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March 2017

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shoes!

Book review: SHOES: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY by Rebecca Shawcross

One of the advantages of blogging about such a narrow focus as costume from a professional and academic perspective? The very, very rare occasion when something happens like this: Bloomsbury sent me a review copy of the new book Shoes: An Illustrated History, by Rebecca Shawcross.

And it's exciting, yes, to get such a fantastic free book in the mail, but i'll tell you this: i'd have bought it anyway. If all you want is a soundbite of a review, there it is. The book's great, buy it. If you like shoes, if you love shoes, if you dig costume history, if you enjoy footwear in terms of fashion, buy it. And i'm not just saying that because i got a free copy, i'm saying it because it's a great book, but i'm getting to why, and that takes more time (and words) than a soundbite.



Above: new Fluevogs!
Below: new shoe book!

First up, let me say that i'm well versed in what's out there in the way of books about shoes. Historical surveys, coffee-table photo books, little gift books with tons of pictures but barely any info. I either own them, owned but deaccessioned them, or check them out of the library each time i teach my shoe unit in Decorative Arts seminar. My usual beef with most shoe survey books produced in the late 20th century is that they pretty much have all the same shoes in them--you can expect to see the same exact images licensed from the same popular sources. So, if you're a shoe-book connoisseur, you could practically play bingo with a card of shoe pix from the Met and the Bata.

And sometimes, sure, that's because the shoes are iconic. It'd be strange to have a history of shoes with no images of the famous Ferragamo styles, or the Vivier comma heels, or a pair of wooden pattens or a Chinese lotus shoe. And this book, Shoes, does have those included. But, it has SO much more--so many other pairs of footwear that you just don't see in the majority of other books of this sort out there. Presumably this is partly because most of those books are drawing primarily on North American collections for the majority of their images, while this book's author, Rebecca Shawcross, is attached to the Northampton Museum's footwear collection from which she can draw for even more images outside the most commonly circulated images/pairs.

This book is beautifully put together and enormously readable/browsable--a great balance of full color images, historical illustrations & engravings, and meaningful yet not dense text. It could be a reference book in your workroom's library (as it will be for me), but it could just as easily be a coffee table book in your home. You could read it cover to cover and learn about shoes from 3500 BCE to the present, or you could dip in and out of it by era or subject. Shawcross gives equal weight to the progression of the history of footwear itself (construction, materials, innovations, styles) as she does to recurring iconic styles and innovations/innovators. She even approaches some footwear topics from a sociological perspective, like the phenomenon of concealed shoes within the walls of architecture from prior centuries.

I find the chapter sections on footwear trends and designers of the 1990s and 2000s to be of particular note, because most other books of this ilk were published IN those years, so they stop with 1980s footwear trends. This book actually addresses topics like the influence of the Spice Girls on the return of the platform, and the influence of sports celebrity branding on the athletic shoe industry (i.e., Air Jordans). The main beef i have with the book, really, is that the author makes no mention of some of the most innovative and influential brands and designers from that period--no John Fluevog, no Luichiny, no Irregular Choice. But, that's a small quibble in the scheme of things.

Ultimately, this is an exciting new book on a subject I adore, and i highly recommend it.
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Comments

Looks like a lovely book. How on earth could they leave out Fluevog? I wasn't familiar with Luichiny and Irregular Choice--looked them up, and wow, swell shoes!