010.

Note: The above photos are presented here with permission of indicated Museum press office. All photos are under copyright and not to be used without written authorization.

Friday, May 14, 2010

My Juliet Dress by Catherine of a Thousand Clapping Hands

When I moved to New York City in 1976, I settled in the Village and loved going round to all the local shops. There was one on Sullivan or Thompson that had nothing but dresses from Afghanistan. I had no idea...just that they were exotic and captivating, with full velvet sleeves, heavy embroidery, little round mirrors (many missing), and a neckline of little orange beads. The shopkeeper told me that one was a wedding dress from Afghanistan and that it was over 100 years old - but I don't think so as far as the age goes because there are clearly sewing machine stitches.

I wore that dress every Christmas for years. And I wore it all over New York, too. In my mind, I thought I was Juliet because the style was similar to a dress worn by Olivia Hussey in Zefferelli's movie of Romeo and Juliet. (What can I say? I was only eighteen.)

Your project will have so many of us reminiscing. I look forward to stopping by often and reading other people's dress memories.


Blog: A Thousand Clapping Hands


Overwhelmed! by Ingrid Mida, 2009

Aprons are women's voices that were mute.
Ellen Rulsch

Aprons are typically associated with domestic drudgery, but it wasn't always so. In fact, in ancient times, Egyptian rules wore jewel-encrusted aprons and certain fertility goddesses wore scared aprons. In more recent times, men like blacksmiths, butchers and carpenters have worn aprons to protect their clothing, but for the most part the apron has a feminine association. 

To fashion scholars, aprons are among the most important cultural markers of woman's lives since they are one of the most basic forms of clothing and evoke woman's roles as caretakers. According to Beth Alberty, curator of the exhibition  Apropos Apron at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the apron "draws symbolic and magic power from the sex to which it both calls attention and provides modesty and protective cover...much of (apron language and love) has to do with sexuality, fertility, and marital relations and testifies to the significance of the apron's position on the body."

When I created the miniature apron shown above, I felt overwhelmed in trying to juggle a career and  my responsibilities as a caretaker for my family and my frail, elderly mother. Encasing the apron in a Mason jar evokes the feeling of being trapped and also alludes to the poem The Tear Bottle which I used in a related installation

Recently I attended an event called Apronology hosted by the Costume Society of Ontario, I heard many stories from women who remembered their mother or grandmother wearing a specific apron.  Joyce Cheney, who wrote a book called Aprons: Icons of the American Home, published in 2000 by Running Press, said: "The power of aprons lies in how they make us feel and what they help us remember."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Wild Rose

While creating the 18th century chemise, corset and paniers and the Balenciaga-inspired mesh gown  out of mosquito mesh (both now on display at LA Design in Toronto), I started making roses out of the scraps. My young friend, pictured here, likes roses and I gave her one. She cleverly attached it to a hair clip! Isn't she lovely?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

My Mother's Dresses

Clothing evokes memories. Many women have several dresses or suits hanging in the back of the closet that they cannot give away. These garments  embody a memory of a special time or belonged to someone they loved, like a mother, grandmother or sister.

A dress is literally a metaphor for a woman. It is a second skin, forming a protective barrier between one’s self and the world and the choices of style and material provide clues as to one’s self image, social class, profession and identity.

This past winter I photographed some evening dresses belonging to my mother. Sadly, the lovely purple satin dress she is wearing in the photo above was not in her closet. But there were several others including a gold brocade dress with matching jacket, a copper coloured Indian silk dress, a black lace dress and a long silver brocade dress. I did a series of documentary photos as well as a set of photographs in ravine settings hoping to evoke a sense of haunted beauty in bleak and barren surroundings. To see selected images from that series, please visit my website.

Many people who saw these photographs of my mother's dresses were reminded of a specific dress that their mother or grandmother wore. And sometimes that dress was still hanging in the back of a closet, too precious to give away. It seems that clothes can embody the essence of a person. 

I wish I had a story to tell about my mother wearing this beautiful brocade dress. It came with a matching jacket and is in pristine condition. I don't recall seeing my mother wearing it, but it clearly meant something to her as I found a scrap of matching fabric in a drawer the other day. 

The style of dress is one that I wear often. Classic, fitted and elegant, this cut of dress suits my figure and I have many versions of this type of dress in my closet. Although I would never have described my mother as a fashionista, clearly at one time in her life, she took great care with her dress.

