When you think of a museum and its collections you don’t tend to imagine objects from the 1980s, 90s and 2000s belonging there. But it is a growing trend of larger museums to collect modern and, even, contemporary examples of everyday life. The aim is to future proof the museum’s collection by selecting the best items representative of significant events or mass movements to share with future visitors, rather than waiting till they have sat broken or unused in someone’s house before eventually being donated. Future colleting will likely become more important within museum collection strategies as our way of life changes and many objects are recycled or discarded within a single person’s life. However, for smaller museums such a strategy is very difficult owing to our space constrictions; the actual practicalities of storing and cataloguing a fast-growing collection restricts active collecting. Despite this Whangarei Museum still cares for items of the more recent past, including today’s feature item, a pair of David Elman shoes.
David Elman has been a household name since their opening in the 1950s. Opening their first factory in Grey Lynn, Auckland, in 1953, the brand set the standard for high quality New Zealand made shoes until the early 2000s. Founder Raymond Monks learnt shoe making from his father, who had a men’s shoe shop in Auckland, where his brothers worked too. Raymond moved out on his own to establish his own store targeted at women’s fashion styles made to be comfortable, chic and with a diverse sizing system, using half and narrow sizes.
With greater competition in the 1950s David Elman shoes were only sold in a few shops around the county. The company experienced growth in the 1960s and 70s when Raymond’s son, Brooke, joined the family business and injected knowledge of international craft and sales by making regular trips to Europe.
A range of new stores opened around the country selling David Elman shoes, but with European names- Cassandre, Carrano, Carel and Prada. As well as in shop stock, customers could order custom dyed silk or special fabric heels for evening events or weddings. Auckland War Memorial Museum even holds a Thai silk dress with matching shoes, both made by David Elman as a bridesmaid’s ensemble.
The particular pair in Whangarei Museum are a perfect example of David Elman’s use of classic silhouettes with high quality materials. The classy slip-on heels with almond shape toe, straight heel and cutaway center stand out in patent leather. Extra glamour has been added with a gold metal bar accent at the back of the heel. The eponymous gold David Elman brand is stitched in gold onto the tag, also featuring “Made in New Zealand”. Their simple colour, shape and good condition suggests they were made in the 1980s or 1990s, before an explosion of fabrics, prints and embellishments became popular in the Nineties.
Sadly, with competition and price cuts from overseas shoe companies David Elman first started importing European shoes to sell alongside their NZ made shoes. But by 2008 their own factory closed and David Elman shops only sold European imports until the last store closed in 2018. One of their previous partners Sandy Cooper bought some of the factory equipment and hired former employees to keep making her own NZ brand Minnie Cooper shoes, painting a small piece of David Elman’s legacy.
With the gradual decline in New Zealand made clothing and footwear brands, these shoes will be kept as a memory of New Zealand’s once booming fashion industry and the skill and craftsmanship of such a popular shoe brand, that many generations of Kiwis have worn.