September 2009

Art Nouveau

image of Barrette Boots
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Art Nouveau
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I am going outside the “shoe of the month model” with this month’s podcast but you’ve forgiven me for it before in this series and I could not single out one shoe from this little trio, how would the other two feel?

These pink leather court shoes make a beautiful grouping because they all illustrate the fanciful Art Nouveau decoration that was popular at the turn of the 20th century.  While the shoes are all very simple in construction, at the throat they each feature unique, elaborate embroidery and cut-work. (1)

The name 'Art nouveau' is French for 'new art', it was an international movement that approached art and design as a lifestyle, making art a part of everyday life by breaking down the barriers between fine arts and applied arts like architecture and decorative arts.  It is characterized by organic, floral and other plant-inspired motifs, as well as highly-stylized, flowing curvilinear forms. (2) At the peak of the period around the turn of the 20th century, it was possible to live in an art nouveau-inspired house with art nouveau furniture, silverware, and crockery while wearing art nouveau inspired clothing, shoes and jewellery.

The women that would have worn these shoes would have been wealthy, fashionable and liberal.  They would have been keen on the increasing mobility that women enjoyed outside the home and would have been perfectly tailored in their day suits and evening gowns.  These shoes were designed and made by Bally, a Swiss shoe manufacturing giant that manufactures beautifully crafted leather shoes for the upper-middle class.  The company was started by Carl Franz Bally in 1850 when he was smitten by a pair of decorated slippers, he bought several pairs for his wife and when he returned home he switched his company to shoe manufacture from elastic suspenders.  In the early 1900s women’s fashion was a 24 hour concern, they needed to be perfectly turned out during the day and in the evening.  This was of great joy to fashion industrialists like Bally whose clients would purchase high quality shoes for their daily activities and then further pairs for their evening pursuits.

In 1904 when these shoes were manufactured, the simple woman’s pump was the common shoe style for both evening and daytime and it was merely the vamp materials and decoration that differentiated the two styles.  The pump is characterized by its simple, solid, closed-toe construction.  Pumps are slip-on shoes and don’t feature extraneous straps like the bar and t-strap shoes of the 1920s, heels can be any height but in the early 1900s heels were generally about 2 inches in height with the odd 3 inch heeled performance shoe. 

I think the reason that I like these shoes so much is that they remind me of an elegant time where women of a certain age and social status dressed themselves from head to toe.  I also like that this photograph conjures a mental image of three women sitting at a bistro table talking and enjoying each other’s company, if we were to lift the corner of the tablecloth we’d see three pairs of toes facing each other as though they were enjoying the conversation as much as their wearer’s.