When Deputy Director Lynda Roscoe Hartigan was arranging to bring Shoes: Pleasure and Pain to PEM from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, she knew she would find a way to involve Jimmy Raye. The Salem socialite and former Boston Ballet dancer owns hundreds of pairs of shoes as part of his larger collection of antique and vintage couture clothing and accessories.
Shoes features 18 pairs of Raye’s shoes, as well as his vintage display stands and stylistic sensibilities.
“I live with my collection because I think it’s an art form,” says Raye, as he throws open hidden doors, glass cases, antique chests and hatboxes to reveal a moment of Bergdorf Goodman yesteryear so brilliantly recreated you can almost hear the luxury department store music.
Raye’s collection extends from the 18th century to today and includes a good selection of men’s footwear. When he sees a pair of shoes, Raye sees art and movement. Among his most cherished are shoes from the Roaring Twenties and the ‘30s, opulent flapper shoes to be worn when dancing and adorned with beautiful fabrics, stones, gems and leather. When asked to pick just one pair, Raye declines.
“Each shoe has its own aura. And that’s what attracts me,” he says. “It’s the energy of the shoe and how I feel.”
When it comes to pulling off a particularly high heel or an exotic pair of shoes, confidence, says Raye, has a lot to do with it. “When you look at that little girl when she puts on her mother’s high heels, she is very confident. And when she is going across that floor, she is strutting her stuff. And it’s so exciting to see. In her mind, she can wear these.
“I think the shoes become you and you become the shoes,” he says. “When people put them on, the shoes change them. If I put on a boot, it gives me height. It gives me power.”
Fashionista Iris Apfel and hat designer Stephen Jones, both featured in solo exhibitions at PEM, have visited Raye’s home in Salem’s McIntire historic district. In fact, Apfel signed Raye’s copy of the Rare Bird of Fashion exhibition catalog with the following:
“As a passionate collector, he truly puts me to shame.”
Raye helped choreograph a Hats-inspired fashion show during the run of Jones’ exhibition, also from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.
A pilates instructor, Raye looks boyish at 64 in Aldo black-and-white striped sneakers, white jeans and a black T-shirt. He grew up in Lynn with eight siblings. His father worked as a chauffeur at General Electric, but also performed as an acrobat. A large framed photograph of his father’s troupe in the 1920s is proudly displayed in a sitting room alongside the same pair of lace-up tan canvas shoes with leather trim that the men in the photo are wearing.
With little more than one school shirt and a pair of pants, Raye grew up to appreciate having fine things. In third grade, he showed up to school picture day wearing an outfit his sister bought in Mexico. Proudly displayed in a hallway is the framed school photo, as well the very first item Raye collected — that little suit.
Editor’s Note: “Shoes can reveal a lot about a person… Turns out one of the exhibition’s lenders is a passionate, local collector who’s sharing a small slice of his historic trove with the museum.” Read more about Jimmy Raye and his fanciful collection in a piece by Andrea Shea, art reporter at WBUR, by clicking here!
Explore the creativity of footwear from around the globe in Shoes: Pleasure and Pain, on view at PEM November 19, 2016 to March 12, 2017.