April Book Review: Beth Levine Shoes

1965, Designed by Katharina Denzinger for Herbert Levine. Metropolitan Museum of Art, CI.1965, Designed by Katharina Denzinger for Herbert Levine. Metropolitan Museum of Art, CI.

It’s been quite a few months since I’ve had the opportunity to write any book reviews. I’m sorry to say, I’ve been more than a little distracted by various projects (which I’ll be sure to tell you about when they’re finished!). So this month, I’ll be highlighting some new books – available for the month of April. Here’s the first of several.

Beth Levine Shoes (by Helene Verin, with an introduction by Met Museum Curator Harold Koda) is the first major work to discuss the work of this innovative American designer since her death, at age 91 in 2006 (NYTimes Obituary). Verin is, according to the Amazon page “an adjunct professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, where she lives, and is a recognized expert on Beth Levine.” The only other work to focus on Levine in recent history is a thesis dissertation by Vanessa Arlak in 2008, also at F.I.T. (titled “Beth Levine: the first lady of shoes“).

Personally, I did some research in conjunction with a lecture I did on the history of shoes – also in 2006. Levine was best known for her work with husband Herbert during the “Pop Art” movement of the 1960s. Beth Levine had worked at I. Miller in the 1940s and Herbert Levine was a salesman and shoe designer. The two married in 1950 and started their own company. Constantly experimenting, they created Aladdin-like shoes, sports car shoes, and all-in-one stocking boots. They tried new materials constantly and created futuristic slippers of suede and silver Mylar. They experimented with ultra suede, Astro-turf, unusual animal hides like frog skin, and woods typically used for furniture (including beech and mahogany).

Their clients included Bette Davis, Barbra Streisand, and Angela Lansbury. The Levine’s designed Liza Minnelli’s red sequined wedding shoes as well as Nancy Sinatra’s boots “made for walking.”

Nancy Sinatra in Beth Levine's boots.

The duo also created shoes for fashion designers including Halston, Adolfo and Geoffrey Beene. Over their long career, they won two Coty American Fashion Critics awards and a Neiman Marcus Award. They worked through 1975 and in 1976 the Metropolitan Museum of Art held a retrospective of
Levine shoes. Herbert Levine died at the age of 75 in August of 1991.

Though I’ve not physically seen the book yet – it promises to be a valuable resource to those interested in 1960s pop art and design, and both shoe and fashion history. The official website for the book offers more information on the designer, author, and interior images. Another review is also available here.

Verin also curated an exhibition, “Beth Levine: First Lady of Shoes” that is due to open April 18 at the Dutch Leather and Shoe Museum (set to run through September 13, 2009).

To get an idea of some of the amazing work done by the Levine’s (and possibly featured in this book), here are a few of her amazing designs:

1968, Kyoto Costume Institute (Japan)

1968, Kyoto Costume Institute (Japan)

1967, Bata Shoe Museum (Canada)

1967, Bata Shoe Museum (Canada)

1959, Bata Shoe Museum (Canada)

1959, Bata Shoe Museum (Canada)

1968, Metropolitan Museum of Art, CI

1968, Metropolitan Museum of Art, CI

mid-1960s, Metropolitan Museum of Art, CI

mid-1960s, Metropolitan Museum of Art, CI

1959, Metropolitan Museum of Art, CI

1959, Metropolitan Museum of Art, CI

1968, Metropolitan Museum of Art, CI

1968, Metropolitan Museum of Art, CI

1964, LACMA

1964, LACMA

For a good deal more (over 100), take a look at the Met, Costume Institute collection of Herbert and Beth Levine Shoes. Other online collections used in this post include:

Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Bata Shoe Museum.

and

Kyoto Costume Institute.

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4 Comments

  • saskia April 15, 2009 01.29 pm

    Heather, one of the best non-review reviews I’ve read, lol (considering you are not actually reviewing the book itself)! I loved looking at these creative shoes and this article definitely sparked my interest to look at the book!

     
  • Heather Vaughan April 15, 2009 01.45 pm

    Saskia – Thanks for the note! Yeah, I wish I had gotten the book but well..the economy being what it is getting books in hand is somewhat difficult. But you’re right – it’s more of a notice than a review. I hope to have copies in hand though for some of my upcoming book reviews.

     
  • fancy footwork « the republic of less
    August 3, 2010 - 12:27 am

  • joseph quattrochi jr. January 25, 2011 08.26 pm

    i personally have had contact with this wonderfull lady. beth sent me some of her kubuki shoe bottoms and spoke to me about getting started rejuvvenating her line.
    she was trying to figure out how she was going to ship me her designs that were in her storage unit.
    her death! what unfortunate timeing. she was the real deal and would help inspire any one in shoemaking. i hope she is looking over me now that she is in heaven.
    i loved speaking to her about design concepts. god bless you beth and may you rest in peace with herbert.
    joeyshoes

     

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