The first time I saw the BATA Shoe Museum in Toronto my thought was ‘Really? A museum just for shoes?’ I had been curious about it since. When I finally managed to visit there I was pleasantly surprised at the history behind the humble shoe. With over a thousand shoes and related artifacts on display this museum has everything you may ever want to know about shoes.
It starts with the discovery of preserved footprints made 3,70,00,000 years ago in Tanzania and covers every historic development of shoes there has ever been. I won’t make this a history class but it’s kinda hard to do that when you’re blogging about a museum. However, keeping it short and simple, the museum tracks the importance, design and functions of shoes in Egypt, Greece & Rome, India, Africa, China and Europe.
From here it moves on to shoes across eras such as the Renaissance, Tudor, Baroque & Rococo as well as religious beliefs like Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Shinto.
The museum displays the remarkable transformation in women’s footwear that happened during the first three decades of the twentieth century. This is when shoes increasingly became a fashion focus and the designs began to show the changing desires of the modern age.
Shoes have also been incorporated into various art forms over the ages. A large collection of Bristolware ceramic pieces in the shape of shoes adorns the steps leading to the next floor. Here you will see a lot of interesting footwear, like a pair donated by Drake which he wore on the European leg of his ‘Boy Meets World Tour’, tall qabaqib that women wore to elevate themselves above the hot floors of the hammams in many Islamic countries, sleek prototypes created for the House of Dior by Roger Vivier, traditional Masai sandals and many, many more.
The floor above will give you an insight into the traditional Arctic footwear from Greenland, Canada, Alaska, Eastern & Western Siberia. It is fascinating to see the use of grass, fur and animal skin in the making of these fine pieces of history which are so well preserved at the BSM.
And finally the top floor of the museum which houses a travelling exhibition of MANOLO BLAHNIK: THE ART OF SHOES. This floor is almost like walking into the mind of Manolo Blahnik himself. His drawings hang on the wall which come to life right next to them. These give you a deeper understanding of his creative process which is often guided by very specific obsessions rooted in his passion for literature, film and history. Even as a woman who looks at shoes solely from the perspective of comfort and functionality, I found myself drooling over some of his creations. It was spectacular.