Get Pumped: 100+ Fabulous Pairs Of Shoes Are On View In New York The Walk This Way exhibition features centuries of notable footwear from the personal collection of Stuart Weitzman — suffragists' boots, a lawyer's loafers, Cinderella's sandals and more.
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Get Pumped: 100+ Fabulous Pairs Of Shoes Are On View In New York

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Get Pumped: 100+ Fabulous Pairs Of Shoes Are On View In New York

Get Pumped: 100+ Fabulous Pairs Of Shoes Are On View In New York

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Centuries' worth of shoes are getting oohs and aahs at the New-York Historical Society. The shoes are from the personal collection of shoe designer Stuart Weitzman. The exhibit is called "Walk This Way," and NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg did just that.

SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: The Divine Miss M, Bette Midler, had a great song about footwear. It's called "In These Shoes."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN THESE SHOES")

BETTE MIDLER: (Singing) I once met a man with a sense of adventure...

STAMBERG: The guy made a fairly unusual proposition.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN THESE SHOES")

MIDLER: (Singing) He said, let's make love on a mountaintop under the stars on a big, hard rock. I said, in these shoes?

STAMBERG: Did you wear high heels in the day?

LOU ANN CARLSTROM: In the day.

STAMBERG: Lou Ann Carlstrom (ph) visiting from Albany, N.Y.

Think they ruined our feet?

CARLSTOM: Yes, definitely (laughter).

STAMBERG: Plenty of heels in this exhibit - spikes, stilettos, other dangerous-looking footwear - but flat too - very flat. A pair from 1838 look like ballet slippers - blunt toes, white silk - but they each point straight ahead - no difference between left and right. Curator Valerie Paley explains.

VALERIE PALEY: It was thought to be too erotic to be able to see the delineation of the foot.

STAMBERG: Oh, the curve of the instep.

PALEY: Yes. And the side of your toes, you know, the toes. They have to be worn inside on a carpet because the soles are not very sturdy.

STAMBERG: They are wedding slippers, designed for little more than a walk down the aisle or being carried over a threshold. Museum visitor Phyllis Odyssey has shoes that she's never worn outside. A self-described shoe freak, she owns maybe 75 pairs, some unused but not because they're so delicate.

PHYLLIS ODYSSEY: Actually, I have some shoes that I think are - this is really ridiculous - that are so beautiful that I never let them touch the pavement because I think they're just works of art. I truly do.

STAMBERG: Beautiful shoes star in designer Stuart Weitzman's vast collection. He tells how it got started.

STUART WEITZMAN: There are guys whose wives think they have everything. And after two or three ties in church that I ended up never wearing, my wife bought a pair of antique shoes that she thought I would like. And I did.

STAMBERG: By now, he has 300 pairs - a hundred on view here. Ginger Rogers' transparent mules, suffragettes' serious high-button boots and Cinderella sandals Stuart designed - vinyl and Plexiglas, trimmed with crystals, see-through and sexy.

WEITZMAN: It did very well. It built several rooms in my house actually.

STAMBERG: Stuart believes that shoes send messages, a lesson he learned in his teens. A cute cheerleader kept turning him down for a date. Finally, she agreed to go bowling.

WEITZMAN: But when I picked her up in my brother's borrowed car, she was wearing red patent leather, high-heel, pointed-toe pumps and I thought, bowling? No, no, she doesn't want to go bowling (laughter).

STAMBERG: And so what'd you end up doing?

WEITZMAN: (Laughter) That story I've never told (laughter).

STAMBERG: Now's your chance.

WEITZMAN: (Laughter) No. We didn't go bowling, let's say that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN THESE SHOES")

MIDLER: (Singing) Then I met an Englishman.

STAMBERG: Now, here's Bette again in those shoes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN THESE SHOES")

MIDLER: (Singing) Oh, he said, are you American? Won't you walk up and down on my spine? It makes me feel strangely alive. I said, in these shoes? Oh, I doubt you'd survive.

STAMBERG: "Sex And The City" did a lot for shoes.

WEITZMAN: One of my favorite, favorite episodes is when Carrie is being held up by a man with a knife.

STAMBERG: He says he wants her bag...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SEX AND THE CITY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Your watch and your ring - quick.

SARAH JESSICA PARKER: (As Carrie Bradshaw) Oh, Jesus.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) And your Manolo Blahniks.

PARKER: (As Carrie Bradshaw) What?

STAMBERG: For Carrie Bradshaw, giving up her Blahniks is like giving up men. Created by a top Spanish designer, they can cost a thousand dollars.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SEX AND THE CITY")

PARKER: (As Carrie Bradshaw) I've been robbed.

STAMBERG: Centuries earlier, stylish shoes were much cheaper and made in America. By the early 20th century, shoes were big business in this country.

PALEY: With the new machinery, shoemaking became the second-largest U.S. industry after agriculture.

STAMBERG: That changed after World War II. Today's fanciest shoes come from Spain and Italy, which is where the most dramatic shoes at the New-York Historical Society were made. A pair of men's Ferragamo loafers - black leather with tassels - a lawyer in New York wore them to work at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

PALEY: And these shoes spirited him down over 50 flights of stairs to safety.

STAMBERG: When Attorney Paul Wysocki finally got home, traumatized by the horror and tragedy of the day, he threw his shoes away.

PALEY: But his wife, understanding the importance of remembering that date, picked them out of the trash.

STAMBERG: And donated them to the Historical Society, which is where the exhibition "Walk This Way" presents historic footwear collected by shoe designer Stuart Weitzman. The show closes October 8 - enough time to put on a comfy pair and go see it. Forrest Gump would.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FORREST GUMP")

TOM HANKS: (As Forrest Gump) Momma always says there's an awful lot you can tell about a person by their shoes - where they're going, where they've been.

STAMBERG: In a pair of eternally sensible shoes, alas, I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

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