I only have a few items belonging to my mother that are worthy of being photographed - not enough to have a show or write a book. However, I realize that there are many beautiful dresses and suits hanging in closets that have stories. I hope to find some women in Toronto and southern Ontario who will let me photograph some of those dresses and record the stories which someday will be featured in a gallery show. 

I also hope that there are people around the world who might also wish to participate in an online version of this project. If you wish to share memories about a special dress, either one that belongs to you or someone you knew, please contact me at

Friday, May 7, 2010

My LA Debut

When Toronto design guru Christopher Wood told me that he wanted to showcase my work in his chic King West furniture store, it was like winning the lottery. Christopher has impeccable taste and I feel like this month's IT-GIRL with an installation in one of Toronto's uber-chic furniture stores, LA Design!

In the window of LA Design is my sculpture What Lies Beneath, a recreation of an 18th century chemise, corset and panier created out of window mesh. This sculpture allows the viewer to see the layers and supporting substructure to an 18th century gown. (A big thank you goes to Dale Peers at Seneca College Fashion Resource Centre for loaning me the appropriate shaped mannequin for this project!).

The layers of undergarments worn in the 18th century created a protective barrier between one's body and the world. The panier in this sculpture spans nearly four feet at the base making it awkward to move as I found out when I tried on the outfit. As well, I gained an appreciation for why 18th century women needed help to dress! (I photographed myself wearing my creations and showed these self-portraits to Christopher who thought them worthy of being blown up life-size a la Cindy Sherman. That's my next project! In the meantime, here is a documentation photo of the dress.) 

What Lies Beneath
18th Century Chemise, Corset and Panier in Mesh
Copyright of Ingrid Mida 2010

Also in the store is my Balenciaga-inspired dress which I created for the Fly Gallery installation in January 2010. If you missed that, this is your chance to see this sculpture in person which won me the Underdog Achievement Award for 2010 from Toronto Art Critic and New Media Artist Otino Corsano.

And finally, Christopher gave his stamp of approval to my Revolutionary Fashion series on toile and my paper corset series which are also on display.

I invite you to visit LA Design to see my work and check out the stylish furniture, lighting and home accessories on display. I'll keep you posted as to future events at the store related to my work.

LA Design
788 King Street West
(2 blocks west of Bathurst on the north side underneath Art Metropole)
Toronto, Ontario

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Comfort and Stylish Footwear

Although I love beautiful shoes, I'm not one of those people that can wear towering heels all day! I'm always on the run and when I can, I prefer to walk rather than taking the car. But I also refuse to compromise on style and insist on wearing fabulous footwear to match my outfit. While I often wear dresses, there are some days at the studio when only pants will do and then hip sneakers or loafers are top of the list. But now I have another alternative....UGG Australia's Fall 2010 Collection.

When I was invited to attend the UGG Australia Fall 2010 Collection Preview Party, I wasn't actually sure if I should go. Sure I have a pair of creamy beige UGG boots, but I've only worn them in California on cold morning walks to the beach. And yet, after seeing their new sophisticated Fashion Collection and the playful Sneaker Collection, I'm a convert!

Even Jeanne Beker of Fashion Television, the evening's master of ceremonies, admitted that she wished she could wear comfy UGG boots instead of heels when she covers fashion shows around the globe!

The show was a blur of fabulousness.....

But it was not all frivolity and fun. There was a heart-felt request to make donations to the Mary Katz Claman Foundation for Alzheimer's. For anyone who has watched a life slip away because of Alzheimer's disease, this is a cause that needs support.

To see more of the UGG Australia Fall 2010 collection, visit their website here.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Shoes as Art by Lesley Haas

The boundary between fashion and art is one that many artists find fascinating. Artist Lesley Haas explores that margin with her extraordinary paper creations. Lesley has an extensive exhibition history and her work is owned by such prestigious collections as the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, The Royal Library in The Hague, and The Free Library of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Two of her paper dresses will be on display at the Smithsonian International Gallery in Washington in the Revealing Culture exhibition June 8 - August 29, 2010. The Opening Reception will be held on Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 8 pm. Lesley has created shoes using a material she calls vegetable papyrus and kindly agreed to an interview.

