I’ve never considered myself a material girl. Matter of fact, the people I enjoy least in this world are those caught up in accumulating stuff. I don’t pine for fancy cars (okay, so maaaaaybe a Tesla, just a teeny, tiny bit) or collect fancy handbags or covet shiny gems or watches. I don’t even need a big, fancy house.
But John Fluevog shoes make me weak in the knees.
I was a newly-minted 21-year-old the first time I pressed my nose against the window of the John Fluevog shoe store in downtown Seattle. How could I not do a double-take as my eyes caught sight of such beauties? Pointy-toed pumps and lace-ups, leopard prints and pony-skin spats, boots of rich leather with laces and buttons up to here and there. I remember gasping in awe as I took in the bounty. These weren’t Nordstrom shoes–oh no–they were in a class of their own. Edgy and artsy, with a firm nod to rock n’ roll. It wasn’t a stretch to imagine my favorite punk and New Wave musicians sporting the latest ‘Vogs. I gingerly tip-toed into the store, trying not to be noticed, yearning to get a glimpse of the price tag on these exquisite creations.
I got a glimpse, all right. And a one-way kick in the ass back to reality.
There was no conceivable way a young woman like me, working hard at her modest-paying entry level job, could spend that kind of money on shoes, no matter how exceptional and perfect they were. I was a club kid, spending several nights a week taking in the Seattle music scene, my few extra dollars mostly going towards cheap well drinks on ladies nights and a jug of Carlo Rossi chablis I kept stowed in my fridge. My mod, spiky, punk rock hairstyle came free of charge, compliments of my work as a hair model with a Seattle salon that kept me in crimson highlights and the latest 80’s ‘do. I’d scour vintage clothing shops with names like Retro Viva and Fritzi Ritz to find inexpensive oversized coats and a pair of cream-colored leather stiletto pumps, circa 19-something-fabulous, that I wore to shreds and then had resoled. The bulk of my clothing I sewed myself, fashioning sassy mini skirts from remnant yards of velvet found on sale tables. I loved fashion. I loved rock ‘n roll. And I loved cool shoes.
John Fluevog shoes were like the beautiful boy in the band who never noticed me and I knew I would never get to kiss. I’d walk past and sigh, maybe pause for a moment to take in all the pretty, but then keep on moving.
My love affair with shoes was not a new relationship. As a young girl, back to school time always meant a special trip to the Buster Brown store in downtown Tacoma. A special store for special girls with special feet like mine–namely, wide. My favorite saddle shoes, in chocolate brown and tan suede leather. Or maybe the brick red t-straps, with little eyelit cutouts near the toe. Each September, a perfect pair went home with me and spent their first night snuggled up and tucked in alongside me in bed.
Time marched on and I fell in love and found a career and spent less time at the clubs and more time with my cat and my boyfriend in my fashionable studio apartment at the base of Queen Anne Hill. Less time at the clubs meant even less need for trendy, spendy clothes. John Fluevog and his shoes slowly faded from my memory. Much like that beautiful boy in the band who never noticed me.
Decades whizzed by with careers and houses, babies and toddlers, Little League and gymnastics, aging parents and family pets, yoga and unfortunate mom jeans. I’m a yoga teacher. I live in flip-flops, leggings and sneakers in the suburbs. What need would I have for stunning, European-styled John Fluevog shoes? And shouldn’t the yogi in me somehow be shunning the need for such material excess?
Oh yeah. There’s that. Well, maybe I should be, but along the way I’ve also been learning how to shun the “shoulds” and embrace that spiky-haired, edgy, punk rock girl I left behind and buried somewhere in that Mercury Villager mini van. That girl who loved fashion and music and the darkness of a club where she could go and disappear into the black, immersing herself in the hum and thrum of music and vibration. That girl who could seriously rock some ‘Vogs at long last.
I believe the core of who we are never really leaves, but instead, changes shape and shifts to accommodate the life we are living.
Kids grow up, move out and move on. If you’ve lost yourself in the cacophony of child-rearing, you best hold on to your hat when you wake up Monday morning and find yourself with a couple empty bedrooms and no one to fix breakfast for but yourself. I recommend knocking on the door of that old you, that forgotten girl who loved music or horses or painting or architecture or botany and catch up. She’s still in you, you know. She is. Just waiting to bust out.
It was my girl–my artistic muse at the time, Amanda Palmer, who flashed the memory of Fluevogs back into my brain. A photo shoot, with Amanda posing on a stairwell, in gothic, vintage clothing and on her feet–well, let’s just say it was perfection. The style–the wonderful Elizabeth, a high-heeled, buckled mary jane, with architectural heels inspired by the ball and claw furniture legs of the 18th century. Holy cow, I thought, those shoes! I was only one of many followers gobsmacked by her soles and she nonchalantly responded, “Fluevog” when asked of their origins.
Fluevog! Like hearing the name–after so many years–of that beautiful boy in the band who always seemed just out of reality’s grasp. I remembered. I sighed. I went to the internet.
