The new Aquazzura store on Madison Avenue sells shoes that complete perfect outfits: colorful high heels and slightly less high heels that lace up around the ankle, tied with tassel-ended bows that dance with a woman’s stride.
In photos on the company’s website tagged Follow My #Aquazzurasteps, shoes act as visual punctuation: Zigzag straps mirror a blazer’s tailored lines, ankle ties hug right at a denim hem, the tip of a red or blue toe delights the eye when it peeks out from under a long black skirt. This woman looks polished.
In fact, the women with whom the Italian footwear label has collaborated (Olivia Palermo in 2014 and Poppy Delevingne in 2015 had small collections) are nothing if not masters of photo-readiness. The Aquazzura woman is together, in full dress, finished. The shoes are even named for such women (Linda, Alexa, Milla, Christy, Karlie, Matilde, Gigi).
“What’s missing today in fashion is simply beautiful things,” Edgardo Osorio, a co-founder of the label in 2011 when he was 25, told W Magazine in March. “It’s as if to be interesting you had to be depressed and messy, but that’s complete nonsense.”
The store is pristine and so completely symmetrical that when I walk in, I feel as if I’m throwing it off. I look to the left and right: two baroque-rimmed mirrors, two stretches of black-and-white striped archway, two shiny gold shelves, two dusty rose couches. At the front of the store there’s a circular marble table covered with pointed-toe flats ($675 to $1,050) in a rainbow array, the same shoe in shades of red, yellow, green, blue, etc. The message seems to be flats you collect, heels you covet.
I walk around the perimeter feeling my two sockless feet in my loafers. I haven’t worn heels in more than two years. I pause to look at a pair of heels with sculptural leather pineapples at the Achilles’ ($975) and some sandals with bright pompoms ($825). I pick up a shoe as I would an $80 mug. Lift it, flip it, tilt it, think: Why? I don’t know what I’m considering; there’s nothing to do with a shoe if you aren’t going to try it on.
But I’m wearing track pants, and my feet are unpedicured. They feel hot. The fact that I’m imagining the reception of my feet and legs is a female labor that is exhausting. The labor of beauty, the expectation of looking finished for an external gaze, is in me, not in the space. But I can’t shake it, and I leave.
A week later, I go back, but first I stop at the new Met Breuer, the contemporary arm of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is on the same block. One of the shows up is called “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible,” an exhibition of incomplete works. Sketches, lines, underpaintings, halts and starts, anxiety and abandonment are all visible. I stop at an unfinished Klimt, “Posthumous Portrait of Ria Munk III.”
Ria Munk committed suicide after her fiancé ended their engagement, and her family commissioned the portrait, but none satisfied them. This one was Klimt’s third attempt. In it, Munk’s face is finished, her expression is confident and bright. All that’s unfinished is her outfit, a dress scribbled in charcoal with a tiny pointed shoe peeking out from the hem. Klimt, it seems, couldn’t land on what this complicated woman should wear.
In the store, it’s golden hour. Ryan Korban, the interior designer who also did the Alexander Wang, Edon Manor and Fivestory spaces, favors mirrors, and blasted with early-evening light, the mirrored shelves cast lit-up reflections on the walls. The sun streaks with abandon. I ask to try on a pair of suede mid-heel pumps ($725).
“These are so comfortable,” the saleswoman tells me as she unboxes them. When trying on heels, comfortable means not painful. The contradictions embedded in heels are well examined. (Do they elevate or limit women?) But it’s always this question that stirs me: Are you comfortable just because you’re not in pain?
To this point, I’m surprised when I slip off the hard leather Feit sandals I’m breaking in and find that a pair of never-worn-by-me heels already feel better on my feet. Aquazzura shoes are so comfortable, I would recommend them to a caryatid. “You can walk on the marble, too,” the saleswoman offers.
The checkerboard floor is almost glowing, so I probably would have hesitated. I learn that the shoes are built with a memory foam pad under the ball of the foot, and constructed from supple unlined suede that molds to the shape of your feet. It’s the end of the day, and while I try on shoes, the saleswoman, who is wearing a pair of low black suede heels, sits on the couch with me.
I tie and untie several pairs, including rainbow ankle boots ($695) that look as if they’re painted on with thick, even brush strokes. Forgetting I’m no longer in a museum, I ask, “May I take a picture?”
I’m not sure what I want to remember. Maybe these are my last heels. I’m finished.