Stepping into la dolce vita in Paris (and Rome)
Like so many glum Parisians in January looking for a quick high, I got sucked into the winter sales and fell for some clunky-stylish Doc Marten platform boots, just because. My darling boyfriend doesn’t appreciate me as much in heels since he stands a handful of inches shorter than me. At 5’9″, I don’t need stilettos for extra height, but like a lot of tall women, I refused to be condemned to a life of flats. I’ll always love my high-heeled shoes, even if (and honestly, especially because) they make me an uber-amazon.
After those new Doc Marten boots sat in their box and large shopping bag taking up extra space on my couch for a week or so, I wasn’t too sure about my purchase. I decided to take advantage of the store’s return policy, but not before some thorough investigation online about how to wear the damn things, lest I miss a great fashion moment of my own making. Scanning through photos of girls in head-to-toe black wearing similar platform boots to mine, I decided I wasn’t going to miss anything particuarly special. Among the photos, one popped out at me, of a famously troubled American actress looking stylish on the streets of New York, clad all in black and wearing the most incredible high heels. They made her feet look like fangs piercing the sidewalk. The photo’s fashion credits listed her slick black booties as made by Walter Steiger. Cool. Never heard of him. I went to the Doc Marten shop and returned my boots, happy to have my Paris sale money back.
Later that day, after a quick errand on the west side of the city towards the Champs Elysées, I decided to stroll home along my favorite window-shopping street in Paris, Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. This is usually a harmless exercise, but this time I was in for something different. As I neared the corner of Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré and Avenue Matignon, passing the endless art galleries and high-end boutiques, I saw on the corner a shop with a sign on the door that read: “Walter Steiger Boutique – Soldes jusqu’à 80%”. Up to 80% off? For possibly-fanged amazon heels? I walked in. The store was empty, except for maybe a dozen stacks of boxes of different styles of shoes. The shop was quiet – a couple of women were trying on everything left, a couple of attentive salespeople were tending to them, and a debonair silver-haired man stood observing the scene from behind the cash desk. I scanned the boxes and spotted a lonely pair of spectacular black ankle boots with those fanged heels, in my size, and 80% off!
Then I realized, that white-haired man with those cool white bauhaus eyeglasses on, standing behind the cash desk, that was the man himself, the shoe designer Walter Steiger. As overwhelmed as I was by these serendipitous circumstances, I still felt that I had to rationalize getting these shoes. After all, I’d just got my Paris sale money back. My mind was racing – where can I wear these amazing heels? Then I remembered that I’d been invited to a fashion show, in Rome of all places, by the wonderful haute couture designer Vittorio Camaiani, a frequent collaborator of my equally fabulous boyfriend. These boots would go great with the outfit I’d planned to wear, which was by Vittorio of course. I could almost justify the purchase and had an idea of how to make all of this even better. I stopped one of the salespeople. “Excusez-moi,” I said, “I would like to buy these shoes. I’ll be wearing them to an haute couture show in Rome next week. Would Mister Steiger sign them for me?” “Oh bien sur! He would love that. And to know they’re being worn for haute couture in Rome – mais oui!” Sold.
So here I am, just having arrived in Rome, finishing a perfect plate of spaghetti carbonara and pondering this dip into the dolce vita. My black-and-white silk jumpsuit by Vittorio and my autographed Walter Steiger boots are waiting in my hotel room closet for tomorrow’s event. This is the magic of being in the great fashion cities of Europe, where you can run into the designers at their namesake shop, at their high-pressure fashion show, or simply walking down the street (that’s happened to me too, brushing by 80’s couture legend Claude Montana and another time, it was current cutting-edge designer Haider Ackermann). These are the sparkly moments that make me fall in love with life in Europe – and especially in Paris – all over again.