Rhapsody in Blue

Ruminations on the Plastic Overshoe

CRUMPLED ALL TOGETHER IN a basket, waiting to be picked up, the commonly blue greeting sits by the entrance of clean, white spaces. The protective plastic overshoe has the most amusing particularity, especially when wearing heels. It scaffolds the foot into experimental proportions in ways second to none.

As there’s hardly a chance to sneak in without them under the watchful eye of the real estate agent, or negotiating the museum or hospital staff, it’s best to think of the overshoe as an aspirational soft ballerina flat, or an opportunity to put ‘shoes in shoes’1 into practice. They’re part of the deal: protection. Bridging the pristine architectural interiors and the realm of the messy body, but unlike protective-wear – galoshes or gumboots – the disposable shoe protects the space from the foot entering.

Tucked away in a quieter side of Paris, the sixteenth arrondissement, at Maison La Roche, there it is: the basket full of blue. I love small house museums: they offer a glimpse into someone else’s private life. There’s rarely a crowd and – by chance – I’m the only one here today. I reach for the basket, twist my body about with my hand against the wall and the sporty-aqua-tinged kayaks are on. Whatever my choice of footwear previously conveyed is no longer clear. With my feet abstracted I feel cocooned. The overshoes give me a new sense of occasion, of having arrived and gained entry to someplace special.

This house I am standing in, with my feet in blue clouds, was built in the early 1920s by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret for the Swiss banker and art collector Raoul Albert La Roche. The modernist apartment feels light and airy, giving room for my thoughts to elevate. I wander the space leaving an aural trail of the rustle of the plastic little shoe echoing in the purist interior. The sound is a reminder that I’m roaming what was once someone else’s private domain.

Le Corbusier cherished an idea of the promenade architecturale: ‘It is as we walk, as we move along that we see the architectural layout unfolding.’2 I advance in polyethylene and encounter the space: I’m carried from luminous white to a palette of burnt umber, dark grey and clear blue. My bigger-than-usual feet draw my gaze downwards and I note the tiling of the ground floor has changed into a rose-coloured linoleum. The main feature of the villa is the curved ramp connecting the gallery to the library at the top level of the house. I drag myself up the slope, holding onto the rail as the shoes make the surface slippery to tread. The fabric layers on my feet strip away the elegance and practicality of my shoes and it becomes a struggle against the interior elements.

The shoe coverings are imposed on everyone entering the space, it becomes our uniform as we wander as curious tourists: heads gently tilted above softly contorted feet. Walter Benjamin wrote that ‘To live means to leave traces.’3 These traces on the interior – lines, bruises and other visible imprints – become an occupant’s signature. The man who once lived here has been described as a bachelor with a love for a spartan way of living, and true to form Maison La Roche has a minimal, poetic calm. I picture myself in the famous chaise longue by the windows, dressed in a black morning coat and striped pants, a favourite attire of the subversive artists of his time.4 But instead, I wear a sartorial reminder of my status as a visitor and foreigner.

But the blue happens to fit the colour scheme in each room: complimenting the polychromy of the impressive interior shades, it is clean and cool. It reminds me of the calming tone of cleaning products: my toothbrush is the same colour. Alike the sterile blue of hospital scrubs, it’s a background that makes it easy to spot possible contaminants.5 Le Corbusier considered blue as an interior colour, best suited for shadowy places, indicating space and distance.6

Cheap, light and available in bulk, the overshoe is uncomplicated and sizeless. Recycled, but ultimately disposable, the shoe starts to feel like an analogy to contemporary fashion. Here in the modernist setting of the Maison La Roche, filled with ambition to embrace the spirit and possibilities of new technologies, the overshoe unifies clothing and architecture.

I descend and return to the ground floor. I’m at the end of my visit and I toss my one-size-fits-all blues back in the basket.


Eeva Rönkä is a a freelance designer and writer based in Berlin. 

Meg Franklin is a New York-based artist who works with oil painting.

  1. http://dismagazine.com/distaste/new-style-options/1 13659/shoes-in-shoes/ 

  2. Jacques Sbriglio, Maison La Roche: visitor’s brochure, Fondation Le Corbusier, 2010 

  3. Walter Benjamin, ’Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century’ in Peter Demetz (ed.), Reflections, Schocken Books, New York, 2007, p. 155 

  4. Ulrich Lehmann, Tigersprung: Fashion in Modernity, The MIT Press, Massachusetts, 2000, p. 358 

  5. http://scienceline.org/2008/09/ask-locke-greenbluescrubs/ 

  6. Jan De Heer, The Architectonic Colour: Polychromy in the Purist architecture of Le Corbusier, Publishers, Rotterdam, 2009, p.119