He invented the stiletto, created the coronation pumps for Queen Elizabeth and made sure Dior women were elegant from head to toe. Shoe guru Roger Vivier saw the shoe as a sculpture and treated it like a work of art. This won him customers from Marlene Dietrich to John Lennon, Brigitte Bardot to Catherine Deneuve. Now, Paris fashion is paying overdue homage to him, with a witty show at the Palais de Tokyo.
Virgule, Etc. takes its name from Vivier’s famous virgule (“comma”) heel. When he left Maison Dior to found his own company, Vivier became known for the funky curve. Although the exposition celebrates all his innovations, it also marks the 50th birthday of the Vivier company. Operating today under Bruno Frisoni, who took over in 2003, the house boasts Inès de la Fressange as “ambassador.” The show, however, is curated by Olivier Saillard—the director of Paris fashion museum Palais Galliera.
In smoky, mirrored decor by Jean-Julien Simonot, Saillard gives us a very amusing show. Pumps, stilettos and slippers strut their stuff behind sparkling glass, lit like museum pieces and literally classified as art. Vitrines are labeled as “Galleries” or “Schools” and each shoe is titled as if it were a painting or sculpture. Fanciful slippers are grouped in “The Corridor of English Paintings” or “The Gallery of Post-Impressionists.” It’s clear this footwear is an object of desire.
Some of the shoes on show are very winsome creations. Others are jaw-droppingly gorgeous. You can see Bardot’s sweet gingham slipper, thigh-high boots (cuissardes) in jewel-like satins and plenty of special commissions for the likes of Liz Taylor. Most of the items were made for models or movie stars but a special few were created just for men. Those clients included Cecil Beaton and Cary Grant.
A wide array of luxury materials were used for the shoes: straw, feathers, embroideries, jewellery, hand-painting, lace, satin, silk and crystal. But what’s most impressive is their maker’s structural savvy (Vivier saw himself primarily as an architect). All exude a perfect sense of balance and, in a nice surprise, all are perfectly wearable. Lovers of costume history won’t be disappointed either. These shoes recall every epoch of French fashion, painting and style—from before the Sun King right through the swinging ’60s.
In short: Although it’s kept a low profile, this is one of the year’s best shows. Be sure you make some time for it; after all, it’s right across the road from Palais Galliera. Besides, the Palais de Tokyo is open until midnight. You’ll have no excuse for missing out.
Virgule, Etc. runs until November 18, 2013.