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Boudoir Shoes, 1867. Made in Paris and designed by Francois Hubert Ponscarme. / Image: Phil Armstrong, Cincinnati Refined // Published: 3.1.21
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Love Shoes & History? Oh Boy, Does the Taft Museum Have Something For You

The Taft’s latest exhibit, Walk This Way: Footwear from the Stuart Weitzman Collection of Historic Shoes, opened this weekend. Featuring more than 100 pairs of shoes, the exhibit is a walk through 200 years of history.

Organized by the New-York Historical Society, this special exhibit of historic footwear from the collection of high-fashion shoe designer Stuart Weitzman is making its first appearance in the Midwest at our very own Taft Museum. Weitzman’s wife, Jane Gershon Weitzman, built the collection as a gift to her husband during their 50 years of marriage.

The oldest pair in the collection, a delicate, dainty pair of wedding slippers, dates from 1838; more contemporary pairs include the actual thigh-high, bright red “kinky boots” made for the star of the 2013 Broadway musical, Kinky Boots, and the platform heels worn by Tim Curry in the Rocky Horror Picture Show and designed by Terry de Haviland, who made shoes for none other than David Bowie. It’s fitting that these two pairs would be included, as heels were originally designed for men, all the way back in the tenth century! And this is just one of the many historical fun facts you will learn at Walk This Way.

The exhibit highlights how the business of shoes gave opportunities to women to work, and to become designers in their own right. From sturdy, practical shoes designed to carry suffragettes through the streets in protest, to glamourous sandals worn by movie queens, to fantastic Art Deco heels that were kicked up during the Roaring 20s when hemlines rose and fortunes fell, you’ll learn so much about the history of the shoe, and those who design, make, and wear them. Cincinnati has its own shoe history, which is highlighted in several panels; and “More to the Story” panels are also included throughout, giving insight into the often under told stories of BIPOC and the LGBTQ community.

A particularly special section of the exhibit is devoted to “The First Lady of Shoe Design,” Beth Levine, who ran Herbert Levine, Inc., and revolutionized women’s footwear with her gorgeous, yet comfortable, designs.

The museum has lots of special programming planned in conjunction with the exhibit. And if you’re not able to get there in person, you can explore it via docent-led virtual tours.

However you do it, you will want to make sure to experience Walk This Way as soon as you can. In the meantime, check out the gallery for a peek at some seriously fabulous footwear.

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Walk This Way is on view February 27–June 6, 2021 in the Fifth Third Gallery. For more information and to plan your visit, check the website.

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