Unrivalled Shoe Archive

The V&A has an amazing collection of shoes, well over 2,000 pairs spanning over 3,000 years from across the world. Majority of the shoes once belonged to the upper echelons of the society, the best and most extreme in shoe designs, but there are also some footwear that originally clad the feet of farmers and workers. Although not opulent and extravagant, these show creativity and skill in their making. Design and beauty are evident even in highly practical footwear.

Rope sandals

One pair of sandals, twisted plant fibre, 19th century, India. V&A: 588:1,2-1897

And this also why the V&A collected all these shoes, being examples of inspirational design, and to ensure they are saved and documented for the future. The collection is a constant source for designers, students and enthusiasts alike. New research is coming out from these visits, new discoveries but the shoe collection also provide inspiration for new designs. It can be a colour, a cut in the leather, a line, or a decoration detail that can set off the creative mind. I recently went through the wonderful Rayne shoe archive together with shoe design team from Kate Spade.

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Lisa Supple, Design Director Shoes, and Gemma Hanley, Shoe Designer of Kate Spade, in the midst of Rayne shoe boxes

H. & M. Rayne was funded in 1885 as a supplier of theatrical shoes and costume but expanded during the 1920s to supply shoes to society ladies. The company obtained a royal warrant in 1936 and produced the most exquisite shoes particularly during the 1950s and 1960s. The business closed in 1993, and their archive was rescued by the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Canada. The Bata Shoe Museum then donated parts of the archive to the V&A which comprise not only shoes but also lasts, paper patterns and press cuttings.

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Some of the shoe boxes from the Rayne archive.

Many of the shoes are samples, or prototypes, and also include shoes by Dave Evans, Herbert Levine and pullovers by Roger Vivier for Christian Dior. It is a treasure trove.


A small selection of pullovers by Roger Vivier for Christian Dior, 1958-1963, Paris.

So keep an eye out in a year’s time, perhaps a sparkling buckle detail, or a strap, or the chisel-shaped toe will appear on some of Kate Spade’s new collection!

The shoe collection of Asian department and Furniture, Textiles and Fashion department is stored at the Clothworkers’ Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion, and a research visit has to be booked in advance. Get inspired!