Friday, April 2, 2010

The Grand Priestess of shoes

Shoe Porn

Long before Jimmy Choo, Beth Levine revolutionized couture footwear for women. From 1940-1970 she was prolifically producing women's footwear with an amazing level of creativity! We visited a fabulous exhibit of her shoes at the Bellevue Art Museum and wanted to bring home every single pair just to further study the quality and details! We've posted these photos in a larger format -- if you cannot see the full shoe, click on the image to see the photo in full.

Look at this beautiful strappy pair in a seafoam green silk -- just exquisite. Most of the shoes bear the name of her husband (and business partner), Herbert, who was the marketing man, the innovative thinking was all Beth's.

Most of the shoes are from the collection of Helen Verin, who wrote a book on Ms. Levine (available at Splendid Items). This exclusive exhibit runs through June 6, 2010. We (illicitly, oops!) photographed less than 1/10th of the shoes on display -- once we put our camera away, we enjoyed circulating in a high level awe as we explored the never ending imagination that went into creating these shoes!!

The Levines were the first to do business with the Far East after WWII.  They would send fabrics from Italy and France over to be embroidered, then the shoes would be assembled at their factory in New York.  They worked with the embroiderers who worked for the Emperor of Japan, amongst others.

Look at the detail of this handiwork, including the design on the heel cover.

Their celebrity clientele include Jackie O, Cher and Marilyn Monroe.

We could see this smart set on Marlo Thomas in That Girl!

The silk on this shoe looks Italian, I remember neckties made of fabric like this in the early 70's. Look at the beautiful blue suede heel strap.

The rhinestones were applied by hand on the toe and strap of these beautiful silk shoes.

These shoes are from the Femme Fatale series, released in the early 50's. Look at the beautiful kidskin flowers and rhinestones at the throat and on the ankle strap.

I love subtle paisley pattern on the linen of these beautiful shoes.  I'd wear these with just a trench coat. The patent leather toe is brilliant.

Have you ever seen a more elegant heel? Covered in varying shades of emerald green rhinestones? All hand applied, of course.

She invented the sling-o-lator, which is the elastic footbed you can see on the shoes below which raises up to cushion the wearers arch for a better fit in the shoe, and to keep the shoes from falling off.

She got the idea while designing men's workboots, in which she put an elastic support to allow the boots to be removed more easily. 

Reportedly, Beth held a press conference with the fashion industry in regards to the spring-o-lator.  At the gathering she ran across a room wearing a pair with stockings and spring-o-lators to prove they would not come off.   They didn't.

The attention to detail is so incredible, I love that the lining and the exterior bear the same patterns.
Their marketing campaigns were so ahead of their time, here is an introduction to the use of "pony" fur on shoes.

Unfortunately, it was brought to my attention that no photographs were allowed at this point in my tour, so I wasn't able to snap a shot of the ad where they introduced boots as a fashion statement.

The copy explained that their boots were neither durable nor waterproof -- just fashionable, very fashionable.

Nancy Sinatras' famous walkin' boots were by Beth Levine, of course!

When Nancy Sinatra wore the Levine boots in publicity shots for the 1960s hit song These Boots Are Made for Walkin' demand for fashion boots became so great that Saks Fifth Avenue opened "Beth’s Bootery", a special section in their shoe department in New York.

Here is a photo of the amazing creator, isn't she beautiful?

Beth Levine (1914 - 2006)

"We wanted to create a shoemaking niche. We were making very pretty shoes that nobody needed, but everybody wanted"


Simply Luxurious said...

Thanks for the shoe history. I had no idea no Beth Levine was regrettably. Beautiful shoes, yes, that emerald heel is amazing! I thoroughly enjoyed the shoe lesson this morning. =)

Have a good weekend.

Anonymous said...

I envy the brilliant and creative minds who can create such wonderful treats for my feets! Thanks for sharing... I would have loved to have seen the display:)

vicki archer said...

Fantastic a shoe lover I am so interested in past designers.
Have a wonderful time skiing and as of yesterday it was still snowing in Switzerland. xv