The shoes were the stuff of legend: pairs upon colorful pairs of pumps, flats and other footwear that evinced the lavish lifestyle of Imelda Marcos, the woman wed to deposed Philippines strongman Ferdinand Marcos.
Thousands of showy shoes were found at the Manila presidential palace and another Marcos home decades ago, left behind in 1986 when the couple fled the country in the throes of a popular revolt.
The new government held up the high heels as the epitome of the ejected Marcoses’ extravagance as their nation was mired in barefoot poverty, an anti-Cinderella story warning of the dangers of autocracy. The leader who succeeded Marcos, Corazon Aquino, displayed the manifold footwear in the presidential palace. Hundreds of pairs were lent to a local shoe museum.
But in the decades since, the shoes that turned heads worldwide for all the wrong reasons have been boxed up. Some were damaged by termites, others deluged by monsoon waters or encrusted with mold, officials at the National Museum in Manila told the Associated Press and Filipino media this week.
The storied shoes went neglected along with a trove of dresses and accessories stored at the Malacanang Palace that was moved to museum offices two years ago, the museum said in a statement Monday. No plan was created for what to do with them, it explained.
Some of Marcos gowns could help create a fashion collection for the museum, “but this has yet to be even formally proposed given the as-yet politically sensitive nature of their provenance,” the museum said.
Spoiling the shoes may have been not only an archival loss, but a financial one. The Philippines has tried to profit from the Imelda Marcos mystique in the past, seeking to sell off millions in seized and abandoned jewels, but court cases have stopped the auction, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported this month. A presidential commission has suggested displaying the gems to lure tourists.
Now widowed and back in the Philippines, Imelda Marcos sits in the House of Representatives, elected two years ago. The "Iron Butterfly" has defended herself against accusations of graft and corruption, seeking to reclaim her reputation. She remained cherished as a style icon -- and went on to promote her own fashion line.
And what of the shoes that made her name a global synonym for excess? The former first lady claimed they actually attested to her innocence.
“When they broke into the palace, they went into my closet looking for stolen loot,” Marcos said of her cumbersome collection, The Times reported six years ago. “And all they found were shoes, beautiful shoes.”
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Former first lady Imelda Marcos points to some of her 200 shoes on display at the Shoe Museum in suburban Marikina City in 2001. Credit: Pat Roque / Associated Press