Almost everyone owns at least one pair of shoes. Wearing shoes has become a part of our morning ritual: We wake up, take a refreshing shower, get dressed and slip our feet into a pair of hip sneakers, classic brogues or elegant ballerinas. But who knows when man started wearing shoes for the first time? Paleoanthropologist Erik Trinkaus maintains that man started wearing shoes between 26,000 and 40,000 years ago. His believe is based on the fact that the thickness of the phalanx in skeletons started to diminish from this period onwards. This is because walking barefoot thickens the bones in the foot. The first shoe designs that were found, were actually just ‘foot bags’ or ordinary leather that was wrapped around the feet to protect against rocks, cold and hard sub-soil.
These stories undoubtedly stir the interests of Dirk Vanderschueren. As owner of Cortina, one of the world’s largest shoe manufacturers, shoes are his work and life. The idea of creating a shoe experience evolved from his penchant for art and the numerous galleries and museums already visited by him.
During the course of the years, he has met numerous people who share his enthusiasm for shoes and who, with him, would realize this impressive project. The Dutchman William (Boy) Habraken and Antwerp shoemaker couple Veerle Swenters and Pierre Bogaerts, were unconditional friends. Together they realised SONS – Shoes Or No Shoes?, a legend of pure passion. Vanderschueren “The idea is that the entire project should be seen as an adventure. By allowing the three shoe collections to confront each other, we are convinced that you will become involved and that you will have a sensational experience. You can go on your discovery and turn your visit into a wonderful adventure...!”
SONS will indeed impose surprise after surprise on its visitors. On the one hand, visitors are guided through various ethnic cultures and people, ranging from the first shod footsteps of man to today. On the other hand, the SONS-visitor enters the world of modern art, approached from a very surprising angle, or the world of a completely different type of art: Fashion:
Collector William (Boy) Habraken was literally born amongst the leather in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. At the age of twenty, he decided to leave his father’s shoe business to start his own wholesale shoe import business. His business ventures took him on numerous trips to all the corners of the world. In his free time, he collected shoes worn with traditional indigenous clothing. All this resulted in a unique collection of more than 2700 pairs of shoes from more than 155 countries and regions, acknowledged by the Guinness World Records as the largest collection of tribal and ethnological shoes.
An Antwerp shoemaking couple, Veerle Swenters and Pierre Bogaerts, started their art project 18 years ago. In the first phase, they collected details of artists, which was a challenge in itself. More than a thousand letters later (to amongst other Arman, Baselitz, Fabre, Long, Panamarenko, Pistoletto, Richter, Wesselman etc.) the positive reactions started coming in, and thus the motivation to take this project further. Spontaneously, the artists transformed their shoes into objects of works of art. Hence the title: “Shoes Or No Shoes ?” Are they actual artefacts or do they remain ordinary shoes? Since this title applies to all other collections, the entire project was also called SONS.