For those fluent in the language of fashion, names like Manolo Blahnik, Christian Louboutin, or Jimmy Choo ring with immediate recognition as famed shoe designers. The Bellevue Arts Museum’s new exhibit, Beth Levine: First Lady of Shoes, seeks to reintroduce fashion lovers to a design leader showcasing an impressive collection of stunning vintage shoes by Levine, on view from February 18th – June 6th.
Beth Levine’s career as a shoe designer embraced modern ideas and spanned over 20 years, winning the Coty Award in 1967. Her innovations and design sense attracted both celebrities and Presidential First Ladies alike, garnering praise not only for her shoes’ exquisite detail, but comfort. A true American original, Beth Levine’s story as a trailblazing female designer, working with her husband Herbert in their New York factory and changing the way people viewed shoes, is a true Cinderella tale – except that she was her own Fairy Godmother, crafting shoes that seemed spun from pure whimsy and elegance, blessed with a gilded touch of Happily Ever After upon every design.
With the local support of Nordstrom, the Bellevue Arts Museum (BAM) is the only venue in the U.S. having the opportunity to show the collection of work by this American stylemaker. One of the co-curators of the exhibit, Helene Verin, was in Bellevue on the eve of the exhibit opening when BAM held an opening party to inaugurate it. Verin, a designer, Fashion Institute of Technology instructor, and expert on the work of Beth Levine, gave a talk about the art and history behind the exhibit, sharing a particularly notable insight — along with being able to call Levine a mentor, she has also had the blessing to call her a dear friend. Verin’s talk regaled the audience with Levine’s spirit and accomplishments, sharing a rare video clip capturing Beth herself speaking about what made Levine shoes such a famed object of desire: their shoes were the ones that nobody needed, but everybody wanted.
Touring the full exhibit, it’s easy to be swept up in the charm of Beth Levine’s shoe designs and take those words of functional fashion to heart. Rare examples of shoes attached to dreamy stockings and richly-hued embellished dress pumps that look more art than accessory decorate the space. A wide assortment of Levine’s whimsical conceptual shoes on display include one that was “upperless” – requiring an adhesive to stay on one’s foot, shoes made with paper, and one famous design using Astroturf to make every step feel like a walk in the park.
The comment most often mentioned during the night was how modern Beth Levine’s shoe designs were. If not within the archival halls of a museum, one would want to pick up the shoe and try it on, as the designs resonate with today’s aesthetic. The same names – Louboutin, Choo, and Manolo – were uttered amongst the crowds, but in realization over where they found their design inspiration. The opening party guests were clearly under Beth Levine’s creative spell, and with the exhibit exclusively on display at BAM until June, everyone will have many opportunities to familiarize themselves with a true American vanguard of design, both rediscovering and celebrating Beth Levine’s role in fashion history.
Bellevue Arts Museum – 510 Bellevue Way NE