World Footwear


Emanuele Lepri, Director of the Bata Shoe Museum, live on World Footwear

Apr 28, 2015 Canada
Emanuele Lepri, Director of the Bata Shoe Museum, live on World Footwear
With more than a decade of service as the Director of the institution, Mr Lepri talked to us about the Museum, its collection and the plans for the year of the 20th anniversary
The story of the Museum is linked to Sonja Bata, a Switzerland born citizen, married to Thomas J. Bata, the son of a well-known Czechoslovakian shoe manufacturer emigrated to Canada at the beginning of World War II. The family was always linked to the footwear industry and during her travels Sonja started to collect pairs of shoes, from the most ordinary to the most extraordinary.  A collection started to exist and in 1995 the Bata Shoe Museum opened its doors at 327 Bloor Street West in downtown Toronto.

A 39 000 square foot building, designed by Moriyama and Teshima Architects, hosting a collection of over 13 000 shoes and related items. Nowadays, a varied selection is displayed in time-limited or semi-permanent exhibitions, and the oldest item in the museum’s collection is a 4 500 years old pair of Egyptian funerary sandals.

With approximately 100 000 visitors last year, the Bata Shoe Museum is celebrating its 20th anniversary. As part of the celebrations the Toronto-based museum is launching The World at Your Feet: A Global Mapping Project, a central hub for the world to share shoe stories during the Museum's anniversary year which runs from 6th May 2015 to 6th May 2016. The Museum already started to share videos and stories from its own collection on the interactive global map and will continue to do it until the 6th of May. By then it will be turn of everyone else to share their own stories. 

The anniversary year will also showcase several contemporary and bold art installations, avant-garde performances, inspiring lectures, entertaining and educational family programming, and exciting community partnerships

An unique museum, dedicated to footwear  and its evolution through time. Enough reasons for us to speak to Mr Emanuele Lepri, the Director of the Bata Shoe Museum.

You have been Director of the Bata Shoe Museum (BSM) since 2004. What brought you to accept this position?
I realized the potential of the Bata Shoe Museum after viewing the collection and the building that houses it. The quality, rarity and size of the holdings of the Museum, more than 13 000 artefacts from all over the globe and spanning more than 4 500 years of history, represent an endless source of inspiration for engaging and thought-provoking exhibitions. The purpose-built architecture of the Museum is a very fine example of contemporary urban elegance. Architect Raymond Moriyama succeeded in creating a space that is both functional and beautiful, a combination that is hard to find.

The BSM has held various exhibitions. Which one are you the most proud of or elect as your favourite, and why?
One may think at first that the Museum’s mission is so specialized that we might struggle with finding new themes for our shows. On the contrary, in my 11 years at the Museum we have managed to engage the public on an extremely wide range of subjects, from ethnography to high fashion, from design and craftsmanship to cultural customs and family relations. Shoes offer a unique perspective for telling stories that people can relate to, no matter when or where they lived.   I am proud of the work we have done at the Museum these past 11 years. We have been built on great foundations to establish the reputation of the Bata Shoe Museum as a world class institution, deeply rooted in Toronto, yet open to the world.

All About Shoes:  Footwear Through the Ages gallery

From the Museum's various exhibitions which one are you the most proud of or would elect as your favourite?
The exhibition project that is closest to my heart is probably “On a Pedestal: from Renaissance Chopines to Baroque heels”. The rarity and beauty of the artefacts, such as chopines as high as 55cm, and the size and scope of the project with 11 major lenders from 8 different countries, was an amazing challenge for our small museum team. Thanks to my fantastic colleagues we were successful in delivering a wonderful exhibition which featured for the first time ever the rarest type of objects held in museums’ collections worldwide.

16th century chopines

If you could choose one pair of shoes from the collection that stands out for a very special reason, which one would it be?
The pair of beautifully decorated slippers worn by the Nizam of Hyderabad stand out for a very special reason. In 2006 these shoes were stolen while on display in our permanent gallery.  As a consequence I found myself dealing with a very complex situation. Thankfully, after much ado, we were able to recover them and now I am excited at the idea that they will soon travel to London to be part of a show at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Nizam of Hyderabad

Who have been the most interesting visitors of the museum?
The Museum welcomes approximately 100 000 visitors a year and I enjoy hearing their comments when they go through our exhibitions. I must say that I am especially intrigued by the stories of people who have a direct connection with shoemaking.  It is priceless when you see the sparkle in the eye of a shoemaker when he or she stands in front of a beautifully crafted shoe.

What is the museum’s main goal for 2015, the year of the 20th anniversary?
The main goal of our 20th anniversary year is to celebrate with our community here in Toronto, as well as around the world, recognizing our great accomplishments of the past and the many exciting stories that we are keen to share in the future.

Pinet Boots  from the current exhibition Fashion Victims:  The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century

Credits for the Images © 2015 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada

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