The Handbag Effect.

That's her.
That’s her.

In Nebraska, you get an extra scoop of ice cream at the ice cream shop just because you’re nice. That actually happened.

You can’t get a good piece of fish anywhere, but what’s wrong with you? You’re as landlocked as a person can get in the United States. Eat steak.

In Nebraska, you can visit the International Quilt Study Center — a.k.a. Valhalla for quilt geeks. You’ll receive a near-stately welcome and be rendered speechless when you enter the galleries. Perhaps for the first time in your life you will see quilts given the honor and solemn respect they deserve. This is way, way better than eating substandard fish or even well-ordered steak. Please go there.

And if you’re carrying a Celine handbag within state lines, you will be mobbed in Nebraska.

Look, these are things I know and I tell you because I care about you.

My mother and I stopped by an outlet mall on our way into town. Mom needed pantyhose. We figured at the outlet mall we could get out and stretch our legs, find a cup of coffee, get those hose. And so we exited for Nebraska Crossing, a sprawling, newly-constructed discount compound. I’m not a huge fan of outlet malls; the shopping experience always feels a bit like a mouthful of styrofoam. But it was a warm day and there was a Brooks Brothers store on the grounds, so I was game. I like Brooks Brothers shirts.

So Mom and I are going along and twice in two different shops, I was complimented on my handbag. I am currently toting around a rawther nice handbag, it’s true: it’s a Celine Phantom bag from last year. It’s oxblood-colored (strangely tempting to use the UK spelling there — “oxblood-coloured” — but I wouldn’t dare) and is not the mini-version of the Phantom that has been showing up lately. This beast is the full monty, the real deal, and it’s head-slappingly gorgeous, if you’re into that sort of thing, which I am.┬áThe bag was a gift, and that’s a story for another day, when you and I have a quality Zinfandel and about an hour to kill at an airport bar.

My mother found her pantyhose and that was all we bought the whole time we were at Nebraska Crossing, but we looked around the place for well over an hour, enjoying being together and not working. The last store we popped into was the Michael Kors store. We walked in and were just about to walk out when a twinky young sales assistant approached me.

“Oooh, I love your bag,” he said, eyes fixed on the smooth leather. “It almost looks like Celine.”

“It is Celine,” I said with a smile.

My answer appeared to throw the young man into physical pain.

“NO!” he gasped. “Braden!!!”

A second twinky sales associate levitated over. Both of them were 90lbs soaking wet, both barely in their twenties. They flapped their hands and were jumping up and down, touching my handbag and clutching their chests.

“That is seriously Celine,” said the first young man, fingering the tiny logo at the top of the bag. “Seriously, seriously, seriously Celine.” He was almost in tears. He looked at his friend. “Phoebe Philo is life.”*

“Can I hold it??” the second one asked me.

Of course he could, I said, and I let the boys try out the bag. One of them joked that he was going to take off with it and made a little motion of turning and running, which was slightly less funny to me than it was to his friend.

Two other sales associates came over, both girls this time, both every bit as hysterical as their colleagues. I now had a veritable gallery of youth cooing and fluffernutting over my handbag. It was fun for a moment, but then a terrible wave of depression came over me. These kids cared too much about this. I darkened right there before them, though they didn’t know it. To be complimented is one thing; to be conspicuously gagged over for an object you happen to possess is another. It was intensely uncomfortable, being the carrier of such wanton material love.

But I took a breath and allowed it to run its course. Because I know what it’s like to grow up in the sticks and see an artifact From Beyond. When you have your sights on leaving cornfields for skyscrapers, it’s a big deal when a high-rise shimmers into view. You gotta inspect it, you gotta fuel your next year of high school with that image or experience. For some kids on the prairie, it’s music From Beyond that keeps them going. For others, it’s pictures of Istanbul or Belize. For others, it’s fashion. It’s Celine. And it’s not fair to judge a kid for the obsession, not fair to make his love small or light; to him, it’s entirely serious, possibly life-or-death serious.

We left, and my mom, who hadn’t seen the full freakout, said, “What was that all about?”

“Fashion,” I said, and we went to find the car.

*Phoebe Philo is the British designer at the helm of the house of Celine.

Shoe Story.

posted in: Fashion, New York City, Tips 2
A British housewife puts out items for salvage during 1942. Ministry of Information Second World War Official Collection
A British housewife puts out items for salvage during 1942. Ministry of Information Second World War Official Collection.

Last night, I left a pair of gray Celine ankle boots outside the iron gate into the apartment building where I lived until this morning. If you happened to be walking west of Avenue A on 10th St. around 9pm last night, you would’ve seen them, placed nicely side-by-side against the brick wall. They were free to a good home, but you wouldn’t have wanted them. Even Celine boots aren’t worth much when they’re as trashed as those boots were. I blame Manhattan.

I’m hard on shoes, though. I didn’t know that was a trait one could possess until it was pointed out to me a few years ago. I don’t remember who did the pointing, but it must’ve been someone I cared about because I remember looking down at my feet and seeing my dinged-up shoes with scuffs deep like wounds and I remember feeling embarrassed about that.

It’s great when you make changes in your life based on feelings of self-confidence, but frequently it’s shame that compels us to change. Shoes are important. They communicate silent messages about how you feel and what you think about the world; certainly they affect how you move through it, figuratively and literally. I decided that I wanted to be the sort of person who cared about not just her shoe style but the state of the shoes themselves. I resolved to buy the best shoes I could afford, always, and take good care of those shoes.

And so I did: I’ve been a committed shoe-maintainer for many years, now. I visit a cobbler regularly. My cobbler in Chicago is located in my favorite building in the city, the Monadnock. Not only is the architecture of the Monadnock great, the lights in the building’s arcade are low, like gaslights, and there’s lots of wood and glass; the floor is mosaic and my heels make a great little tic! tic! as I walk the hall. The cobblers in the shoe repair shop know me well; they’re all Mexican and I get a “Buenos dias, Maria!” when I walk in. Orlando always takes my shoes and looks at the heels, first.

“Ohh, ohh. Yes, this bery bad,” he’ll say, and then cluck his tongue. There’s usually some catch to the repair he has to make. It’s not because he’s trying to take advantage of me; it’s that most of the shoes I buy are unique in construction or shape, e.g., the heel of the YSL pump is metal, the toe of the Marni pump is cloth, etc. We agree on a price for the fix and I come back the next morning to shoes that not only look better but feel better: maintaining great shoes is one of the most glorious feelings I know. I’m serious. There’s something so adult, so capable about a pair of resoled, polished shoes. Some people buy fancy shoes at full-retail prices and then they don’t take care of them. I buy fancy shoes on sale and take great care of them. I like my way.

So what about these Celine boots?

Oh, they were goners. I had them fixed twice. The seam over the instep was coming apart again and I could see my sock through the top. The stacked wood heels were chipped and battered, the leather was rubbed to discoloration. I walked miles and miles and miles in those shoes and they served me well. Very sharp, those boots.

Take care of them.