OFF BEET  Size 8 
Vegetable Papyrus - Sweet Potato, Red Beet 
by Lesley Haas, 2000

Ingrid: What is vegetable papyrus?
Lesley: Vegetable Papyrus is an extension of hand papermaking, Dr Ragab of the Papyrus Institute in  Cairo experimented by making papyrus from vegetables and was quite successful. A few artists caught on and started creating paper from this most fascinationg material. I've made shoes, wine goblets, ballet toe shoes, scrolls, etc from vegetable papyrus using red beet, pumpkin, sweet potato, red and white cabbage, carrots, sweet peas and more. When very fresh and newly made, these objects are beautifully transluscent in the sunlight. The red beets turn an exquiste magenta and the purple cabbage turns deep blue with turquoise and green streaks...quite the light show! But as these colors are fugitive and vegetable papyrus is kind of an expanding and changing artwork. After years    red beet will change to brownish red and carrots turn white, pumpking turns pale orange and sweet potato turns toward pale yellow. It is as fragile as glass and sensitive like any natural, organic material.

RED BEET SERIES Size 8 / Child Size 3
Vegetable Papyrus - Red Beet
by Lesley Haas, 1999

Ingrid: Are these shoes styled after a particular period?
Lesley: My interest in shoes is mostly reflected by the shoe fashions of the 12th -18th Century. I've had visits to the Shoe and Leather museum in  Offenbach outside Frankfurt, Germany, that has a  large shoe collection.  I particularly like ankle boots, and used my own as molds for my vegetable papyrus shoes. 

Ingrid: Why are you drawn to work with paper?
Lesley: After visiting an early papermaking exhibition at MOMA, I was smitten seeing paper used as an art medium and I've traveled the "Paper Road" ever since. The tactile and textured surfaces and rough deckled edges of paper attract me and I wanted to learn and become involved with this medium.  

Ingrid: What is the most challenging part of working with paper?
Lesley: A huge challenge to me has been finding an affordable studio where I can make handmade paper. Papermaking requires a space where it doesn't matter about getting wet! These days I am working dry, smaller and with alot of a recycled papers in a very confined space.

BAROQUE, Size 8 

Vegetable Papyrus -Pumpkin
by Lesley Haas, 2000

Ingrid: Where do you find your inspiration?
Lesley: Generally my inspirations comes from conversations with artist friends, sometimes its turning the pages of my mom's old fashion magazines and also the challenge of varied exhibition entries. When I have the opportunity to travel I see art is many forms and materials.

Ingrid:  What drives you to create?
Lesley: My drive to create is something that has been in me pressing emotionally and outwardly. It took a long time to break through in actual acheivement with a tangible result, whether by making my early handmade picture frames, that I made hundreds of at my first studio in Heidelberg, Germany and moving to finally making paper and onto creating my dress Raw Suffering of a Woman many years later.  When I opened my first studio, it was a relief to finally be able to get those creative energies released. I am a late bloomer. 

Vegetable Papyrus - Pumpkin, Red Beet
by Lesley Haas 2000

Ingrid: What is your earliest memory as an artist?
Lesley: Both in my elementary schoolyard on summer days drawing and coloring with broken crayons, I generally had my hands in some kind of art project. And hanging out incessantly in my high school art room. It took me quite a few years to break through a barrier I had when I younger to actually "create".

Ingrid: What artist living or dead would you most like to have a conversation with?  What question would you ask them?
Lesley: Alan Shields - I would ask him what prompted him to sew on paper?? !!  So many including me have followed suit and taken his lead to sew on paper. I once had a short opportunity to meet him in Baltimore, MD and mentioned how he was the first to sew on paper and he didn't even realize that he started that technique. He so unfortunately has since passed away.

Vegetable Papyrus- Red Beet
by Lesley Haas, 1999

Ingrid: Who is your best critic?
Lesley: My son.

Ingrid: What frame of mind do you have to be in to produce art?
Lesley: When I am truly inspired with an idea that I want to bring to fruition, I can move ahead and finish an artwork. I need peace of mind and time to put my ideas into motion. Sometimes it's a dealine that pushes me when I am not terribly inspired.

Ingrid: You feel happiest when?
Lesley: When I am with my son and when people buy my work. For me that is a true compliment!

Ingrid: People would be surprised to learn that?
Lesley: That I am my mother's caregiver...!

Ingrid: Do you have a mantra?
Lesley: Keep on keeping on...

Ingrid: What book are you currently reading?
Lesley: Ways of Seeing by John Berger

Ingrid: What's next for you?
Lesley: Hopefully something new and exciting! Exciting is the operative word.

TOE SHOES Child's Size 3
Vegetable Papyrus - Red beet, Satin Ribbons
by Lesley Haas 1999 

To see more work by Lesley Haas, visit her website here

Monday, May 3, 2010

On a Pedestal at the Bata Shoe Museum (Part II)

The shift from chopines to high heels that occurred in the 16th century is also an important part of the exhibition On a Pedestal at the Bata Shoe Museum.  In the 1590s, the heel was adopted in Western dress and worn by men during riding to help secure the foot in the stirrup. How this fashion spread to women is somewhat unclear.

