It was a rainy October night when I visited Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum. Located a few blocks east of luxury stores like Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton on a slightly less swanky block of Bloor street, the museum opened its doors almost 20 years ago and is the only institution of its kind in North America.
As soon as you enter, It’s pretty much shoe Nirvana. The entire first floor is dedicated to the history of footwear.— and it’s a long history. I didn’t even think about how old an invention the shoe is until I saw 5,000 year old sandals from Egypt. Another ancient shoe that caught my attention was the three inch long shoe that Chinese women would bind their feet to fit into. Sometimes it hurts to be beautiful, right?
But I wasn’t there to check out these historical artifacts but something way more contemporary and wearable. “Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture,” which was designed by famed industrial designer Karim Rashid, (best known for designing WHAT?) covers the history of sneaker culture. On until March 2014, the exhibition tells the tale of the athBorn from the mix of technological advancement and cultural shifts in the early 19th century, it became popular thanks to the invention of leisure activities in the 1950s. But it was in the 1970s that the sneaker became a symbol of urban culture with the embrace of the basketball shoe in major cities across America.
The modern and stark white design of the exhibit is the perfect backdrop for the bold sneakers that fill the room. The originals are all there, original Chucks and Reeboks but a few of the sneakers stuck out most to me. A pair of gold slip-ons covered in gold studs with the iconic red sole of Christian Louboutin caught my eye immediately. To the right of that shoe was a rare pair of Nike Zoom LeBron VI “Stewie Griffin.” The sneakers are based on Miami Heat forward LeBron James’ favourite character from Family Guy, and only 24 pairs were ever made. And the lucky few were either King James’ friends or family only. As good as the Stewie is, my favourite sneaker had to be the PUMA x Hussein Chalayan Urban Swift. The spikes on the back of the shoe conjure the feeling of speed, and the simplicity of the design makes them more wearable than some of the other sneakers on display.