A New PEM Exhibit Beckons All Shoe Lovers

From art deco shapes to back-breaking heights, Shoes: Pleasure and Pain showcases the beautiful, bold, and wacky side of footwear.

shoes exhibit peabody essex museum

Photo courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum

The transformative power of a killer stiletto or flawless oxford is undeniable: the perfect shoe can shape our mood, identity, and even our status.

It is exactly this sentiment that drives the Peabody Essex Museum’s newest upcoming exhibit, Shoes: Pleasure and Pain, which showcases the creative and social impact behind some of history’s most exotic footwear designs.

The exhibit, which will open in November, is curated by London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Visitors will get the chance to view more than 300 pairs, ranging from intricate vintage pieces to cutting-edge contemporary works by Manolo Blahnik, Christian Louboutin, Jimmy Choo, and Prada. Alongside the creations of imminent designers, the exhibit will also feature 110 pairs from PEM’s own shoe collection, which is the largest of its kind in the country. In addition to its artistic significance, the collection traces the global evolution of footwear styles and celebrates New England as an important hub for shoe manufacturing.

shoes exhibit peabody essex museum

19th century toe-knob paduka, commonly worn at Indian weddings. / Photo courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum

Needless to say, the eye candy is spectacular. On display are lust-worthy designs worn by high-profile names including David Beckham, Elton John, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria, Kylie Minogue, and Daphne Guinness, as well as the iconic Gillie blue platform shoes worn by Naomi Campbell during her infamous 1993 runway fall. Modern masterpieces also make an appearance, highlighting the technological advancements that have made dramatic forms and ever-elevated heels possible. Notable works include Zaha Hadid’s Nova shoe constructed from rubber, fiberglass, and leather, and featuring a 6+ unsupported heel (yikes).

shoes exhibit peabody essex museum

The Nova shoe (2013). / Photo courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum

Still, the exhibit explores the idea that the value of shoes is more than hide deep. Viewers are invited to contemplate the power and role of shoes in sparking self-confidence, personal style, and cross-cultural conversation.


Shoes: Pleasure and Pain will be on display November 19, 2016, to March 12, 2017, at the Peabody Essex Museum. The museum will hold a special opening day festival, free with admission, that includes a pop-up sneaker exhibition, guest speakers, and adult workshops.