Monday 20 November 2017

Shoe gazing

What is it about women and shoes? We meet four enthusiasts whose shoe collections are a consuming passion

Ali Murray, with part of her shoe collection, and her chair in the shape of a shoe.
Ali Murray, with part of her shoe collection, and her chair in the shape of a shoe.
Dearbhaill McDonald gives shoes away to charity to offset the guilt about how much she's spent on footwear.
Hungry for footwear: Karen Mulvaney had a birthday cake in the shape of a Terry de Havilland shoe.

Tanya Sweeney

Christian Louboutin famously intoned, "a shoe has so much more to offer than just to walk", and by and large women tend to agree.

Our predilection for shoes is a perennial one, outlasting even those tired, 'Sex and The City'-inspired clichés from the Noughties.

The reasons we fetishise them are plentiful. Shoe shopping rarely depends on the fluctuation of weighing scales. As one friend observed, "If you have good hair and good shoes, everything in between fades into the background".

Shoes have, for better or worse, become the ultimate symbol of femininity and sexiness. We've been conditioned – culturally, or via the media – to believe that wearing heels is an intrinsic part of being a woman, even if we're forced to walk barefoot and carry them around after a night out.

Most women have dewy-eyed tales of footwear-related folly. Back in school I coveted anything different from my own sensible black sandals. One girl had red Mary-Janes. They even had a little heel. I've yet to get over it.

Until the age of seven, I was unhealthily obsessed with Holy Communion shoes, before moving on in time to acid-bright canvas pumps (1988), penny loafers (1991), brothel creepers (1992) and Dr Martens (1993).

It became obvious, even back then, that shoes were about much more than merely keeping your soles clean. Crippled with penury as a 20-year-old, I still managed to squeeze a pair of butter-soft Prada boots on to my credit card. As I handed my Visa card over with trembling hands, my friends looked on, appalled. It was more than merely buying footwear – it was a daredevil act.

Five hundred of your good Irish pounds later, and I still only wore them once.

Happily, I'm not alone when it comes to such frivolity. And, even after the slings and arrows of an economic crisis, some Irish women have emerged with their impressive shoe collections very much intact.

Sonya Lennon

TV presenter and designer with Lennon Courtney;

My first big investment on shoes was when I was in third year in school and I spent £54 on a pair of stone-coloured nubuck flats. They were always too big for me, but it was a great life lesson on how to live in the now. When Brown Thomas was on the other side of the road, in 1988 I think, I waited until a pair of Karl Lagerfeld flats went down to £50 from £270. I still wear them to this day.

When it comes to buying, I don't do volume, I do quality. I probably have about 60 pairs, but they're all keepers. I think quite carefully of purchases. There are a few designers in there: Yves Saint Laurent, Celine, Miu Miu, Prada, Bally, Churches; I don't want to think on the money I've spent.

When I thought I had money, I bought away at the full price. My lifestyle afforded it, but now is not that time. That said, I am a great bargain shopper.

I remember going to an outlet village in Florence and buying a glut of stuff – about seven or eight items – for 'Off The Rails'. I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, but I'm still wearing that stuff. Today I'm wearing Yves Saint Laurent strappy sandals that my fella bought me 15 years ago.

I built storage into my wardrobe for the shoes when we did the house up, so there's a specific space for them, but they still spill over a bit.

I've given away shoes that aren't comfortable. I've never been that girl who takes her shoes off. I've spent stupid money on Gina shoes that aren't comfortable. When you spend money and form doesn't meet function, it's infuriating.

Why are shoes so popular with women? If you're having a skinny day or fat day, you know there's a bit of you that looks good. They're a bit of confectionery, but you can inject your own personal sense of style with shoes. Let's face it, shoes are linked to sex – the high heel, the arching of the foot, the calf – it's a visual cue for sexuality.

Lennon Courtney is available at, Arnotts and selected boutiques

Karen MulVaney

Owner of property search and acquisition company The Buyer's Agent;

I've always loved shoes, and I think most women do; it's in our DNA. Shoes have the ability to make you feel good or bad. They can either set off an outfit or destroy it. Many times, my outfit will start with the shoes; the clothes complement the shoe rather than the other way around.

I've spent a lot of money on shoes that you just can't walk in. A big mistake people make is thinking the more expensive the better – not true. The one rule I have is never uncomfortable shoes, although I broke that rule earlier this year because they were the coolest design.

My husband sometimes asks how many pairs of shoes I have. I have taken over a wardrobe in my son's bedroom for shoe boxes. I naturally lie, but truthfully say 'I wear them all'. If he complains, I challenge him to find me a pair of shoes I don't wear. He understands now, I think – I recently turned 40 and he had a cake made in the shape of a Terry de Havilland shoe.

