Thursday, October 21, 2010

BAM Curator Nora Atkinson Talks Shoes

Earlier this year the Bellevue Arts Museum was home to a traveling exhibition featuring the footwear of designer Beth Levine, who created the famous white vinyl go-go boots that Nancy Sinatra wore in the film where she sang "These Boots Are Made For Walking."

Imagine the surprise and excitement we all felt at Goodwill when we discovered that a pair of suede heels slated for the Glitter Sale were designed by Beth Levine!

We took our shoes to BAM curator Nora Atkinson, who coordinated Beth Levine: First Lady of Shoes, and Nora told us more about our strappy heels and the designer who created them.

What can you tell us about Beth Levine?
Beth and Herbert Levine were a couple. He was the marketing guy; she was the designer. It was unheard of to be a woman in that business, and so Beth worked under her husband's name. Which is why so many people don't know her name today.

We were thrilled to discover these shoes. What can you tell us about them?
Well, you can see that one shoe has the Herbert Levine label and the other has the label of the local shoe store that carried it. In this case, the local store is Nordstrom's Portland store. Nordstrom was the local shoe store to buy Herbert Levine shoes. In fact, Nordstrom generously loaned us several pairs of Beth Levine shoes from their archives for our exhibit.

The Herbert Levine label began in 1949, and the company really had personal relationships with every shoe store they sold to, which allowed them to make more innovative, interesting designs. These shoes probably date to the mid-fifties.

What about this design?
Beth made the shoes women wanted, not what they needed. The company began just after the war ended, and Beth and Herbert really capitalized on the fact that what women wanted was to be a little bit sexier. Shoes didn't have to be practical anymore.

Beth's shoes were much more open than shoes had been previously. There is no ankle strap. There's very little material on the sides of the shoe. You can see on this pair how much material has been cut away.

What kinds of materials did Beth Levine work with.
She used the very best materials. Exotic skins. Silk from Lyons. Leather from Florence. Beth and Herbert traveled all over the world. Your shoes are made of suede. All of the rhinestones would have been hand-applied. And all of the work was done by hand. After fifty or more years, they're in great shape. The rhinestones are all intact. These really are a fabulous pair of shoes.

Thanks to the Bellevue Arts Museum, if you're attending our Glitter Gala on Nov. 4th and participate in the evening's raffle, you'll have an opportunity to win a family membership to BAM and a beautiful full-color, hardbound book about Beth Levine, entitled very appropriately, Beth Levine Shoes. Our Beth Levine shoes will be for sale at the Glitter Sale.

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