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From high fashion, to sneaker collecting, to the perfect finish for haberdashery, people love shoes. For street use, footwear is a discipline that requires the merging of aesthetics and design; no matter how well they work as vehicles for self-expression, they simply cannot serve as accessories if they are not also, to some degree, functional. Thus, shoes are the perfect subject for the College of Creative Studies' Valade Family Gallery, which emphasizes curriculum with a blend of fine art inspiration, commercial application, and industrial execution. Shoetopia!, their new exhibition on view through December 16th and curated by Aki Choklat, Chair of Fashion Accessories Design, showcases a range of shoes as art objects—and in some cases, materials—blending work from a range of designers at the cutting edge of the industry with that of past and present CCS students.

Shoes 4 12L: "Chewing Gum," Kobi Levi, 2009 R: "Audacity of Huge," Chris Francis, 2016

Choklat is an international shoe designer in his own right, with teaching credentials from some of the world’s most influential fashion cities, and the author of numerous books on fashion and footwear design. Choklat assembled a panel of well-heeled footwear mavens and makers, The Future of Footwear, which took place on Thursday, November 2nd, during the exhibition’s opening weekend festivities. The panel included Liza Snook, founder of the Virtual Shoe Museum; Janne Kyttänen, CEO of VC firm What the Future; “rock star” shoe designer and maker Chris Francis (who has some of his designs on display in the show); and industry innovator Chris Donovan. 

“We tried to cover everything possible that relates to footwear futures,” said Choklat, during his introductory remarks. This includes specialists in craft, 3D printing technologies—including knitted printing, a curator, an established designer, and one set to launch his debut collection.

ST3“I’ve always had a passion for shoes, from the moment I could walk,” said Snook. “I started collecting everything about shoes 25 years ago,” including postcards, books, actual shoes, and miniatures shoes. In 2004, Snook parlayed this interest into a digital realm, and the Virtual Shoe Museum has since become a vanguard institution for the presentation of unconventional and eye-catching shoe design. Snook’s interest in shoes in a virtual realm introduces the notion of shoes as objects, rather than usable accessories, which is a good framework for an exhibition that presents a huge gamut of shoes, from patent leather to patently unwearable—for example, Audacity of Huge, a selection from Chris Francis’s 2016 “10 Acts of Brutalism” collection, which casts some of his elaborate “shoe-machines” (which often incorporate industrial elements, like airplane parts) in cement.

“When I did the collection, I was sort of frustrated with the industry, putting emphasis on the wearability of these art designs,” said Francis. “So I thought it was kind of funny to make these high heels that were too heavy to ever be worn in a conventional sense.” In “Shoetopia!” the shoe functions not only as an aesthetic object, but as a primary process or material for larger works, including video pieces that feature performative footwear, and sculptural works that combine shoes into different configurations, such as a throne and a pair of wall-hanging masks by Willie Cole, who will present a talk as part of the Woodward Lecture Series on November 16th that is open to the public. Cole transforms ordinary domestic objects into works of art, embedded with references to the African-American experience and inspired by West African culture. 

Whether you are interested in shoe design, 3D technology, performance art, shoes as materials, fashion as art, or simply feasting on some fun and funky eye candy in the form of a kaleidoscope of diverse and wild shoe ideas, “Shoetopia!” is a fun destination. As the selections from students that are included in the collection aptly prove, CCS has already hit the ground running in establishing itself as an institution to promote innovation in accessories design, and will no doubt continue to make great strides!

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All photos courtesy of Sarah Rose Sharp.

"Shoetopia!," an exhibition on the art and design of shoes, remains on display through December 16th at the Valade Family Gallery at CCS. Willie Cole's lecture is presented in conjunction with “Shoetopia!” and will take place in the Anderson Auditorium, Walter B. Ford II Building, CCS Ford Campus, on Thursday, November 16th, from 6:30-7:30 pm.

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