April 2009


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These pale pink silk shoes were designed by Roger Vivier in 1963, the same year that he opened his own boutique in Paris.(1) They were chosen for this series because they are unique while also being elegant and refined which is not often an easy pairing. Their striking silhouette combined with his use of luminous silk and jeweled throat decoration creates a pair of shoes that would be at home on the feet of many an impressive woman.

Some of the most sought-after shoes of the mid 20th century were created by Parisian shoemaker Roger Vivier, who was born in1907. Although Vivier frequently allowed the architecture of his shoes to be their dominant feature, he did from time to time, indulge his penchant for extravagant embellishments. (2) Beads, lace, embroidery, pearls and rhinestones were employed by Vivier in the creation of his most glamorous designs. This penchant for decoration is why he is known as the ‘Fabergé of shoes’.

Initially drawn to art, Vivier studied sculpture at the École des Beaux Arts in the 1920s before embracing the opportunity to learn shoemaking while working for the design houses (and exclusive clientele) of Francois Pinet, Bally, Rayne, I Miller and Delman. Like many other designers, World War II put his shoemaking career on hold for several years. By 1953, however, Vivier’s career was in full swing again and he designed the shoes worn by Queen Elizabeth at her coronation, it was also in this year that he entered a partnership with Christian Dior to produce all of the great designer’s footwear.

After Dior’s death in 1957, Vivier continued to design for the house of Dior but in1963 he set out on his own to open his Parisian boutique on rue Francois Premier. Roger Vivier’s experimentation with stiletto heels, along with his pilgrim buckle shoes and thigh high boots set trends that defined the fashions of the era. Vivier worked well into his 80s and throughout his illustrious career, always strove for perfection. Many of his innovations, such as the stiletto heel, are as important in fashion today as when he first introduced them.

This particular Vivier creation is a special artifact in the Bata Shoe Museum’s holdings because it was purchased at auction from the collection of the Chrysler Museum whose fashion collection was hand-collected by Mrs. Jean Outland-Chrysler, wife of Walter P. Chrysler Jr.

One look at this pair of shoes and you can see immediately why they are special. They feature one of Vivier’s most recognized innovations; the comma heel, also called the virgulo heel. (3) This elegant heel is made from a curved piece of steel that offers the illusion that the stiletto heel is gently bending, this heel was so popular that it was re-introduced in the 1980s. Roger Vivier proved in the 1960s that he was extremely responsive to cultural shifts and was able to initiate enduring fashion trends; a talent that would persist throughout his life.

Often when I come across a truly special pair of shoes in our collection, I am struck with sadness that contemporary designers are not looking back at shoe history for inspiration. This is very true of how I feel about this pair, luckily enough; the design house of Roger Vivier is now headed by Bruno Frisoni who has introduced the world to his own designs while re-introducing us to some of Vivier’s most beautiful and enduring shoe styles.