The text below is the excerpt of the book Shoes (ASIN: B00IODLMWK), written by Marie-Josèphe Bossan, published by Parkstone International.
Aside from noticing a shoe for its comfort or elegance, contemporaries rarely take interest in this necessary object of daily life. However, the shoe is considerable in the history of civilization and art.
In losing contact with nature, we have lost sight of the shoe’s profound significance. In recapturing this contact, in particular through sports, we begin its rediscovery.
Shoes for skiing, hiking, hunting, football, tennis or horse-riding are carefully chosen, indispensable tools as well as revealing signs of occupation or taste.
In previous centuries, when people depended more on the climate, vegetation and condition of the soil, while most jobs involved physical labor, the shoe held an importance for everyone which today it holds for very few.
We do not wear the same shoes in snow as in the tropics, in the forest as in the steppe, in the swamps as in the mountains or when working, hunting or fishing. For this reason, shoes give precious indications of habitats and modes of life. In strongly hierarchical societies, organized by castes or orders, clothing was determinant.
Princesses, bourgeoisie, soldiers, clergy and servants were differentiated by what they wore. The shoe revealed, less spectacularly than the hat, but in a more demanding way, the respective brilliance of civilizations, unveiling the social classes and the subtlety of the race; a sign of recognition, just as the ring slips only on to the most slender finger, the “glass slipper” will not fit but the most delicate of beauties.
The shoe transmits its message to us by the customs which impose and condition it. It teaches us of the deformations that were forced on the feet of Chinese women and shows us how in India, by conserving the unusual boots, the nomadic horsemen of the North attained their sovereignty over the Indian continent; we learn that ice-skates evoke the Hammans while babouches suggest the Islamic interdiction to enter holy places with covered feet.
Sometimes the shoe is symbolic, evoked in ritual or tied to a crucial moment of existence. One tells of the purpose high-heels served: to make the woman taller on her wedding night in order to remind her that it is the only moment when she will dominate her husband.
We are what we wear, so if to ascend to a higher life it is necessary to ornate the head, if it becomes an issue of ease of movement, it is the feet that are suited for adornment.
Does the shoe therefore serve to transcend the foot, often considered as the most modest and least favored part of the human body? Occasionally, without a doubt, but not always. The barefoot is not always deprived of the sacred and, thus, can communicate this to the shoe. Those who supplicate or venerate the shoe are constantly throwing themselves at the feet of men; it is the feet of men who leave a trace on humid or dusty ground, often the only witness to their passage.
The rapid change in footwear, from both a design and manufacturing perspective, is perfectly illustrated by the careers of the most illustrious custom shoemakers: Andrea Pfister, Berlutti, Ferragamo, Massaro, and Yantorny. Each name represents a different trajectory, but all stand for devotion to excellence.
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