The paleoanthropologist Erik Trinkaus purports that man started wearing shoes between 26,000 and 40,000 years ago. The average American woman today is said to own 27 pairs of shoes. This is all interesting stuff if shoes are your passion — as they are for Maecenas Dirk Vanderschueren, owner of Cortina, one of the world’s largest shoe manufacturers. To share his passion Vanderschueren created a “shoe experience” SONS – Shoes Or No Shoes in Kruishoutem (Cruyshautem), in East Flanders, Belgium, about 70 kilometers (70 miles) from Antwerp and Brussels, and close to Cortina’s hometown of Oudenaarde. SONS consists of three collections. The Ethnographic Collection, amassed by former shoe distributor William (Boy) Habraken, includes 2,700 pairs from 155 countries and is acknowledged by the Guinness World Records as the largest collection of tribal and ethnological shoes.
Antwerp-based shoemaker couple Veerle Swenters and Pierre Bogaerts contributed the Modern Collection — some 1,200 pairs acquired from artists, many of whom customized the shoes, evoking the question: Are they art or shoes ? Shoes or no shoes ? The Designer Collection, also accumulated by Habraken, showcases unique footwear form 20th-century and contemporary designers including Salvatore Ferragamo, Christian Louboutin and Manolo Blahnik.
SONS is housed in a building designed and built by gallery owner Emile Veranneman and architect Christiaan Vander Plaetse in 1973. Architects Lode Uytterschaut and Johan Ketele revamped the structure for the constantly growing shoe collections. Outside, they covered the building with lead and inside, they created an unpretentious warehouse look using industrial shelving systems and almost no color.