ugg heeled boots the Madness of a Designer Footwear Sale
ALL shoe departments are not created equal, and this is because not all shoes provoke feelings of love and derangement. Sensible shoes stubby walkers; rubberized clods do not inspire the sort of shoe lust that causes lapses in fiscal sanity or potential girl fights.
But the shoe department of Barneys New York is devoted, to an intoxicating degree, to party shoes: feathery, mile high spangle y things made of sex and Christmas trees, that transform the wearer into someone with legs and buttocks rivaling those of Rachel Alexandra at the Preakness.
Caution and sobriety are recommended before braving a Barneys shoe sale events part roller derby, part Easter egg hunt, part war zone. This sale the “first markdown” in trade speak began last week; the sandbags were out, and a blockade of sturdy shelves loaded with designer footwear was in place, fortified to withstand a howling maelstrom of ladies, lunched, wined and ready to ransack, loot and pillage.
A number of combatants were college age women in flat sandals and black toenails, usually deployed in ruthless teams of two or three. Some were Asian with Pucci newsboy caps; some arrived with identically dressed mothers.
Husbands were few. Most know better than to get caught in this frenzy. I did catch one luckless wretch, wholly abandoned, sitting in the middle of a blast zone of discards. In a daze, he fingered a strappy orange Givenchy platform lying next to him, tipped it over to squint at the price, then shook his head in existential bewilderment, as if this, finally, was the cracking point of his spirit.”This is how it works,” a slightly exasperated salesman barked, loudly enough to penetrate a good quadrant of the action. “First, you try it on, make sure it works for you. If you really think you want it, then I will go find the other one for you.”
A French family was there, presumably emboldened by our lamentable currency rates to engage in an unrestrained shopping holiday. The daughter, a willowy, laconic 14 year old (unruly chestnut hair to the waist, white tank top, tight cigarette jeans), was hobbling around the carpet in one flesh colored patent leather Christian Louboutin pump (five inch stiletto heel, five bondage buckles across the arch, lurid red sole). Her father shouted something in French, to which she swung her hair like Rita Hayworth in “Gilda” and asked, “Quoi?” with wide innocent eyes and a $70,000 pout.
I couldn’t determine what the conflict was, but it was probably something along the universal lines of, “No teenage daughter of mine is going back to boarding school wearing a shoe that is the sociological equivalent of a crossbow full of Viagra darts.” (She might have argued that the pumps, formerly $925, were now only $559.)
If you are either a size 5 or a size 10, the world is your oyster; virtually any shoe will be glowing and untouched before you, like a mythical elf treasure in World of Warcraft. There was, for example, a Marni pump: Kelly green, with purple suede Flash Gordon lightning bolts across the arch and patent leather wine stem heels. Inconceivably, it was sitting upright and unmolested on the racks. This, of course, is because it was a 6, a size not worn by decent people since 1938.
In more popular sizes like 8 1/2, 9 and 9 1/2, there was a surplus on the shelves, sprawled without categories into a still life that could be tabloid headlined, “Catfight Carnage at Sock Hop!
” Pink satin prom pumps lie under heavy studded black clompers; yellow suede midi boots trample wafer thin Blahnik mules.
As for size 7 1/2, there is scant hope. The shelves are virtual graveyards, save for a few isolated pieces too insane to be functional (eight inch Alaa platform wedgies made of bronzed reptile sale price, $1,399).
Being a veteran mercenary shopper, I have learned strategies. To find 7 1/2’s and avoid injury, one must behave like a scavenger animal and avoid the racks entirely. The carpet is where the money is. For 7 1/2’s, one wades straight into the line of fire and scans the floor for shoes that have been left for dead around the seating area. I found a roughly stacked cairn next to a recently vacated seat, and there was my mother lode of 7 1/2 Louboutins: eggplant Mary Janes, open toe ($529); six inch heels that seemed to have been sewn together out of broken mirrors ($1,295); a pump that looked like a bouquet of African violets wrought in apricot suede ($559). None of this was within my recession budget, so my victory was purely academic.
The sales staff is, for the most part, unusually brave and sporting through this blitz, seemingly guided by an invisible Royal Air Force poster reading: Keep Calm and Carry On.
“Give me your name and number,” one commanded in firm, resolute tones to a woman who had sunken into an armchair in grief after receiving tragic news: the mate of the black pump cradled in her arms was officially missing in action. “I will put this on my shelf, and if it turns up tomorrow, I will call you,” he said, gently prying the orphaned shoe from the shopper’s manicured fingertips. “There’s a 50 50 chance.”
Triage was being performed in the shelves: large shopping bags of single shoes recently recovered from the field. Some women were digging through them frantically, before their sizes had even been identified.
A very petite woman in a head to toe Chanel costume (who, I suspected, may have been considerably more advanced in years than her bronzed pallor and raven hair suggested) had set up a beachhead on one of the couches. Her shoes were off; her tiny, behosed feet were up on a hassock. For more than an hour, she was deep in pleasant thoughts, making no attempt whatsoever to put any shoes on her feet, new or otherwise. She was, I realized, simply existing in the shoe department that was also her second living room.
The nonsale items these, too, looked like the mouths of second graders: full of holes and wanting orthodontics.
“Miss!” barked the Irate Salesman over a crowd of heads. “No seven and a half!” He sliced a finger across his throat: dead.
A girl next to me cried out in horror: “Oh, my God, I hate you!” to a friend who had just brought her a pump in bright fuchsia. “Those are my size. Why did you find those?!”
War can also bring out the best in New Yorkers, who unite in periods of crisis blizzards, too, allow for the sudden intimacies of a shared ordeal.
It is easy to love strangers when they cry in the theater; it is also easy when the Chanel lady finally rises from her couch to hobble, lopsidedly, on one ridiculously delicate, absurdly expensive and wholly impractical shoe, with the same smile she has been reserving for such occasions since age 6.
Such extravagant shoes are flowers from the mythological garden of expansive dreams; they are the embodied hope of fabulous future events to which they intrinsically belong. The magic vested in them promises to gravitationally lead all Cinderellas to locate their proper mates.
(And if they can’t be found, someone from Barneys will call you.)
BARNEYS SHOE DEPARTMENT
660 Madison Avenue (61st Street); (212) 826 8900.
BARMY Barneys, the department store that holds the most keys to New York’s retail heart, is all wickedness and glory a reflection of the loopy, ever unfolding fabulousness that is the Barneys signature ethos.
BELFRY It’s always a bit of a zoo, particularly when the semiannual sale has reached critical mass; many fabulous reptiles and things with feathers. A close look around the floor reveals squirrel nest stashes of YSL platforms secreted behind display cases. Poach at your own risk.
BARFLY If it’s a sale day, best to go later in the afternoon. It is easier to wrestle bargains away from women after their second glass of wine upstairs at Fred’s.