SALEM, MA – The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) presents Shoes: Pleasure and Pain, an exhibition organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London that explores the creative potential, cultural significance and transformative power of footwear through more than 300 pairs, ranging from elaborate vintage designs to cutting-edge contemporary works by Manolo Blahnik, Christian Louboutin, Jimmy Choo and Prada. Examples from famed shoe collectors are shown alongside a dazzling range of works from PEM’s shoe collection, the largest of its kind in the country, many of which have never been displayed before. Shoes: Pleasure and Pain offers a global perspective on footwear fashion and tracks the latest developments in technology that open the possibility of ever higher heels and more dramatic shapes. The exhibition makes its U.S. debut at PEM with an Opening Day Festival on November 19, 2016 and runs through March 12, 2017.

“Our feet are what ground us and help us move through the world,” says Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, PEM’s James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes Deputy Director and coordinating curator for the exhibition. “The shoes that we choose for walking are not just about protecting our feet. They project our mood, our identity and our place in the world. By altering stature, posture and gait, shoes signal to the world how you feel about yourself and want to be perceived by others.”


The exhibition is organized by the themes – Transformation, Status, Seduction, Creation and Obsession – and features shoes worn by high profile figures such as David Beckham, Elton John, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria, Kylie Minogue and Daphne Guinness, as well as the now infamous blue platforms worn by Naomi Campbell during her runway fall in 1993. Works from the V&A’s superlative shoe collection are complemented by 110 pairs from PEM’s collection, including historic shoes that pay tribute to New England as a meaningful center for shoe manufacture and design.

"Shoes are about the personal creativity of the designer and the person who wears that shoe,” says Hartigan. “It's a partnership between two people who likely never meet. You can make something wonderful, but if someone doesn't respond to it, there is something incomplete about the act. Creation is about communication."

Fashion often conjures thoughts of creativity in our own life and can serve as a conversation-starter about personal style. In the Status section of the exhibition, for instance, visitors may ask themselves about the role of power and shoes, what someone feels and becomes when they put on a pair of tall boots or a high heel.

“A woman in heels is important because she’s elevated,” says Hartigan, adding, “There are many conversations today about women viewing shoes as an expression of power. A high heel makes you feel stronger, and yet, what those heels do to women’s feet and backs is cause for concern and can be disempowering in the long run.”



The fashion world is always pushing boundaries, and shoes are no exception. The late British architect, Zaha Hadid, designed the distinctive Nova shoe in 2013. Constructed from rubber, fiberglass and leather, with an unsupported 6+ inch heel, the Nova marked a radical departure from traditional shoe fabrication. Using rotation-moulding, the seamless form unites the sole, heel and upper around an internal cantilever system. Futuristic and swirling with energy, the shoe is also noted for its comfort and wearability.


Shoes: Pleasure and Pain embraces the advancements in shoe technology prompting questions about the future of material, manufacture and gender division in footwear while also celebrating extraordinary examples of historic footwear, ranging from Chinese lotus shoes made for bound feet and 19th-century towering platform Qabâqib from Egypt, to men’s gilded suede shoes and noisy slap-sole shoes worn in 17th-century Europe.


PEM’s fashion collection continues to grow through recent museum acquisitions, some of which are featured in the exhibition, including ensembles from the Iris Apfel collection and late Boston style maven, Marilyn Riseman. In the Obsessions section, Apfel and Riseman’s collecting prowess is accompanied by items from noted North Shore collectors, Lillian Bohlen and Jimmy Raye.  

Each of these collectors choose shoes that reflect their own sense of personal style. While Bohlen’s shoes from her carefully curated and organized closet are of a rainbow palette, Riseman’s collection aligns with her iconic black, white and red wardrobe palate. Apfel is not only an avid collector of shoes but has also worked closely with designers to create custom pairs, made to her own specifications and creative vision. Meanwhile, Raye, a former Boston Ballet dancer, is drawn to footwear that speaks to the distinctly physical way he inhabits the world.


