After the Chloé. Attitudes exhibition (which I had the chance to work on), last year, the Palais de Tokyo, a Parisian contemporary art museum, continues its ‘Fashion Program’ with a new display dedicated to the French shoe brand, Roger Vivier.
Virgule, etc. Dans les pas de Roger Vivier (Comma, etc. In Roger Vivier’s footsteps) tells the story of the brand and honours its founder, from the 1930s to nowadays, with the help of about 140 objects curated by the Musée Galliera‘s director, Olivier Saillard. Most of the shoes come from the house’s very own patrimonial department enriched since 2002 and, particularly, with a large purchase, in 2011, during an auction sale. Some institutions have also lent artefacts: the Metropolitan Museum, the BATA Shoes Museum, the Galliera museum and the Romans Shoe museum that conserves Roger Vivier’s archives.
The display evokes a 19th century museum, a ‘cabinet de curiosités’, that presents its ‘exotic’ artefacts within archetypal glass cases, giving the impression of walking down the alleys of the Louvre museum. Rather than being presented following a chronological arrangements, Roger Vivier’s inspirations dictate the themes that organise the display, English painting, African Arts, Egyptian Department, Gallery of Post-impressionism…A nod to traditional museum’s topographies.
Each shoe is given an imaginary alternative name, borrowed from veritable art works, erasing boundaries between art and fashion, temporary display and cultural institution. A theme dear to the curator who refuses fashion exhibitions to be seen as something else than art exhibitions. Here, the function of the shoe is removed, remains an art piece with its very own narrative.
Why not treat these shoes as pieces of art when their designer himself would see them as sculptures? He invented new lines, new shapes that changed the face of shoe-making whilst he also gave much importance to adornments, relying on precious feathered décors, stones or embroideries made by the Lesage historical house. An inventor: he created the stiletto in 1954 and the comma-shaped heel (which the exhibition’s title refers to) in 1963. He took part in iconic historical events and cultural moments: drawing Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation shoes or Catherine Deneuve’s famous pumps for Luis Bunuel’s Belle de Jour film. Roger Vivier also collaborated with major couture houses, from Elsa Schiaparelli to Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior.
The scenography is quite simple and austere but I did appreciate this choice that enables the themes and the shoes to speak for themselves: no need to add anything more. Despite from a few collages and drawings by Roger Vivier and Bruno Frisoni, there are no interactive displays, no videos nor installations.
Olivier Saillard made the choice not to write any technical nor date informations on the labels accompanying the shoes in the cases, to prevent the visitor from giving too much importance to this practical data. Instead, he invites us to observe the shoe, to concentrate on its aesthetic and understand the inspiration behind…Difficult to make the difference between Roger Vivier’s designs (who died in 1998) and Bruno Frisoni’s creations who has taken over the house’s creative direction since 2002: it proves the continuity of the house’s history, something permanent in its aesthetic…However, no need to worry: you are given a booklet with all the precise informations you would like to know about the objects!
I do wonder, however, whether the hints within the themes and shoes’ titles may not bee a little too intellectual for the non-specialised visitor: would everyone get the fact that the scenography evokes a classical 19th century museological presentation? Are all the masterpieces’ titles acknowledged? Personally, I loved the idea but I’m not quite sure it is broad enough. And saying this, I wonder whether it is finally not a further form of education? Visitors, more than the shoe history, are also told about art movements and given names they may would want to know more about in the future…, no?
This exhibition could be a pure marketing exercise: a show about a particular brand proposed by this particular brand. However, because of Olivier Saillard’s strong and independent curatorial choices, the cultural and didactic feel of the display is, hopefully,what comes out most.
As a visitor, I always feel I can relate to shoe displays more easily than to clothing, probably because they are more accessible in terms of shapes and ‘wear’. Shoes ignore body shapes and sizes, they are more self-sufficient whilst they strongly tell the story of an era. There is something very personal and very universal at the same time with a shoe. And, that is why I find Olivier Saillard’s display so effective: each shoe communicates its sense of beauty and its technical approach of form while the thematic ensembles relate to universal inspirations, important art movements that place the shoes within a wider aesthetic discourse.
The exhibition runs until the 18th November at the Palais de Tokyo.
Fontanel, Sophie and Mouzat, Virginie. Roger Vivier. Paris: Rizzoli, 2013.
Melissa’s visit to the Bata Shoe Museum on this blog
Jenna’s interview of Shonagh Marshall for the Shoes for Show exhibition
Heather’s short history of Roger Vivier