Spiked heels, killer platforms and plastic courts – MAXINE GORDON walks in the footsteps of Vivienne Westwood shoes in a new exhibition at York Castle Museum

WHO can forget the image of Naomi Campbell crumpled in a heap on the catwalk after falling in a pair of Vivienne Westwood shoes during the designer's Anglomania fashion show?

The shoes – a pair of purple platform heels, called the Super-elevated Gillie – almost became as famous as the supermodel after the episode which made news across the world.

Indeed, the tumble still follows Ms Campbell today, some 25 years after the event. A giant image of her, lying on the catwalk, smiling sheepishly at the fashion pack, is one of the backdrops in a new exhibition of Vivienne Westwood shoes at York Castle Museum.

The show is a fascinating insight into the flair of one of Britain's best designers – but also shows how she was heavily influenced by the history of footwear.

The shoes and boots designed by Westwood have been loaned to York from a private collection built up over 30 years. And for this special exhibition – which will run through to next April – Vivienne Westwood's team have worked with curators at York Castle Museum to select shoes and boots from the archive to illustrate the designer's debt to the past.

Rachael Bowers and Emma Hamlett, of the museum, take me on a guided preview of the exhibition. What this pair don't know about shoes – and their place in history – isn't worth knowing, and soon I am immersed in a world that takes me back to the French court, pre-revolution.

For beneath that image of a tumbling Naomi is a pair of shoes that have certainly seen better days. Tattered and torn, and now a dirty brown colour, they were once yellow silk court shoes dating from 1780 – and are some of the oldest shoes in the show. At this point in history, explains Rachael, a heeled shoe was becoming something only worn by women. Up until that time, French aristocrats wore heels – so much so, their distinctive bowed style was dubbed the "Louis" heel.

"In the early 18th century, men wore heels to show off their calves," explained Rachael. "But by the late 18th century, men were in breeches and wore boots and heels became the preserve of women. The improvements in roads meant that men could travel by horse and had to dress appropriately for that."

A close examination of many of the historic pieces offers a direct link with the work of Westwood.

There is even a pair of her silver leather over-the-thigh boots, which look like a piece of armour.

Emma explains: "Westwood likes to borrow from things that have gone before. She would visit the Arms and Armour Wallace Collection in London and created looks inspired by that."

Westwood designed shoes for men and women, and there are plenty of examples to study. She was partial to a brogue, which, the exhibition reveals, is just one of eight classic shoe designs. There is a lovely example of a Westwood men's brogue on display, but instead of brown leather, it is in the unusual colour combination of off-white and pink. Again, Westwood leaves her mark.

One display cabinet is backed with a giant picture of Westwood and McLaren in the 80s alongside some black and white shots from the Sex shop days. Here, you can see a pair of Westwood black stilettos, with spikes coming out just above the heel. In the next room, visitors can see an original stiletto, designed by Roger Vivier for Christian Dior in the 1950s.

There is also a selection of Westwood's popular pirate boot, a flat slouchy affair with multiple straps – a design still popular today.

Westwood was a pioneer and this is plainly evident in her work with plastics. She teamed up with Brazilian shoe manufacturer Melissa to create beautiful shoes and boots from recycled products, and there are some artistic examples on show, including a pair of black platform sandals with wings on the sides.

How shoes reflect changes in society is the story in a neighbouring room, featuring items chosen by the Westwood team.

One cabinet traces the evolution of the shoe from the 1700s to today, taking in the likes of a 1920s shoe with a gold strap, designed to help it stay on the foot while doing the Charleston! There is a wooden-soled and heeled shoe from the 1940s to reflect how other materials were used because of shortages during wartime. It all ends with not a shoe or a boot – but a trainer.

Vivienne Westwood has designed trainers too but, not surprisingly, her's come with a twist. For starters they are in the style of a shoe-boot, in gold leather, and with a "Louis" heel.

Wonder what the French court would have made of them?

A Personal Collection of Vivienne Westwood Shoes, York Castle Museum, until April 28, 2019.

Open daily: 9.30am-5pm

Ticket prices: Adult: £11, Access Ticket: £5.50, children 16 and under: free with one paying adult. YMT card holders: Free

W: yorkcastlemuseum.org.uk