Sunday, June 6, 2010

L'histoire de mes Comme il Fauts

Comme il Faut shoes, sometimes called the Manolo Blahniks of tango...


About one year into my tango career, I went to a festival in a nearby city where some shoe and clothing vendors were set up. One of them was highly recommended by my friend and frequent traveling companion, L. She'd had an excellent experience buying from them online--and she just adored the pair of Comme il Fauts that she had bought from them.

(It was not Julia Bella, whose video showcase of shoes I've linked above, although I've no doubt she also provides fine service.)

So when we went to Nearby City, L and I were both very excited to get to browse this vendor's selection of CiFs in person. I was dubious of my ability to walk on their famously slender stiletto heels, but, hey, it's free to look, right?

I decided to play dress-up: "Could I please try on your very sexiest pair of size eight Comme Il Fauts?" I asked the vendor, feeling a bit overwhelmed by the array of styles, brands, and sizes.

She laughed. "Bad-girl shoes, size eight, hm? Let me see..."

She disappeared among the stacks and returned with, as I recall, a pair of purple and black creations with four-inch heels and a double ankle strap. Bad-girl shoes indeed!

I could barely stand up in them. But as I wobbled to the mirror to examine the effect, I had to admit, they certainly made my legs and feet look good. And by "good," I mean "sexy as hell." They were hot.

I didn't buy anything that night, but when it was time to buy a pair of "real tango shoes," I remembered how cheerfully the vendor had let me play with her stock, and I made sure to purchase from her (a different brand, with a much lower, more solid--less intimidating--heel).

Although I'd had fun, I had taken away the impression that I could not handle the famous CiF heel. I would think of them with regret over the next few years. Too bad I can't wear those sexy shoes...


When L and I went to Buenos Aires last summer--the ultimate tango-traveling adventure, which I was very happy to be able to share with her--one of our few fixed destinations was the Comme il Faut showroom. L needed to make the pilgrimage to pay homage to the makers of her favorite shoes--and to stock up.

I was less enthusiastic on my own behalf, since I had this mental block about their shoes, though I was excited for L. Mostly I was interested in the experience of it. And, oh, it is an experience indeed...

The Comme il Faut showroom is a bit off the beaten path. It's situated above a little courtyard, on a quiet street in a nice neighborhood. A discreet sign on the outer wall lists the shops that surround the courtyard; if you don't look carefully, a first-time visitor could easily pass it by.

Through the cool arched entrance of the courtyard, the doorways of the shops are shaded by crisp black and white striped awnings. You need to look up to spot CiF's signboard; since the showroom is on the second floor, their sign hangs above eye level.

You ascend the stairs, and you must ring for admittance--not uncommon for luxury-goods shops there, we would learn, but especially impressive that day. "It feels like we should have to give a password," L giggled to me, quietly.

"Swordfish," I whispered back, and we stifled our laughter as we were buzzed in.

There are not many shoes on display in the showroom--only one small glass case on one wall. Instead of shelves full of shoes, the room is dominated by a massive, gilt-framed mirror that nearly reaches the ceiling. There are velvet-covered couches that look like French antiques, and the proprietress (and designer) presides over the room from behind a delicate carved desk of similar style. She looked sternly at us over the tops of her reading glasses as we entered. I felt an urge to curtsy.

Since the shoes are mostly not on display, you don't really get to select your shoes for yourself, here. Rather, you tell an assistant (attendant? acolyte?) what you're looking for--size, heel height, some idea of color and style--and she disappears into a stockroom that, from what I glimpse through the open door, looks packed with shelves full of boxed shoes, and returns with a selection for you to examine.

(I have heard that if you somehow create an unfavorable impression on the owner or the staff, they may not bring out their very best shoes for you. I have no idea whether we got to see "their best," but I know that L and I were certainly satisfied with what they brought us!)

Soon, L was surrounded by boxes, shoes, and clouds of tissue paper, like the best Christmas morning a tanguera could ever have! She was practically biting her nails, trying to decide between all the beautiful shoes.

I sat back, enjoying her delight and offering a quiet opinion when asked--but one pair especially caught my eye. Understated but elegant, with a little something special about them. Black lace over a white peep toe, black enclosed heel cage, tied with a black ribbon at the ankle.* The heel was the lowest that CiF generally makes, about three inches--but still, that impossible, needle-like stiletto! Surely I could never wear them!

L noticed how my eyes kept returning to that pair. I may have picked them up, reverently, to look at them more closely. Since we wear the same size, she urged me to try them on. "Go on; what'll it hurt to try?" she smiled.

I slipped off my sensible walking shoes to slide my stockinged feet into the beautiful black-and-whites, and tied that crazy slip of ribbon, certain that it would never stay tied. But it did. I thought I'd fall on my behind the moment I stood up, with only those impossibly thin stilettos under my heels. But I could stand. Surely, I thought, I'll go crashing down with my first step, anyway. Wrong again; I could walk.

Surefooted, though cautious, I moved to look at them in that enormous mirror. (Who could fail to feel like a princess in those surroundings, looking at herself in such a fairy-tale mirror?) I rolled my jeans up past my ankles, to better imagine the effect in a skirt. I shifted my weight to the balls of my feet and tried a few tango steps, backward and forward. The shoes danced.

After a bit, I just stood shyly, looking longingly at the shoes, shifting my feet from one angle to another, and wiggling my toes at myself in the mirror. Now my question was whether I danced well enough to wear such shoes. But to tell the truth, I'd fallen for them from the first instant I'd seen them on my feet. As I looked at them in the mirror, the bells rang and the heavenly choirs sang, and I knew that God and the angels of tango had made these shoes just for me. A voice from heaven sounded in my ears: "Buy the shoes!"

Okay, maybe it was L, laughing at my preening and saying to the assistant, "Look how much she loves those shoes!" To me: "You have to get them!"

And so I did. When tango shoes look and feel that perfect, you just don't pass them by, if you can possibly help it. Downstairs in the courtyard, I fanned myself with my hand. "I think they pump some kind of drug into the ventilation system up there," I said, nodding toward L's laden shopping bag and my own, unplanned purchase. It was as though we'd fallen under some spell and just couldn't say no--even me, as resistant as I had been toward the brand.

In addition to our purchases, both L and I left with huge, giddy smiles and a lot of anticipation for the milongas that night.

My black-and-white lovelies freed me from my Comme il Phobia and opened to me a new and wonderful (if expensive) world of beautiful tango shoes. I now think it was the height of that first pair, at the festival, that was really the problem, not the width of the heel. (After all, I theorize, with your weight forward on your feet, you really don't need much under your heels--even such a delicate support is enough, if it is sturdy and properly placed.)

The black-and-whites were the first pair I'd bought** in Buenos Aires, and after a very minor period of adjustment to the heels slightly higher than I'd been used to, they are still my babies. (I think every woman who's had a really special pair of shoes will understand what I mean.)

* I've learned more shoemaking terminology since I started dancing tango...! I had never cared about shoes this much in my life. My main requirement has not changed, though: comfort. If anything, actually, comfort is even more important to me now, in all my shoes.

** ...That I got to wear right away, anyway. I'd ordered two pairs custom made by a shoemaker that a friend recommended, but they were not ready yet at the time. And let me tell you, having shoes custom-made for you is another addicting experience! I always get a wicked, snobbish little thrill from saying "my shoemaker in Buenos Aires." ;)

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