Shoes: Pleasure and Pain is the most recent offering from PEM’s fashion initiative, undertaken as the next chapter for one of the country’s leading collections of historic costumes and textiles from around the world. PEM’s fashion initiative began in 2009 with Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel, followed by Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones in 2012, Future Beauty: Avant-Garde Japanese Fashion in 2013 and Native Fashion Now in 2015, and major acquisitions of 20th and 21st-century fashion.


During the run of Shoes: Pleasure and Pain, the PEM Shop will be transformed into a shoe emporium, featuring more than 80 shoe designs for men and women, representing 20 designers from 15 different countries – from Italy and Germany to Pakistan and Colombia – including several designs commissioned exclusively for the store.


PEM is partnering with Dress for Success Boston for a two week shoe drive during the run of the exhibition. Dress for Success Boston empowers women to be economically independent, by providing a network of support, professional attire and the development tools to help them thrive in work and in life. The shoe drive for professional women’s shoes will run from November 16 - November 27, 2016 at PEM with the support of the museum’s Fashion Visiting Committee. More information available at:  


TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 15 | 5:30PM COCKTAIL RECEPTION| 6:00PM REMARKS & EXHIBITION TOUR Please join us for a cocktail reception and exhibition press preview of Shoes: Pleasure and Pain with PEM’s James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes Deputy Director and coordinating exhibition curator, Lynda Roscoe Hartigan. RSVP to Paige Besse at or 978-542-1646.


High-resolution publicity images and captions are available upon request.


POP-UP EXHIBITION: Sneaker Museum | 10 am–4:30 pm | Atrium

Established in Boston in 2012, the Sneaker Museum was founded on the belief that the convergence of sneakers and culture marks a pivotal juncture in contemporary history. Check out a superb selection of sneakers from its distinguished private collection.

DROP-IN ART MAKING: Shoe Memory Board | 10 am–4 pm | Atrium

Share your best (or your worst!) shoe experiences. Compose a story, sketch an image or write a poem about that pair of shoes you will never forget.

ADULT WORKSHOP: Elements of Shoe Design | 10–11:30 am | Studio 1, Create Space

Join footwear artist Malika Green for a morning of exploration to create innovative shoe designs. Leave with fun sketches and a better understanding of the work process of a designer. Reservations by November 18.

CLINIC: Walking in Style | 10:30–11:45 am | Morse Auditorium

How does one choose the perfect pair of shoes? Walk in high heels? Navigate society’s pressure to wear uncomfortable shoes? Join us for this fascinating session to probe the relationship of shoes to one’s body, health and fashion sense. Presenters include Jimmy Raye, former Boston ballet dancer and collector of fashion; Cynthia Carr Gardner, a stylist whose clients have included Katie Couric; and Dr. Jordana Szpiro, a Boston-based podiatrist. Moderated by Jay Calderin, fashion designer and founder of Boston Fashion Week. Reservations by November 18. Recommended for ages 14 and up.

ART MAKING: DIY Tap Shoes |11–11:30 am and 1–1:30 pm | Atrium

Turn any shoe into a tap shoe! Using simple materials, create your own taps so you can dance in style.

DEMONSTRATION AND INSTRUCTION: Shall We Dance? | Noon–12:30 and 2–2:30 pm | Atrium

Professional dancer Ryan Casey, known for his “freakishly clean footwork … reminiscent of Fred Astaire” (Dance Magazine), demonstrates his fabulous style and shares tips to get you tapping, too!  

WORKSHOP: Defying the Sneaker Tradition | 12:30–2 pm | Studio 1, Create Space  

Explore alternative footwear constructions and materials with award-winning sneaker designer Helen Kirkum. Reservations by November 18.  Recommended for ages 14 and up.

