While others writhe in fear of heights, cry at the sight of cockroaches, I go weak in the knees at the prospect of visiting Prada. Or Louis Vuitton. Or any high-end store with a name I’ll mispronounce. I don’t know why high-end shops intimidate me. I feel like my financial capacity will get judged and summed up by my thin wallet and its lack of contents. I feel inadequately dressed beside them suits. Will they judge me for not having french tips? Can they tell that I only wear the fresh scent of soap?
I had a pair of Vans that retired from shoe life. I knew it when I saw cracked sides that its end is near. When I felt a gentle breeze touching my feet inside, I looked down and saw my toes saying hi through windows of opportunity. And in case you were wondering, yes I was wearing socks but they too needed replacement. As I thought about the usual shoe options, I remembered something else… shops I never dared to enter.
While I admire the golden Gucci/Chanel/Prada/LV buildings in downtown Taipei, I never had the courage to visit them. Ever. But recently, I’ve been noticing these names pop up as options for casual footwear so I got curious. I don’t really care for bags, I’m more into shoes especially sneakers. And I also thought, hey, why not help myself get over such irrational fear of designer stuff by being inside these expensive lairs? Maybe I’d find a Vans replacement that’s a worthwhile “investment”. Bold italic font size 48 that Maybe.
So I searched online, looked through designer collections, and started to think that maybe I can do this for fun, see if the prices are worth it in real life. And because I had this feeling that appearances would be important, I decided to dress for the occasion. I wore a white polo blouse, used a Versace bag (thanks mom!), and capped off my look with a pair of jeans and respectable slippers. I wanted to appear like I-can-afford-pricey-things-but-I-don’t-want-you-to-think-I’m-rich. Subtle. Somewhere along the way I felt like on cosplay. Or might be Halloween came early.
My first stop was Gucci, a golden in-your-face fortress that would probably look gaudy if it wasn’t “Gucci.” I was curious how a pair of Ace costs like a brand-new laptop. A sales associate approached me, spoke Mandarin, to which I replied in English, so she switched to English and answered all my questions, “How many sizes do you have?”, “What colors are available?”, “Are these all the patches you have?” When I finally shut up to admire the softness of the sneakers and traced my fingers on what was supposedly watersnake trimming, I saw saleslady fish out her phone and open an app. I think she opened Google Translate and I think it was great she’s making sure she’ll have an arsenal of replies ready. Or maybe, she just checked if she had speed dial for security. Who knows.
I ended up with nothing yet she and the Gucci people still bid me farewell and thanked me. That was nice. The Ace sneakers also looked nice, but I don’t know if they were good enough for the price. I kept thinking the cost is more for buying the THE brand rather than the shoe itself. It was so…common. Sure the trimming are nice but still it’s so…plain. I also kept thinking about the Stan Smiths I can get instead, and they were anything but plain. You do know they are Stan Smiths.
Next was Chanel. I almost backed out from going in because its insides would test your Chanel familiarity. Unlike Gucci, they had themed glass tables showcasing different collections. Shoes were scattered on the lobby, per themed table, and I had to buzz on each like a fly that can’t get enough of the visual buffet. I just wanted to see an entire shoe collection so I asked a sales lady if they had a rack that had just that. She answered in English, rather abrupt, and said “Yes, second floor”. It wasn’t disrespectful, but it was more assertive than the customer service I got in Gucci.
I also noticed that there were more associates waiting inside Chanel. Thankfully, they didn’t approach me. They just smiled and glanced at me as I went up the stairs. I wanted to take a photo inside the shop but I knew that’ll be tacky beyond redemption so I just contented myself with the stairs and felt eyes on my back as I climbed them.
I immediately spotted the shoe rack and another sales lady approached me. Honestly, I was disappointed with most of Chanel’s designs. I thought I would be wowed, but most of them, in real life, looked a little too common. I also didn’t like the in-your-face Chanel logo most shoes had. I can’t help but think I’ve seen better options, in Taipei’s underground malls, in Aldo and Nine West that became light years cheaper in comparison. The Chanel sandals looked lovely but, again, I still can’t justify the price tag in my head. They also had sneakers but they didn’t excite me as much as the Ace sneakers did.
I started asking the saleslady some questions, like how do I take care of the shoes and keep them clean? To my surprise, she said “Well, you shouldn’t wear them!” which made my eyebrows want to reach the ceiling but decided to give her the benefit of the doubt instead, laughed the bad joke off, and asked, “Can I use detergent and water to clean it?” She turned serious and said “No, not good…clean cloth should be enough…avoid wearing it in the rain…” But at that point, I was just feeling blah nevermind, Chanel didn’t live up to the hype anyway I’m outta here. Said my goodbyes, thank yous, which she politely replied to and said goodbye as well. The other sales folks who saw me couldn’t care less I’m going out. That’s one point less than Gucci, who had people I didn’t know were actually there pop out of nowhere to say thank you and goodbye even though I walked out with no purchase.
Pretending to be rich is hard. At that point, which was just 10-15 minutes spent in Gucci and Chanel, I already felt exhausted. I felt like I always had to exude some sort of self-assured assertiveness and confidence, that I must appear no-nonsense…which by 8PM becomes a tall order after a full day’s worth of work. I just wanted to curl up on a sofa, watch Netflix, and stuff my face with chips. