The Gold Standard: Glittering Footwear from Around the Globe
The Gold Standard: Glittering Footwear from Around the Globe is the newest exhibition at The Bata Shoe Museum. This exhibit takes a deep dive at how footwear has factored into humanity’s obsession with gold throughout civilization. Do you remember the theft of the lavish jewelled slippers from the museum in 2006? Well, you get to see them up close.
The Gold Standard starts in antiquity and takes us right up to the present day. We see the progression of gold footwear from being the domain of gods and human rulers to a more egalitarian approach to ownership. This progression highlights the changes in footwear making techniques over the centuries from bespoke to the mass market.
The exhibit opens with a pair of winged Jeremy Scott x Adidas sneakers which perfectly dovetails into the section on antiquity by invoking thoughts of the Ancient Greek messenger god, Hermes. In ancient Egypt, both the gods and rulers wore gold footwear. They placed solid gold sandals in tombs for wearing in the afterlife, the most famous of them being Tutankhamun's. The Greeks depicted gods, Hermes and Athena, in golden sandals, but wealth could get the non-divine a pair.
Byzantine Christian art used gold to emphasize holiness and often portrayed the Virgin Mary wearing red shoes with gold embellishments. Footwear for ecclesiastical use would follow Mary's lead.
The case for gold in Chinese shoes focuses on Golden Lotus, a term used by Jin Lian (late 19th century) to describe the ideal measure of women's feet, 3 inches. Here were see examples of red shoes with gold embellishments created for women with bound feet. In Japan, gold has strong associations with Buddhism, earthly power, privilege, purity and longevity. Gold is paired with auspicious symbols, like cranes, on footwear and used for special occasions or Shinto celebrations.
We can't talk about gold without visiting India. Gold is an expression of spirituality and splendour. Gold footwear is essential to royalty and plays a significant part on special occasions like weddings. Spend a bit of time here looking at the gold mojari embroidered with gold metal thread, sequins, rubies, diamonds and emeralds. The artistry and patience required to create these works of art is evident and it's easy to see why someone might run away with them given the right opportunity.
The back wall of the exhibit focuses on the metal and the materials that go into creating gold footwear. We find historical information and examples of how shoemakers used gold beads, sequins, thread, leaf and gilded leather in footwear.
Myanmar is the Golden Land because of its use of gold in art and Buddhist temples. It's not surprising that gold is essential in royal clothing. Here we see exquisite examples using gold and bird imagery.
Ghana is called The Gold Coast due to its involvement with trade from the 8th century onwards. The Paramount chiefs of the Akan use gold sandals as the essential expression of their status.
Chopines embellished with gold braid were a fundamental expression of wealth to Italian families in the Renaissance. The 18th century focused on silk footwear that incorporated gold thread in the large-scale motifs of the time. In the 19th century, men refrained from publicly wearing gold embellishments but behind closed doors they got a little wild with gold accents on their slippers.
Gilded leather footwear was all the rage in the 1930s despite the economic conditions. Gold shoes were promoted to the wealthy as neutrals and designed to go with every outfit. The 1960s brought us the hippie movement and influence of Indian gold. Finally, we arrive at the present day where gold footwear is still most commonly worn by wealthy women. However, we see that gold is slowly creeping into men's shoes with the explosion of the athleisure market.
The Gold Standard: Glittering Footwear from Around the Globe is on display all throughout 2018. If you can't make it down to Toronto be sure to check out Bata's streaming smart guide where you can listen to audio guide and view photos.