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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

These Weren't Made for Walking

They're made of leather, fiberglass, beech wood, net fabric, nylon, snakeskin, rubber and canvas. And they're decorated with jewels, embroidery, artificial flowers, plastic fruit, sequins, buckles and satin ribbons.

The State Museum of Ceramics and the 18th-Century Kuskovo Estate are taking a walk on the wild side. And they're getting there in shoes from all over the world.

Fashion or Fantasy? Fashion or Fetishism? "The Cinderella Syndrome" -- an exhibit of shoes culled from Britain's Northampton Central Museum and various Russian museum collections -- explores the relation between who we are and what we wear on our feet.

"The main weakness of women is shoes," said self-proclaimed shoe-aholic Yelena Eritsian, Kuskovo's museum director, at a Thursday press conference. This somewhat non-traditional exhibit -- to open Saturday at a museum famed for its more prosaic displays of ceramics and glass -- is aimed primarily at an audience of women: "It reveals the desire in each one of us to find happiness," said Eritsian, who played an integral role in putting together the "Cinderella" exhibit.

Cinderella certainly found her happiness by easing her tiny toes into a diminutive slipper. But judging from the size, shape, color, material and style of the shoes represented in the museum's Orangerie exhibit hall, there are as many routes to happiness as there are sizes of feet on the planet.

For the Cinderella who likes to take matters into her own hands and waits on no fairy godmother for aid, there are cherry-red pumps with heels high enough to give the wearer nosebleeds. For the demure with corns there are gold leather shoes with 3-inch heels and winkle picker toes.

But women are not always attending balls and thus do not live by pumps alone. They occasionally go to the beach, for which they may don flip-flop sandals decorated with synthetic fruit and flowers. Or they pad around the house in unisex "monster" slippers of green synthetic fur-fabric, with yellow fabric claws and soft, non-slip soles. Or they trip about the Shetland Islands in rawhide wraps.

Yet Cinderella is only half of the story here. Eritsian and her exhibit collaborators -- British impresario Victoria Charlton and John Dickie, leader of the Northampton Borough Council -- have fleshed out the exhibit to include footwear worn by the princely half of the population. And this contrast between the cinder maiden's delicate slippers and her dashing pursuer's utilitarian clodhoppers proves particularly sharp.

The prince has got to move, not to tiptoe, trip, traipse. For his locomotion, he prefers boots of brown leather with square toes and heavily hobnailed soles and heels, work clogs with wooden soles, munition overboots -- buff side out. Or, if he's Elton John in the rock opera "Tommy," he wears cherry red Dr. Martens made of fiberglass that stand 4-feet, 6-inches tall.

Whether shoes in general bring happiness or provide locomotion, this particular collection of nearly 180 items is designed in part to bring revenue and a younger crowd to Kuskovo.

Eritsian has "the same problem that we've got in England: people aren't going to museums enough, they're losing their revenues, and the only way to create them is to bring more excitement back in," said Charlton, who thanked the Northamptonshire manufacturer of Dr. Martens Air Wair, the footwear fabulously popular with Moscow's techno-raver crowd.

Charlton, who has worked on numerous Anglo-Russian cultural exchanges, said her own love for shoes led her to help stage "Cinderella," a venture she had deemed easier than working with performers.

With an infectious laugh she said, "The good thing about shoes is that they are dead. They can't give you any trouble. They don't require hotel rooms, they don't require rehearsals, and they don't speak."

"Cinderella" runs through Oct. 6 at the Kuskovo Estate, 2 Ulitsa Yunosti. Tel. 370-0150.

But not all of the shoes in "The Cinderella Syndrome" were meant to be worn. According to Fiona Pitt, assistant keeper of the Northampton museum's vast boot and shoe collection, a strange social custom came to light in Britain about 20 to 30 years ago: "Lots of people were renovating buildings, were knocking down walls. They would often find shoes concealed within the fabric of the building." These "hidden shoes" were apparently once left in the building's skeleton to guarantee the owners good luck.

But as workers scrambled to ready the exhibit for Saturday's opening during the press conference, Charlton shared a revised assessment, "There were times when this exhibition was more trouble than an orchestra or the Kirov opera."