The Mythology of the Shoe

Shoes are transportive. They take us on trips. The God Hermes traveled between seen and unseen dimensions in his winged sandals. Cinderella’s glass slippers gave her access to an otherwise exclusive world. Dorothy’s ruby slippers took her on a journey of initiation.

They may also signify the erotic. The western stiletto or the lotus shoe of the bound foot of China connote the sado-ecstasy of another’s pain. After a wedding, there is the custom of tying a pair of shoes to the departing car of the betrothed to signify sexual union. Thigh-high boots mean sexual dominion over another.

They can represent agency, status or authority. If I were in your shoes; To fill someone’s shoes; to wait for a dead man’s shoes is to wait for entitlement achieved only by someone’s death. An expensive pair of shoes is a status symbol second only to the “it” bag.

Contrarily, shoes that are worn-out evoke pity. You’ve lost agency over your life and wealth. There’s the image of the tramp with his toes poking out-he is exposed to the elements and cruelty of fate.

In the German fairy tale, The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces, twelve daughters of a king descend to an enchanted underground realm where they dance with imaginary suitors. They return home with their shoes destroyed, reminding us that we must have our feet on the ground.

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Dress for the Job You Want

I believe the act of creating is a two-part process. It is one part our doing while the other half gets handed over to the universe. We initiate the process by creating the kernel. It could be in the small form of having a vision for something and declaring your intentions. Or having an image in your head and picking up a brush or pen and materializing it. And if that action is in congruence with your authentic self-which is to say it really brings you joy or some sort of creative fulfillment (as opposed to doing it because you’re realizing someone else’s fantasies for you), then the universe responds to your action. It gives what you put in; reaps for you what you sow. If you are in an honest act of creation, you are in alignment with a sort of cosmic plane where events and people conspire to get you closer to your goal.

It was a few years ago that I had a sort of existential riddle to solve. I was leaving my job as an ESL teacher and back in school, trying to figure out what was next. I needed to upset the system, my system. I needed to start again and make sure it was what I wanted and not some idea I wrongly got from somewhere. But I didn’t know what I actually wanted. I had only scattered ideas of things I loved/loved to do…clothes, writing, organizing information…It was hard to think of a way for all those things to add up to a job title but it at least felt good to begin to know what brought me joy.

I kept my dreams alive in various and sometimes dumb ways like fantasy-shopping for the bag I would have when I would get to my next level. The Proenza Schouler PS II bag, a very “professional” (expensive) but cool shoulder bag that maybe I would carry to my professional but cool job.

One day I decided that if I was lost, the only solution would be to do something, any action that took me out of my state of inertia. Thinking about bags was nice but what did that bag really mean? I needed to explore that wanting and see that it represented a more evolved, fulfilled version of myself that was living out her creative impulses and desires. So I bought The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion and started memorizing fashion terms (words for clothing models, print and pattern, silhouette, etc.). I read Suzy Menkes’ runway analysis in the International Herald Tribune and kept notes on all the evocative expressions she used (Calvin Klein Collection represented a “pared down elegance” while Prada’s oversized paillettes were “an innovative proposition”). I had no idea why I did these things other than it made me feel happy and productive. I was just following my inspiration.

I also approached a friend of a friend for career advice. She proposed I get into fashion forecasting. She mentioned a few firms but one stuck with me: Stylesight. The hugely influential trend-maker and predictor that seemed to sense what bubbled up years before Ms. Menkes referred to it as “an innovative proposition.” For some reason this idea of a firm that told the future resonated with me. Like a fortune-teller for fashion.

So I consumed my dictionary and the International Herald Tribune and Stylesight reports and told people-just to feel I had a real life tangible goal-that I wanted to work for Stylesight. I didn’t know how I would go about doing it, only that it felt satisfying to say it. I said it so much that I just started believing it.

