For women who adore Roger Vivier for the brand's iconic buckled square-toed pump, the new show 'Virgule Etc: In the footsteps of Roger Vivier', at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, couldn't have come too soon. The first comprehensive exploration of the designer's work since 1987, 'Virgule Etc' is more exposition than exhibition, offering up a chronicle of Vivier footwear that mirrors the history of modern footwear as a whole.
The late designer was more than the right-hand man for Christian Dior in the mid-20th century, more than the alleged inventor of the first-ever stiletto in 1954. He was an architect of some of the world's greatest moments on heels, shoemaker of record for the coronation of Elizabeth II and Luis Buñuel's Belle de Jour.
Curator Olivier Saillard - with scenography by Jean-Julien Simonot - unspools this narrative within the context of a grand Victorian museum. Organising past collections by theme (high boots, sculptural heels, exotic skins, Plexiglas), Saillard has pinned his specimens like butterflies behind glass vitrines. Iconic heels like the Virgule and the Etrave are displayed like rare creations from the Prado or Louvre.
'No videos, no installations, no interactive platforms,' says the curator, 'because I think the rapport with an art piece is very personal and it should never be exposed to any external influence. I like that life scrolls through, captured in the eyes of the view of the visitor.'
Saillard commemorates a total of 170 Vivier styles in 50 windows across the gallery's Saut du Loup. Many of this century's beloved square-toed pumps by current creative director Bruno Frisoni get an airing - and some of his covetable Prismick bags and shoes have prime placement in the rotunda. Yet visitors will experience the biggest frisson ogling the designer's embroideries, scrupulously executed in sequins, feathers, crystals and tassels by the French houses Lesage and Rébé. These works of art evoke a particular time, place and mood - which really is the point of fashion history.
'Let's think about a shoe as an object of souvenir that draws on one's memories,' says Saillard. 'A shoe tells an epoch, a status, a story, a moment. Sometimes even more than a dress does because its nature lets the designer ignore the shape of the body.'
'Virgule' includes a room dedicated to sketches and collages by the designer. An iPhone application conceived by the gallery helps visitors navigate the vast exhibition.