The next generation of footwear fashionistas took a step back in time to learn how well-heeled 15th century women displayed their social standing by showing off their shoes.
Footwear manufacturing apprentices at Northampton College were given a sneak peek at a pair of 12 inch platform shoes being created by a historical shoemaker to go on display at Northampton Museum & Art Gallery next year.
The Venetian chopines are currently being made by Andy Burke, thanks to funding from the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers. He unveiled them for the first time during a workshop and practical session held at Booth Lane, where he discussed his work and the historic and heritage elements of shoe making.
Rebecca Shawcross, senior shoe curator at Northampton Museum & Art Gallery, said: “Chopines are platform shoes that were worn by women in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. They were very popular in Venice and made with a very tall platform to protect the dress from mud and street dirt. The size of the chopines was made according to the status of the wearer – the higher the platform, the higher the social status.
“We have more than 15,000 shoes in our collection but we still have some significant gaps which are unlikely to be filled through donation or loan. Although the collection contains a 1960s reproduction of a low platform chopine, we don’t have an example that shows the amazing heights they could reach.”
Students currently undertaking apprenticeship with globally-renowned Northampton-based footwear brands Church’s and Loake Bros were able to examine the chopines at first hand and learn more about the techniques involved in recreating a style of shoe so popular more than 500 years ago.
Colin Needle, employee development executive at Northampton College, said: “Our apprentices are used to getting hands-on and understanding how shoes are made in the 21st century so being able to take a step back in time and learn more about the historical side of the industry is a really good experience for them.
“Discovering the heritage of shoemaking and seeing how styles have evolved over hundreds of years is vital. We’re thrilled to have been able to see these stunning chopines during their development stage and look forward to seeing the finished product.”
Councillor Anna King, cabinet member for community engagement, said: “We are extremely grateful to the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers for the grant of £1,200 which has allowed this project to take place and introduce an important new piece to the museum’s collection. The chopines will be on display in the history of shoe fashion cases in the new shoe gallery when the museum re-opens in spring 2020 after an extensive re-development project.”