The couture shoe

This week has literally been mental not only have I been working a crazy amount, I’ve also been on 4 courses at the V and A. I just wanted to share with everyone some of the amazing information I learnt!

My course on Thursday was all about the history of the couture shoe. Fiona Campbell was the speaker.

The concept of couture began with Charles Frederick Worth an English designer who was based in Paris at the end of the 19th century. The term couture comes from the French- Haute Couture- meaning High sewing. Worth was not just a designer but also a craftsman and an artist who completely revolutionised design. Although my focus here is not on his dresses (wonderful as they were), but rather the shoes that were worn underneath his and other couturiers dresses.

Under these beautiful couture dresses to begin with women were still wearing long lace up boots. These boots were made of fine kidskin and commissioned through the couturiers. This was when the shoemaker was yet to come into their own as ankles were still completely covered up. The idea of the couture shoe had yet to arrive.

Pinet, now a largely forgotten name was the man to change all of this. The Louis heel had been popular for decades, but he bought in a new heel shape the Pinet heel. This heel was a little bit higher and narrower than the Louis heel. He established that shoe designers no longer had to follow the exact whims of the clothing designers and could actually establish their own creative businesses.

It was the shoes designed Perugia (another forgotten name!) who really established the concept of the fashion or “art” shoe. He came from a long line of shoemakers. He started working with the family company at 16 and soon complained that the company was all about making and not about design. He decided that he wanted to carve his own name for himself and took is work to Nice. Here he managed to get a showcase in the Negresso hotel to display his shoes.

One of his first customers saw the shoes here and was dressed by Poiret. Poiret saw his customer wearing the shoes and loved them. He asked Perugia to come to Paris and work with him. Unfortunately due to World War One Perugia couldn’t go. Although this came to be a good thing as during the war Perugia worked in engineering and managed to put many of the practices he learnt into designing more avant-garde shoes.

After World War One finished he finally had the opportunity to work with Poiret and many of the motifs he was using on his shoes related directly with Poiret’s clothing. His shoes during this period showed how he was inspired by the art movement surrounding him, something that would again be important in his later career.
His shoes during the 1920’s were completely lavish and he really met the spirit of the times as hemlines had risen and finally shoes were shown off used to complete and compliment an outfit. He was well known for using lavish embroidery and covering shoes completely in clawed rhinestones.

This pair of shoes are one of my favourite by Perugia. These shoes are from 1931 (I think they look modern even by today’s standards) and were inspired by George Braque.

This pair of shoes I think has to be my favourite. (I think) they were created for Mistinguett in 1948. If you took a quick glance at them though you could quite easily be mistaken for thinking they were Christian Louboutin’s and from a far later date! Perugia was well known for designing shoes with up to 7in heels.

The other designer who was discussed in detail was Ferragamo. He was just 9 years old when he was apprenticed to a Naples shoemaker and at 10 he set up his own workshop and repaired locals shoes. Aged 16 he moved to America where he was closely located to the American film company and with a brother working in film costume he managed to establish links with the company. In 1923 Ferragamo designed all the footwear for the film the Ten Commandments by Cecil Bde Mille. This film helped to bring about a new trend in shoes. At this time women were still wearing very high cut shoes, but this film bought about a craze for sandals.

Ferragamo designed shoes fro many of the leading lights in the entertainment world throughout the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s including Greta Garbo and Audrey Hepburn. Although the design style he is probably best remembered for is his wedge sole. He started designing these in 1936 (trying to bridge the gap between comfort and elegance) and within two years 86% of all shoes in America had wedge soles!

Images from the Met museum collection database and

2 thoughts on “The couture shoe

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