September 16 2011
There’s a good reason why the little flatties that many a woman carries in her work bag as an antidote to stiletto pain are known as “ballerinas”. With their soft structure, naive, round-toed shape and drawstrings to fit, knotted in front, they plainly derive from the classic ballet shoe. Strange, then, that hitherto no one has made the direct link with the art of ballet, but what better context than the superb exhibition of Degas’ paintings, drawings, sculptures and photographs of dancers, which opens at the Royal Academy in London on Saturday September 17?
The honour of being official retail partner to the exhibition has fallen to Jane Winkworth of French Sole, who virtually invented the trend and was making pretty and witty variations on the basic shoe long before it became a wardrobe staple. To commemorate the exhibition, she has designed a small collection of 10 hand-finished, very beautiful, special-occasion shoes that are light years removed from the typical dancer’s grubby, frayed satin pumps. Each design refers to the decorative detail on a ballet costume – a tulle rosette, or a tulle overlay on suede, or pearls and crystals arranged on the toe – with rich fabrics such as velvet or treebark brocade and colours taken from Degas’ palette, including sea green, cobalt blue and chalky peach. Leather linings and soles are in silver, and the soles are engraved with a drawing of the Degas sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, the exhibition’s key work.
The shoes are packed in a specially designed box, and there are only five examples of each style, sizes 37-41, at £160-£245, though later they can be made to order.
Available from Saturday September 17, at French Sole’s Brook Street branch, and also as part of a “Degas package” at Brown’s Hotel (which also includes a night’s accommodation, exhibition tickets, and a pedicure, from £395); balletomanes should start queuing now.