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A Shoe Lover’s Guide to the World

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Fabulous footwear doesn’t have to be worn to be appreciated. If you love shoes, you can indulge that passion for fashion in unusual ways almost anywhere you travel. Here is our special guide to some previously hidden or lesser known spots for shoe lovers by our resident shoe fanatic, contributing writer Lea Donosky.

Brooklyn Museum, New York City

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Run, if you can, to catch “KillerHeels: The Art of the High Heel Shoe” exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, which ends on February 15, 2015. The Museum has gathered fashion’s most provocative accessory from across the centuries and from around the world—Italian platforms chopines from the 1500s and shoes that just walked the runway and the red carpet. Along with signature red-soled Christian Louboutins like the ones shown above, designers and design houses represented include Manolo Blahnik, Chanel, Salvatore Ferragamo, Prada, Alexander McQueen, and Vivienne Westwood. The exhibit includes six specially commissioned short films inspired by high heels.

Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago

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“Sue,” the largest, best-preserved and most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex ever found may be the main attraction at The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. But shoe lovers shouldn’t miss the Wall of Shoes. Children especially will love “Common Concerns, Different Responses,” which provides an around-the-world view of footwear protection—firefighter boots, tiny Chinese silk shoes for bound feet, and the Nikes of Chicago Bulls basketball great Michael Jordan. Jordan’s size 13s may look big, but they wouldn’t even cover one of Sue’s toes.

Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, Florence

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Rotating exhibits are showcased in the basement of the beautiful, 19th century Ferragamo Palace, which also houses the flagship store of this family-owned Italian luxury goods company. The late Salvatore Ferragamo was known as the “Shoemaker to the Stars” for his work in Hollywood in the 1920s. Among his famous clients were Rita Hayworth, Sophia Loren, and Audrey Hepburn. Famous for his wedge-shaped platform shoes, he also invented the cork wedge, originally made from wine bottle corks. How Italian of him!

Manolo Blahnik Shop, London

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See where the magic started at the very first Manolo Blahnik store, which also continues to be a London cobbler’s workplace. The devotion of Sarah Jessica Parker’s character in HBO’s popular Sex and the City series to her Manolos made the designer a household name in the late 1990s. But two decades earlier, fashionistas began making the pilgrimage to 49-51 Old Church Street, in London’s Chelsea section. They were drawn to his “comfortable” but classic and sexy high heels, which Madonna once described as “better than sex.  They last longer.” After visiting the shop, you can walk a couple of blocks south for a picturesque and uncrowded stroll along the Thames River.

Manrika Shoe Museum, Manila

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More than 700 pairs of size 8 1/2s are on display at the Marinka Shoe Museum in Manila, capital of the Philippines. That represents less than a third of the shoes once owned by Imelda Marcos, wife of the deposed Philippine dictator. Sorry, but you won’t find any of her bullet-proof bras here. The museum is located in a suburb of the Philippine capital known for its shoe factories. In addition to the Imelda collection, this shoe-making town celebrates its heritage with an annual Sapatos festival and is home to a huge, fully motorized high heel.

Roger Vivier Shop, Paris

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Roger Vivier is credited with inventing the stiletto in the 20th century. The late legend also created jewel-encrusted sandals for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation as well as the Pilgrim pumps with a silver buckle worn by Catherine Deneuve in the film Belle du Jour. Over the past decade, the brand has been revived and updated with boutiques opening around the world. But don’t miss this beautiful one at 29 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore’, one of Paris’ most fashionable streets. Think of it as a gallery for sculptural art without the crowds of The Louvre. Admission is free; exiting might cost you a bundle.

The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh

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Before Andy Warhol began transforming Campbell soup cans into Pop art, he worked as a commercial illustrator for a shoe company. Images of shoes can be found throughout his works in the collection in downtown Pittsburgh, where his hometown museum is the largest in the United States dedicated to a single artist. You can see Warhol’s transition from commercial to fine art with his fancy footwear series—whimsical drawings such as this blue shoe with words scribbled underneath. His Diamond Dust series of silkscreens feature arrangements of ladies footwear sprinkled with precious jewel dust. 

Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto

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Founded by the family of the global shoe manufacturing firm, the Bata Shoe Museum’s award-winning architectural design even looks like a shoe box. Permanent and rotating collections show over 4,500 years of footwear. Among the thousands of shoes on display tracing human history are celebrity shoes such as Marilyn Monroe’s red high heels and John Lennon’s Beatles boots. Don’t miss such specialty shoes as the strange-looking Chestnut-crushing clogs with spikes worn by French farmers to separate nutmeats from the shells.

The Smithsonian Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.

red slippers

One could spend hours discussing the travels, history, and mystery disappearance involving several pairs of ruby slippers made for The Wizard of Oz. But one thing is certain: The nation’s capital has a pair at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. Burgundy sequins actually provide the glitter for the red-dyed shoes. Though the shoes were silver in the book on which the movie was based, the color was changed to provide better contrast when Dorothy danced along the Yellow Brick Road in the film.

Other shoes worth seeing at this museum are in the First Ladies exhibition, including the Jimmy Choo shoes worn by Michelle Obama at the 2009 Inaugural Ball—apparently the size is a state secret. While politics can be a dog-eat-dog world, a reminder of the better nature of canines are the black canvas high-top sneakers worn by the child actor who played Timmy on the TV series Lassie about a boy and his heroic, loving collie.

Cordwainers, London College of Fashion, London

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If you want to learn how to design and make shoes yourself, try the eight-week summer course at the London College of Fashion. It even includes a trip to Paris. The school takes its name from the medieval term, cordwainer, which refers to shoemakers who worked with leather. The College counts among its alumni such noted British shoe designers as Jimmy Choo, Rupert Sanderson, and Sophia Webster. If you’d rather not make shoes, but would like a pair made just for you, check with a faculty member to put you in touch with graduates of the college who do custom work.

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By Lea Donosky for PeterGreenberg.com

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