Oh, sweet, sweet internet! No longer did I need to muster up the courage to step into a brick-and-mortar store to eye the object of my affection. There they were, an entire website, resplendent with boots and lace-ups and sandals of the most high, artistic design. I trolled, I drooled, I coveted and I conspired with that spiky-haired girl I had lost track of so many eons ago to bring a pair of Fluevogs into my world. At last.
It was a crisp November morning when I took my college kid out to breakfast at a hipster cafe on Capitol Hill. He had come home for Thanksgiving and we were spending a little time in the city before I had to drop him off at the light rail station to catch a train to the airport. My mission to the Fluevog store was coyly cloaked in a suggestion to make a quick visit to Pike Place Market before heading back to Arizona. “Here, let me park the car and you can get out and run down to the market. Grab a coffee and I’ll meet you back here in about thirty minutes,” I told my kid, my heart pounding in anticipation of what I was about to do. He took off down the street and I stepped across the threshold of John Fluevog Shoes for only the second time in my long life.
This was not an impulsive purchase. I am not that kind of girl.
The air seemed different inside The Store. I sucked my breath in sharply each time I passed a pair of ‘Vogs that caught my eye. I picked them up like the finest china and brought the leather to my nose and inhaled. Oh, sweet Jesus. On the soles of every shoe was something different–an etching, a quotation, some sort of unique marker that only the wearer would know, like having fancy panties on under a pair of shabby jeans. The Mollie Johnson, a moderate-heel, lace-up mary jane, was the object of my affection, the chosen one, my raison d’être. Nervously, I asked the salesperson if I could try them on.
They didn’t have my size.
As the wind began to suck out of my sails, the clerk suggested I try on the pair they did have, a half-size smaller than I thought I needed, but in a different color. Just to check and make sure. (Fluevogs, for all their wonderfulness, are notoriously inconsistent with sizing.) Eureka! They fit and I was able to order the color and size I needed from their Portland store. I wasn’t able to walk out with shoes in hand, but then again, anticipation is one of my most favorite feelings. I was excitedly filling out my shipping information when my college kid came striding in the door. My mission, exposed. He rolled his eyes and asked something about why couldn’t he get nice shoes and then asked which ones I had purchased. I showed him the display pair and he promptly turned them over to check the price. “I cannot believe you’re spending THAT MUCH MONEY on a pair of SHOES!” he exclaimed. Once out of the store, my college kid immediately phoned The Mister to tell him exactly what I, his apparently frivolous/ridiculous/spoiled/excessive/unworthy mother, had done.
For cryin’ out loud, settle down.
And for once in my life, I had done something that didn’t make sense. Something that felt a little risky, a little crazy, and a lot out of character for my suburban-yoga-teacher-mom self. Something that also felt liberating and affirming to that forgotten, edgy, punk rock girl I was getting acquainted with again after so many years.
In a few days, the shoes arrived in a big red box. Breathlessly, I had waited for them, knowing I had to sign for the delivery when it came. Opening a Fluevog box is worthy of a little pomp and circumstance, if you ask me. I carefully set it down and cut the packing tape along the seams. Inside, a beautiful blue box, reminiscent of Tiffany’s, but so much better. Tucked within the box, a hand-written note of thanks from the store of origin, random little hard candies, a shoe horn, Fluevog buttons and stickers and a sweet little drawstring bag to store them in. I pressed the exquisite Mollie Johnsons to my nose, inhaling the rich, leather scent. Beautiful. Stunning. At last.
It probably shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that I slept with those shoes that first night, just as I did with those Buster Brown suede saddle shoes so many years ago. Our king-size bed had ample room for me, The Mister and my Fluevogs. After that, I stored my ‘Vogs separate from all my other shoes, in their own box, tucked away in their little drawstring bag, right under my bed.
Three years have passed since I popped my Fluevog cherry with those mary janes. Since then, I allow myself one pair of ‘Vogs a year. I’ve become savvy to their sales, checking the website regularly and taking note of favorites. Even on sale, it is not a purchase I make haphazardly. I am not that kind of girl. My latest acquisition, a pair of black suede Chelsea boots for fall. With little hints of turquoise peaking through the black elastic goring at the ankle, and my own little secret inlaid in the sole.
I often fantasize about working at John Fluevog one day when I tire of teaching so many yoga classes. Spending my time amongst these splendid soles, each one, a work of art and design. And how I would notice the folks who pressed their noses to the window, inexplicably drawn to these shoes, but too timid to approach, telling themselves they are too expensive, too frivolous to consider. I’d smile at them, understanding completely, and invite them in to look around. Try something on. Dream a little. Save your nickels and dimes and never, ever dismiss those things that imprint so profoundly upon your memory, your life, your soul.
I don’t consider myself a material girl. But I do believe in the power of A Thing–a thing that may very well look like meticulously crafted, edgy and artistically inspired leather shoes–to remind us of the person we were, perhaps the person we’ve forgotten, and reacquaints us to the person we’ve been all along.