Copyright of Museum of Fine Arts Boston 2010

During this period, some of the shoes appear to be an odd combination of a small platform and a heel. I asked curator Elizabeth Semmelhack to explain how these slap-soled shoes came to be:

Copyright of the Royal Ontario Museum 2010

"When heels were first introduced into Western dress from the Near East their original purpose was embraced.  Heels kept the foot in the stirrup when horse back riding.  However, when the rider dismounted, his high heels would sink into the mud. So in the early 17th century, men began to slip their high heeled shoes or boots into a pair of flat-soled mules to prevent their heels from sinking into the mud.  The wearing of mule with shoes or boots did prevent the heel from sinking into the mud but when the wearer attempted to walk a loud slapping sound could be heard made by the sole of the mule slapping against the heel of the shoe or boots---similar to the noise that flip flops make I would guess. Women’s fashion followed men’s in the early 17th century so they too began to wear slap-soles but women’s slap-soles often feature the heel secured to the mule sole so that they did not make noise when they walked.  This was okay for women’s footwear because women had no need to separate their high heeled shoes from their mules as they were not going to go horseback riding." 

Copyright of the Bata Shoe Museum 2010

I was particularly taken with this lovely boy's shoe (shown below) with jaunty ribbons and a painted red sole which conveyed socio-political status and privilege. (Note: Christian Louboutin was not the first shoemaker to paint the soles red!).

Copyright of the Bata Shoe Museum 2010

Visit the Bata Shoe Museum before September 20, 2010 to see this unique exhibition On a Pedestal. The beautifully written and lavishly photographed exhibition catalogue On a Pedestal, From Renaissance Chopines to Baroque Heels by Elizabeth Semmelhack is available at the museum gift-store (416-979-7799 for phone orders) and also on-line from this art books website.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

On a Pedestal at the Bata Shoe Museum (Part I)

To step inside the On a Pedestal exhibit at the Bata Shoe Museum is like stepping back in time. The dim lighting,  the Renaissance inspired decor, the reproductions of period paintings hanging in ornate frames and even the period music evoke a time long ago when elegant dress for upper-class women and courtesans was defined by the wearing of tall, pedestal-like shoes.

Velvet covered wooden platforms ornamented with silver lace and silk tassel
Italian 1580-1620
Copyright of Bata Shoe Museum 2010, Toronto, Canada

The history of elevated footwear goes all the way back to ancient Greece and Rome when they were linked to "oriental adornment and concepts of the exotic". During medieval times, elevating footwear was a gender and religious identifier. In the 16th century, such footwear reflected cultural influences, familial status and standards of feminine beauty. At the end of the 16th century, the heel was introduced from the Near East and chopines were eclipsed by the mule and slap sole shoe (which I will discuss in an upcoming post).

Curator Elizabeth Semmelhack guides us through these developments with exquisite examples of such highly provocative footwear including this pair of red velvet chopines from the 16th century which are part of the Bata Shoe Museum collection. Adding much to the understanding of the women that wore such elevated footwear are the reproductions of paintings which illustrate chopines in context. Particularly amusing is the fact that the women in the paintings are often in a state of undress, having kicked off their chopines to luxuriate in comfort!

Italian 16th century red velvet chopines
Copyright of Bata Shoe Museum 2010, Toronto, Canada

Although I've seen chopines before, it never occurred to me that chopines were hidden underneath women's billowing skirts. In fact, the wearing of tall chopines meant that skirt lengths had to be substantially lengthened and necessitated a significant increase in the amount of expensive cloth needed to make such skirts.  Furthermore, since a woman could not walk far on such pedestals, servants were also necessary. Thus, the wearing of tall chopines was symbolic of a family's wealth and status.

There were many more facts about chopines that I could reveal here, but I'd rather encourage you to go to the exhibition and see it for yourself. Exceptional examples of Renaissance and Baroque footwear have been brought in on loan from museums such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Museo Bardini, Florence; Castello Sforzesco, Milan,; Museum Palazzo and Mueo Correr, both Venice; Ambras Castle, Austria, and the Boston Museum of Fine Art. Although there are a few pairs of very fragile chopines that will go off display on May 5th, they will be replaced with other interesting examples of elevated footwear. The exhibition On a Pedestal continues until September 20, 2010.

The Bata Shoe Museum
327 Bloor Street West (at St. George subway)
Toronto, Ontario Canada