One uninspired day at home, I found myself hitting a wall. Studying with Suzy and Fairchild just weren’t doing it for me. I decided again-I had to do something aside from staying home in my self-made prison of discontent. And so I went in to work a shift at my vintage/designer buying job, where I buy clothing outright from the public at a shop in New York.

I was at the buying counter doing a buy for a client who seemed to know everything ever about the pieces and designers she brought in to sell. “Oh that’s a sample from Manish Arora Spring 2011-they ended up doing that in a floral” or “I love it when JPG does Andalucian gypsy.” Her pieces were treasures, each one more special than the last. And that’s when I pulled out…omigosh…the Proenza Schouler PS II bag. I was in disbelief. No one had ever known a PS II to come through the shop. It was like seeing an apparition. I priced it and discretely threw it on our employee holds shelf (sorry, first dibs), unable to contain the thrill of knowing I would soon be living my cool girl dream, or at least look the part. Maybe I was riding that high but I also got curious about this well-heeled, fashion-fluent woman who was selling her amazing closet and asked, “What is it that you do, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“I was in fashion but I’m thinking of leaving it to become an ESL teacher.” The Twilight Zone theme played in my head. I had to tell her my same-but-opposite story, ending it with the bold declaration, “I really want to work at Stylesight.”  She looked at me, raised an eyebrow, and said with an amused interest, “I have contacts at Stylesight. We should meet for coffee sometime and chat.”

So we met for coffee, shared stories and traded contacts. I gave her pointers on how to get into teaching. She gave me a name  of someone from Stylesight, which I was to use surreptitiously. I did, and I got myself an interview and a job, where I walked into the Stylesight offices every day with my Proenza Schouler PS II bag, feeling very pleased with myself. And grateful for the universe meeting me halfway and delivering my dreams.

And what do you think my two tasks at this new position were but to a.) catalog the runways according to model, print and pattern, silhouette, etc. and b.) write runway analysis.

It’s up to us to create the life we want. And when we’re lost, we only have to plant little seeds that make us happy, and watch with awe as they bear fruit.

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Photo by Juhi Baig

The Psychic Life of Indigo

Indigo denotes the sixth chakra, the third eye, the doorway to the occult and the east.

Indigo expresses the beginning and end of life and period of creation in between. It is the color of death in funerary dress and textiles in the Middle East. Women of ancient Egypt would smear their cheeks with the dye as a mourning ritual. The mourning period in that part of the world is still measured by the length of time it takes for the last indigo stain to fade from the skin. In the Arab World, it may signify new life when smeared on the face to announce a birth in the family. The Bedouins mark it on their bodies to display virility.

The indigo dying process shares traditions with obstetrics in parts of the world like Indonesia, where indigo dyers are medicine women who borrow from systems of menstrual regulation and fertility control. The same ingredients are used to control the “bleeding” of the cloth and the bleeding of women. The extract is used as a contraceptive and abortifacient in Nigeria. In Southeast Asia, the dye vat is seen as the uterus and the indigo “blood,” the fetus. Pregnant or menstruating women are banned from the shack as their life-giving blood threatens the black blood of the dead plant and both birthing processes can be corrupted.

Indigo dyestuffs are believed to have magical properties. Among the Omani bedouin, it wards off evil spirits and is nicknamed haras, or “the guard.” The indigo-dyed turban in parts of Asia prevents headaches and protects from the desert-dwelling, shape-shifting jinn.

In some societies, indigo is considered an agent for transmitting evil. Dyers using other dyestuffs seclude themselves from the indigo dyer. In India, he gets his own subcaste within a caste of weavers.

When he cuts down his plant, it turns black with death. In the dye hut, it steeps in the vat until it turns yellow and then green again before finally becoming a deep, soulful blue. Therefore the plant returns to life. He is in effect a kind of alchemist.

A dyer in A Thousand and One Nights  informs us that the secret to indigo is carefully guarded as it is passed down through generations. What other mysteries and paradoxes it contains is a many-fold riddle in this magical part of history.