Well, Mom’s shoes. But in my head, and because of my early, wild preoccupation with rowdy cool Brits, I would sometimes lapse into calling her Mum just to drive her crazy. Mom or Mum, I’ve long wanted to submit this story to the editors of Vogue for their monthly Nostalgia column. I’ve written and rewritten it many times and just never hit Send because it didn’t include some amazing and brilliant direct connection to someone like Berry Berenson or Vivienne Westwood.
As mentioned before, one of the greatest gifts from my mother was parking my brother and I at the library twice a week and beyond that, handing me her fashion magazines when I was just beginning to read. Looking back now, I realize she might have done this to curb my excessive tree climbing, Jedi swashbuckling, and even more precarious gymnastics at the top of my red swing set which I can attest to having done in an obsessive attempt to morph into Peter Pan. Most of these efforts left me with dueling mangled elbows that I would hold up proudly while my dad tried in vain to remove bits and pieces of concrete and gravel that would be lodged there all the remaining weeks of summer vacation.
As incongruous as it now sounds, it was fashion magazines that captured my attention one late summer afternoon while waiting for permission to resume more hazardous, tomboyish adventures. One moment I recall in particular was of me sitting on the floor against the side of my parents’ bed, thumbing with one hand through some mid-70s issue of Vogue, while the pudgy fingers of my other hand held on to the cool, comforting fringe of the white chenille bedspread. For a moment I found myself entranced by beautiful photography, perfect clothes and lovely models. I remember an image of Catherine Deneuve in a Chanel ad, striking photos of Hemingway girls, and page after page of sun-kissed models captured by the already legendary Helmut Newton. I kept wondering how these suave, breezy, fancy people landed themselves in the middle of these magazines. Where did this life exist?
At some point in my reverie Mum walked in, preoccupied with plans for an atypical evening out, and sort of scooted me out of the way while she got ready. I have this abstract memory of the beautiful magazine images juxtaposed with my mom fancying up – I’ve no idea where they were going that night and looking back, where they were going doesn’t matter one whit – I was simply caught between the world of Vogue and a similar, small town version that I’d no idea mothers participated in.
I looked up from the shiny pages to watch her finish getting ready which was signaled by the spritzing on of her special occasion Estee Lauder Private Collection (a fragrance whose smell still transports me to all things elegant at age 7). She then slipped her feet into her very best shoes, the ones I remain obsessed with to this day. In fact, I’ve combed her closet many times in hopes that she’d held on to them. They were black patent leather pumps, chic and smart, with a shorter stacked heel reminiscent of Jackie O herself. But what I especially loved was the sweet blue satin lining peeking out from the inside. Not just any blue — it was the exact shade of blue of a jewelry ad that had caught my attention moments before. You know the one. The blue that to this day is the desired blue of any and every jewelry box handed to any girl, anywhere in the world.
This is one of my most fascinating memories of childhood. A moment where living and printed style collided in a whoosh around my scraped up, sweaty, tangled-hair boy-like version of the very girl I secretly still am. The one that realizes that pretty shoes, perfect shades of blue, delicate pearls and grown-up eau-de-toilette can propel you to exciting, exhilarating places but could not possibly ever match the excitement of riding a bicycle sans handlebars.