Never one to hold grudges (for long) and also being true believers in the infinite human capacity for improvement, The Style Sisters and I permitted Francine to plan another Brooklyn adventure for us. Whereas she had forgotten—or, perhaps, totally ignored the need for—almost everything the first time, this time she forgot only our subway map, and, despite a major re-route because of track repairs somewhere or other, she got us where we were going by studying the station maps and boldly striding up to anyone and everyone to ask if we were on the right track (pun intended).
For this trip, we headed to Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood. We wanted to see the exhibition “Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe” at the Brooklyn Museum, which we wrote about in an earlier post. And our online searching yielded a trio of promising thrift shops and some interesting inexpensive restaurants nearby, since we want to start exploring restaurants along with the city’s excellent (and quick, and cheap) street food. So we were all set for a visit that yielded thee high spots we’d like to share with you.
High Spot the First: Artful Shoes
This is a terrific exhibition: managably sized, curated with intelligence and wit, and showing examples of high heels spanning more than 500 years of history and amply demonstrating the endless inventiveness of the human mind. Older examples are shown along with later, similar ones, and shoes are paired with objects from the same period that reflect a similar design aesthetic. Our favorites:
Just about everything by Salvatore Ferragamo. The quiet sisters especially liked his brightly colored platform heels because they’re graceful, feminine, and cheerful but well-mannered. The irrationally exuberant sisters liked their inventiveness. (Platforms had existed for centuries, but Ferragamo did this quite modern-looking version in 1938; imagine how stunned people must have been by them back then, when so many women accepted that shoes were supposed to be dark and dowdy, rather than bright and whimsical!) And we all appreciated the fact that many of his shoes look quite comfortably wearable.
Elsa Schiaparelli’s woolen shoe hat, designed in collaboration with her pal, surrealist painter Salvador Dali, also in 1938 (quite a year, that) and the photo of her wearing it with saucy, go-ahead-say-something aplomb.
Hoof heels that put us in mind of the human longing to become the animals we admire. Or fear. Iris Schifferstein constructed this pair, called “Horse Shoes 3,” of horse fur, horse hoof, and wood, and despite the clunky zipper, we found them magically evocative.
Paris Gray-Brown, the most severely intellectual of The Style Sisters, favored the tall Laboutin buff-colored beauties called “Puck,” which you can see just beyond the black pillow. From the 2011–12 fashion season, they’re made of sleek goatskin and leather, and their title, Paris informed us in her most annoyingly pedantic tone, references the mischievous sprite, also known as Robin Goodfellow, in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Paris then sat us all down on a bench and proceeded to instruct us in Puck’s long history in the folklore of several nations. He’s a shape-shifter, she said, sometimes appearing as a horse, and known variously as a devil fairy, goblin, or imp. In whatever form, causing trouble is his rasion d’être. “Very nice,” we said. “But we still like ‘Horse Shoes 3.'”
“Can’t you see,” scolded Paris, her voice rising in frustration with our doltishness, “that ‘Puck’ uses similar materials much more elegantly and abstractly?” The rest of us appreciated Puck’s sleek beauty but insisted that we liked “Horse Shoes 3” just as well for their very rawness. Paris then declared us all to be hopeless Philistines and remained silent for the rest of our visit.
This winged pair, made of goatskin, baby lamb (oh dear!), and crow feathers, brought us back several times for another look. Perfect shoes for a fallen angel, with all the dark and moody drama those words imply. “Stairway from Heaven” would be a more fitting title, yes?
And finally, as lifelong non-heel-wearers, all of The Style Sisters were in equal parts appalled and grimly amused by Nick Knight’s 3-minute film “La Douleur Exquise,” showing a woman forcing her feet into high-heeled glass shoes. Knight’s film reveals one of the meanings embedded in the term “killer heels” in a way you may prefer not to see: The woman’s feet become bruised and bloody. We caught Knight’s point that women (and men) are sometimes willing to suffer for the sake of being au courant fashion-wise. But with Paris (who is, we readily admit, better at reading symbolism than the rest of us) determined to sulk, we picked up only in our later reading his subtler points: That pain and beauty sometimes form dangerous liaisons; that Cinderellas (and Cinderellos) are often willing to endure his title’s la douleur exquise (exquisite pain) for the sake of winning the love of their Prince or Princess Charmings. Whatever. All we can say is “Ow.”
High Spot the Second: Two Thrifts
After the museum, we headed over to find our three chosen thrift shops, all conveniently located on 5th Avenue in the Park Slope shopping area. Life Boutique was closed, which was just fine since it looked way beyond our typical 5 to 15 (in the city or for very special things) per item limit. At Housing Works, we found this Banana Republic turtleneck (100% merino wool) for 10. And on our way out the door, the necklace called to us. Very steep, at 9, but we gave in to our serious weakness for tortoiseshell.
At LTrain Vintage, apparently once called Vice Versa, we scored a few more excellent items (and saw more men’s clothes than at any other thrift we’ve visited). At 10, the vest (thank you, Sara Irvine, whoever you are) was a bit overpriced, but the other items were so reasonable that we felt we had room in the budget.
We gave 5 for the Forever 21 cardi, 1 each for three cotton bandana handkerchiefs we chose for The Man in the Plaid Shirt, patiently waiting at home and hoping we hadn’t done too much damage to the household finances, and 5 for the Giorgio Sant’Angelo blazer. We didn’t know who he was (a very big fashion deal in the 1960s and 70s) until we were writing up this post, and now we are further impressed with our find. (The blazer, from his ready-to-wear line, is now worth just 15 or 20, but it’s nice to have a piece of fashion history.)
High Spot the Third: Food
We just barely had time for a sit-down meal before heading back to Manhattan, so we toted ourselves and our parcels into the Fifth Avenue Diner, a quiet place good for watching locals, being politely served with decent food for very little money, and eating breakfast at any hour, which we did.
By this time, Paris Gray-Brown had gotten over her fit of pique, which normally would have lasted into the evening, and we headed home in pleasant harmony. Such is the magic of Brooklyn.
Tags: Brooklyn, Brooklyn Museum, Giorgio Sant'Angelo, Housing Works Thrift Shop, Iris Schifferstein, Killer Heels, Laboutin, LTrain Vintage, Masaya Kushino, Park Slope, Schiaparelli, The Style Sisters, Thrift Shopping, Vice Versa Thirft Shop