The next time you look at a fashionable boot, a bejeweled shoe, a dainty mule, or even a stiletto heel, think of Beth Levine. An American shoe designer that pioneered many of the construction and aesthetic aspects of modern fashion footwear from the 1940s through the 1970s, Levine's name has sadly been forgotten while European designer names like Manolo and Louboutin sit firmly at the forefront of people's minds when they think of high-end shoe design. The Bellevue Arts Museum (BAM) has a new exhibit that will undoubtedly reintroduce Beth Levine's name into our memory bank of stylemakers and educate over America's own history as the home of many shoe design innovations.

On view from February 18th through June 6th, Beth Levine: First Lady of Shoes will have its only U.S. visit at BAM, displaying an extensive collection of vintage originals of Levine's design, as well as drawings, ads and other rare paperwork that document this amazing career in fashion. Co-curator and personal friend of Levine, designer Helene Verin was on-hand for the exhibit's preview night to give a detailed retrospective of Beth Levine's life and career as a true vanguard of shoe design, breaking down gender barriers and becoming one of the most celebrated female designers of her time. Wearing a silver and vinyl pair of Levine's shoes from her own collection, Verin listed the impressive list of celebrities and politicians that Beth Levine worked with to get her shoes on their feet. Celebrities like Cher and Barbara Streisand, and White House royalty including Jacqueline Kennedy, had all come to Beth Levine to create shoes that were both fashion-forward and (gasp!) comfortable. In our modern time of sky-high sculptural heels that threaten to defy the forces of nature, Levine took on shoe design from both an artistic and pragmatic perspective, as she had the understanding that the shoes needed to be as wearable as they were beautiful. She would test her designs personally, making sure the shoes that left the Levine factory could stand up to a busy day of walking around.

One of her most notable construction innovations was the Spring-o-lator, a discreet device built within the shoe to keep the foot from slipping out in backless/mule designs. Levine also had the vision to take the humble workboot and make it form-fitting, feminine, and truly show off a woman's natural assets. We take the fashionable boot for granted, but at the time, it was such a unique fashion statement that it inspired Nancy Sinatra's unforgettable "These Boots Were Made for Walking" song in the 1960s. The accolades and pop cultural references were of course flattering, but Levine remained an artist dedicated to her craft. The museum exhibit showcased an impressive array of conceptual shoes made with different materials like paper, AstroTurf, and her early forays into the vinyl and lucite "invisible" shoes. Her work is an inspiration, as it shows such a wide array of ideas, all beautiful, whimsical and experimental, constantly thinking of ways to deconstruct the shoe and reexamine the way a foot interacted with it.

Looking through today's department stores or recent fashion magazine spreads, it's easy to see Beth Levine's influence over shoe design as a whole. People who may not be familiar with her name have still had her artistry touch their lives, whether it's a rhinestone-decorated shoe or the perfect pair of knee-high boots that hug the leg in all the right places. She understood the nature of fashion, as the famous saying for Levine shoes was that they were, "ones that nobody needed, but everybody wanted." Her design truly sung the music of the fashion-forward soul, and now it's thankfully on display until June for many to become better acquainted with her name and her contributions to the delights that decorate our feet.

Much Jaunty thanks to the Bellevue Arts Museum for hosting this exhibit, as well as to Nordstrom, in their support of the musuem and helping to bring treasured collections like these to the Pacific Northwest.

Jaunty Fine Print: Photo of Beth Levine, 1999, by Bruce Weber; Anemone d' Orsay, designed by Beth Levine, 1959, pink suede d'Orsay with lavender plastic flower ornament, courtesy Helene Verin, photo by David Hamsley; photo of exhibit by Denise Sakaki

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  1. What a delicious journey into such an important part of our American history. She certainly was a pioneer, and paved the way for many a modern heel collector. The images are great too- tho I wonder what the fashionable Jaunty Magpie wore to such an event- I would love to get a peek.

  2. I love the purple flower shoes, they are welcoming Spring. The gallery timing is great, since Coco before Chanel and The September Issue are out on DVD, a lady could have a fashion extravaganza! R&R

  3. nice and more informative blog that i found on the net.... thanks for sharing the information that you have i really like the site most...


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