A new exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum offers artistic takes on the high heel
Zaha Hadid’s “NOVA” shoe stretches and shifts in a skein of corrugated silver. Like the buildings Hadid designs, this leather, rubber, and fiberglass pump looks futuristic and otherworldly—more flying saucer than stiletto. It is among the many mind-bending shoes found in “Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe,” opening September 10 at the Brooklyn Museum. The exhibition has more than 160 heels that show off the power of the precarious style within six thematic categories, including “Glamour and Fetish,” “Revival and Reinterpretation,” and “Architecture.”
Even though as curator Lisa Small says, “all of these shoes could be considered architectural in the broadest sense,” the specific architecture section contains shoes made by (or riffing on the work of) seasoned architects. These include designs by stars in the field such as Hadid and British bridge designer Julian Hakes, whose “Mojito” heel takes cues from structural engineering. Hakes employed 3-D printing to produce an archless slip-on that spirals around the entire foot, using bridge-support principles. Rem D. Koolhaas—cofounder of the footwear company United Nude and nephew of starchitect Rem Koolhaas—trained in architecture and offers hybrid shoes based on classic chairs by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Charles and Ray Eames.
“When it comes to architectural concerns like support and load bearing, those kinds of structural issues are also particular to high heels,” Small says. She notes that the extreme heights reached on very thin heels only became possible through extruded-steel technology, the same stuff that keeps skyscrapers upright.
One surprising name that comes up in the architecture category is fashion designer Marc Jacobs. In the last decade, his label popularized the sideways-facing cantilevered heel, an architectural technique more commonly associated with Frank Lloyd Wright than with high fashion. The first cantilevered pumps, in fact, appeared in the 1920s, but Jacobs brought the style into the mainstream. “He’s looking back,” says Small, “but giving it a Pop twist.”
A version of this story originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 34 under the title “Alden Pinnell.”