Death by Stiletto?

In Italian, the word stiletto means a knife or dagger with a long slender blade ending at a needle-like point. Such is an apt conceptual description for many of the shoes in a new exhibition at Brooklyn Museum entitled Killer Heels: The Art of the High Heeled Shoe which surveys, across continents and centuries, the rise and popularity of shoes with various (as well as precarious) types of heels that lift their wearer up, in some cases, a foot or more above the ground.

Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe

A pair of Chinese Manchus.

The exhibition shows a fascinating range of shoe design with accompanying video presentations, short films, photography, prints and objects that counterbalance or place in historical perspective the inspiration of particular aspects of a high heel. And one short video from 1939 even actually predicts the use of “portable” telephones by the year 2000. That’s certainly prescient!


With the advent of steel rod technology the heel could be manipulated through shape and placement creating endless potential for design ideas.

This immensely popular show is fun if only for the exhaustive range of ideas alone. There are no two shoe designs alike. Technological advances throughout history moved shoe design forward dramatically and gave designers wide latitude in bringing their imagination to life, most notably in the mid-20th century with the invention of the internal steel rod.

The most exciting designs today are fabricated using a 3D Printer and are interesting from an architectural viewpoint. Many shoes made this way are on display. And the shoes actually service the foot—some with no arch support! Depending on the pitch of the foot in space, arch support is not necessarily a necessity.

Killer Heels, Brooklyn Museum 2014

The “wavy” shoe was created through 3D printing and the design provides ample support for the foot making for both a fantastical and fashionable statement.


A delicate duo of silk and leather French heels, 1690-1700.


Salvatore Ferragamo’s famous “Rainbow” platform shoe from 1938.

Whether high or very high, the allure of the heel is here to stay as a popular mode of sartorial expression and a show of joie de vivre for its wearer.

Winde Rienstra. "Bamboo Heel," 2012

A clever use of sustainable bamboo and plastic cable ties make this an irresistible and whimsical shoe.

Killer Heels is on view through February 15, 2015. Wear them at your own peril!