Weitzman’s walk through history

It was back in our October 2013 issue that WAG editor-in-chief Georgette Gouveia profiled iconic shoe designer and longtime Fairfield County resident Stuart Weitzman.

He told her during the interview for the cover story that, “Shoes do two things: Anyone can wear the shoes Kate Moss has. You’re not going to wear her bathing suit or her dress. But you can wear her shoes and feel great in them. And shoes become a memory.”

It was with little surprise, then, to learn that Weitzman – who stepped down as creative director of his eponymous company this past spring and continues his transition toward the title of chairman emeritus in May – is keeping his toes, shall we say, in the footwear industry.

Boudoir shoes, 1867. Silk, embroidery, metallic thread. Stuart Weitzman Collection, no. 101. Photo credit: Glenn Castellano, New-York Historical Society. Photograph courtesy New-York Historical Society.

As Weitzman has shared his love of shoes over the years through his signature designs, he’s soon to share his appreciation for the history of footwear through an exhibition opening in April at the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library in Manhattan. 

“Walk This Way: Footwear from the Stuart Weitzman Collection of Historic Shoes” will explore, as advance materials describe, “how shoes have transcended their utilitarian purpose to become representations of culture — coveted as objects of desire, designed with artistic consideration and expressing complicated meanings of femininity, power, and aspiration for women and men alike.”

The exhibition, to be featured in the Joyce B. Cowin Women’s History Gallery at the society’s Center for Women’s History, will highlight 100 pairs of shoes from the designer’s extensive private collection, one assembled by Weitzman and his wife, Jane Gershon Weitzman, over some 30 years.

Salvatore Ferragamo (1898-1960), designer. Madonna sandals, ca. 1954-55. Kid leather, Tavarnelle needlepoint lace, embroidery and beads. Stuart Weitzman Collection, no. 57. Photo credit: Glenn Castellano, New-York Historical Society. Courtesy New-York Historical Society.

Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society, says, “‘Walk This Way’ will surprise and delight visitors with its unexpected lens on women’s history through Stuart Weitzman’s unparalleled historic footwear collection. Shoes on view range from designs to be worn in the privacy of a woman’s home, shoes that American suffragists wore as they marched through city streets, ‘sexy’ heels that reflected changing norms of female aesthetics and professional shoes suitable for the increasing numbers of women in the workforce. We are thrilled to be able to offer the public this unique opportunity to explore the private collection of a collector extraordinaire who is also America’s top shoe designer.”

The exhibition will trace the story of shoes, touching on collection, consumption, presentation and production, while also exploring trends in American economic history, from industrialization to the rise of consumer culture. There will be a focus on women’s contributions as producers, consumers, designers and entrepreneurs.

“Walk This Way” is coordinated by Valerie Paley, the society’s vice president, chief historian and director of the Center for Women’s History, with Edward Maeder, consulting curator, and Jeanne Gardner Gutierrez, curatorial scholar in women’s history.

The exhibition will also include historic artifacts from the society, such as brass and bronze shoe buckles from a Revolutionary War officer’s shoes (1760-83) and a pair of leather children’s shoes (circa 1904).

Peep-toe mules, mid-1950s. Plastic, Lucite, leather and elastic Spring-o-lator. Stuart Weitzman Collection, no. 84. Photo credit: Glenn Castellano, New-York Historical Society. Courtesy New-York Historical Society.

Among the treasures from the Weitzman collection will be a pair of pink silk embroidered boudoir shoes created for the 1867 Paris Universal Exposition that reflected Western consumers’ taste for “exotic” textiles in an era of European imperial expansion; dance hall shoes from the early 20th century; early department store shoes such as circa-1937 red velvet and gold T-strap pumps; and Salvatore Ferragamo’s handmade black needlepoint Tuscan lace heels (circa 1954-55) designed for Italian actress Sophia Loren. There will also be a selection of “fantasy shoes” commissioned by Jane Gershon Weitzman for display in Stuart Weitzman store windows, as well as 10 unique shoe designs by finalists in the Stuart Weitzman Footwear Design competition, submitted by New York metro-area high school students in the categories of socially conscious fashion or material innovation.

As Weitzman himself comments in the exhibition catalog, shoes “tell an almost infinite number of stories. Stories of conformity and independence, culture and class, politics and performance.”

And now, high style and history.

“Walk This Way: Footwear from the Stuart Weitzman Collection of Historic Shoes” will open April 20 and continue through Oct. 8 at the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library in Manhattan. For more, visit nyhistory.org.

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