I still love the feeling a high shoe gives and the way it shapes your legs, but I never go near stilettos. I'm not a 'car-to-bar' kind of girl. It's funny when you see a person in towering heels and they wobble all over the place trying to get from A to B. What's the point?

I opened by own shoe store, Mischa in Clontarf, in 2007. I used to buy from Italian suppliers for Mischa and they used to laugh at how we Irish all bought wedged shoes and boots. The 'R' word put an end to my lovely shoe shop in 2009 and I still miss the amazing women who used to come and chat and buy my gorgeous shoes.

My shoe collection is an eclectic mix. I have stunning Jimmy Choos for work and I have my favourite Terry de Havillands for nights out – I have seven pairs of TDHs. I have a whole range of flats and Converse for running around for the school pick-up, and my most fun shoes are by Irregular Choice.

My shoes reflect all sides of my personality. They can be serious, they can be fun, they can be practical, but they are all mine. Until my daughter grows up, anyway.

Dearbhail McDonald

Legal editor of the Irish Independent

My footwear fetish began as a teenager when the Stone Roses and Dr Marten boots were all the rage. Keen to distinguish myself from the crowd, I saved up enough money to buy a can of spray paint used to colour cars and sprayed my boots in a canary yellow hue to complement my twin sister Aoife's pair, which were a dodgy midnight blue. Since then, I've always dressed from the feet up.

Bryan Adams's 'Summer of 69' has a line about how he played it until his fingers bled, and I understand how he feels. I've worn inappropriate, ankle-breaking, sky-high shoes until my toes have bled – it's a form of female martyrdom.

I can't explain my obsession with shoes – the nearest comparison, I suppose, is men and cars. What most men don't realise, however, is that women don't wear shoes to impress men; it is to bring joy to other women.

When people ask me what I did during the Celtic Tiger, I sheepishly admit that a not insignificant amount of my disposable income was spent on beautiful shoes, most of them hopelessly impractical. I now have about 40 pairs of shoes. To offset the guilt, I routinely give shoes away to charity shops.

Shoe designer and Buffalo buyer Audrey Murray is responsible for the outlandish part of my shoe collection. For comfort and style, I rely on my cousin Irene Dunne, who owns the Clarks franchise in Dundalk.

I love nothing more than stealing a march on Irish women by buying shoes abroad that I know are not on sale here: triumph!

My favourite pair of shoes is a pair of kitten-heel, blood-red Christian Louboutins that I bought in Brown Thomas during a tearful, hormonal act of self-pity. I wept later when my credit-card bill arrived, but they give me a smile every day when I walk down my stairs, where most of my shoes are gathered as a personal art display.

My friends are used to my shoe thing now. My family are less impressed as my eight-year-old niece has started displaying similar tendencies, having developed an unhealthy obsession with the Lelli Kelly brand.

I've seriously reined myself in with the onset of the recession. And years of gymnastics, with the requisite dodgy knees, have also put paid to my vixen tendencies. But I know that when I shuffle off this mortal coil and the gifts are brought to the altar at my funeral symbolising all that I loved in life, someone will walk up that aisle with a pair of kick-ass heels in their hands. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Ali Murray

Owner of Alila Boutique;

I lived in Madrid during my Erasmus year in college, and there was one whole area for shoe stores. In two days, I'd bought 10 pairs of shoes. I'd go in looking for one pair, and come home with three.

When I started the boutique, I sat down with the designer of Suecomma Bonnie, which is the Louboutin of Asia. I'd buy up loads of stuff and get shoes at cost price for myself – a real perk of the job.

I have a shoe room in my house now. I have around 100 pairs in that room and three suitcases of shoes in my parents' house. I showed my mum the shoe room and she was like, "why do you need so many black shoes?" I had to explain that one pair was peep-toe, others were patent or suede.

My friends – both women and men – think my shoe collection is hilarious. One day I will get pull-out drawers and everything for them. After spending so much over the years, I want to look after them properly.

I have one pair of Louboutins that I got from a website that I love, and I did once spend £250 on a pair of Terry de Havillands. I love Senso shoes, too.

Buffalo and River Island are great places to buy shoes on the high street, but I love when I find an unusual brand or pair. They can totally transform an outfit.

When I started wearing heels, I thought a three-inch heel was really high. Now it's like a kitten heel to me. I can easily wear six- or seven-inch heels these days.

When I was in the Alila boutique, I would run around all day in four-inch heels. They just make you feel so much better, especially when you're only 5ft 2in.

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