Sunday, October 21, 2007

Tale of two exhibitions

If you want to see the social history of bling then a visit to the “Fabulous Fakes: Jewelry by Kenneth Jay Lane’ is a must. Prior to becoming a jewellery designer Kenneth Jay Lane worked as shoe design director for Christian Dior in the 60s. He hit on a brainwave by wrapping cheap plastic bracelets with strips of brightly coloured leather and snakeskin. While the results looked expensive, the materials which included off cuts from the shoemaking industry were not. The fashionista could not get enough of the leather-wrapped bracelets and earrings.

The “Fabulous Fakes: Jewelry by Kenneth Jay Lane” exhibition runs until January 2007 at the RISD Museum in Providence.

Meanwhile in Norwich, England …..
Norwich (The Fine City) was for centuries the capital of the shoe making industry in the UK. The city was populated with skilled workers with a reputation for producing top quality footwear. Norwich has produced shoes since the ninth century well before the Norman Conquest, in the 11th century. By a strange coincidence William the Conquer was a tanner to trade. By the 13th century Norwich was one of the richest towns in England and in the 19th century when the local wool trade declined, shoe making became a town full of skilled workers engaged in the shoe trade. Norwich firms catered mainly for women's fashion shoes (then later children’s footwear). Shoes were exported to the colonies of India, South Africa, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. During the Second World War the city was heavily bombed and many the original factories were destroyed. By 1950, 10,000 men and women were employed between approximately 25 shoe firms. The turn out was an average seven million pairs of shoes per year. The oldest firm in England is Norwich company called James Southall and Company, which was founded in 1792 by James Smith. Later the company became famous throughout the world for the manufacture of children's shoes known as Start-rite.
Up and coming exhibition, “Talking Shoes - a real celebration of the Norwich shoe industry” staged by the Costume and Textile Association is sure to be a great success (sic. wish I could go). Based on an oral history of men and women who worked in the trade, the exhibition demonstrates working methods, and tools all illustrated by unique shoes, designs, and photographs. Visitors will be able to follow the process of shoe making through the factory, from selecting leather to the completed article.

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