CONVERSATION: The Fashion and Culture of Shoes | 1–2 pm | Morse Auditorium

Join a fast-paced conversation with our fashion world thought leaders and collectors: Helen Persson, organizing curator of Shoes: Pleasure and Pain and Senior Curator of Textiles at the Swedish History Museum; Thom Solo, Boston-based, award-winning shoe designer for Lady Gaga and Katy Perry; Cynthia Carr Gardner, stylist to the stars; and Lillian Montalto Bohlen, shoe collector extraordinaire. Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, PEM’s James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes Deputy Director, and a shoe maven since childhood, moderates this conversation, sure to explore the transformative power of shoes as fashion statements and expressions of cultural and individual identity.  Reservations by November 18.  Recommended for ages 14 and up.

DEMONSTRATION: Shoe Making in Action | 1:30–4 pm | Atrium  

Observe footwear artist Malika Green as she proceeds through each painstaking step to create her stunning handmade shoes. One pair can take up to 200 hours!

ART MAKING: Charm-ing Shoe Accessories | 2–4 pm | Studio 2, Create Space

Are your shoes missing a little something? Jazz them up with shoe charms that you can clip or tie to your laces.  

CONVERSATION: Let Your Sole Speak | 3–4 pm | Morse Auditorium

Sneakers remain universal accessories that everyone can relate to. Join our experts to explore the thriving sneaker culture, its social history and design innovations. Presenters include Rick Kosow, founder of the Sneaker Museum; Dee Wells, curator of the Sneaker Museum and founder of Obsessive Sneaker Disorder, the longest-running sneaker podcast; and European sneaker designer Helen Kirkum. Moderated by Jay Calderin, founder of Boston Fashion Week and director of creative marketing at the School of Fashion Design, Boston. Reservations by November 18.  Recommended for ages 14 and up.


The 176-page hardcover edition of Shoes: Pleasure & Pain, published by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and Harry N. Abrams, is available through the PEM Shop and online at Featuring extensive new photography, this is a beautiful and authoritative guide to the history and culture of footwear.


Exhibition organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Carolyn A. and Peter S. Lynch and The Lynch Foundation provided generous support. The East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum provided additional support.


Magic 106.7Boston Spirit




  • Sebastian Errazuriz, “The Golddigger,” “The Heartbreaker,” and “The Boss,” from the “12 Shoes for 12 Lovers” collection, 2013, 3D-printed acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene polymer, resin, and acrylic. Museum purchase, 2015, Peabody Essex Museum. © 2016 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Kathy Tarantola.
  • Coxton Shoe Company Limited, England, shoes, about 1925, suede, gilded leather, and leather. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
  • Zaha Hadid, for United Nude, “Nova,” 2013, rubber, fiberglass, and leather. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
  • Women’s paduka, 1800–1900 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Over the last 20 years, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) has distinguished itself as one of the fastest-growing art museums in North America. Founded in 1799, it is also the country’s oldest continuously operating museum. At its heart is a mission to enrich and transform people's lives by broadening their perspectives, attitudes and knowledge of themselves and the wider world. PEM celebrates outstanding artistic and cultural creativity through exhibitions, programming and special events that emphasize cross-cultural connections, integrate past and present and underscore the vital importance of creative expression. The museum's collection is among the finest of its kind boasting superlative works from around the globe and across time -- including American art and architecture, Asian export art, photography, maritime art and history, Native American, Oceanic and African art. PEM's campus affords a varied and unique visitor experience with hands-on creativity zones, interactive opportunities and performance spaces. Twenty-four noted historic structures grace PEM’s campus, including Yin Yu Tang, a 200-year-old Chinese house that is the only such example of Chinese domestic architecture on display in the United States, and the Phillips Library, which holds one of the nation’s most important museum-based collections of rare books and manuscripts. HOURS: Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 am-5 pm, and the third Thursday of every month until 9 pm. Closed Mondays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. ADMISSION: Adults $20; seniors $17; students $12. Additional admission to Yin Yu Tang: $5. Members, youth 16 and under and residents of Salem enjoy free general admission and free admission to Yin Yu Tang. INFO: Call 866-745-1876 or visit

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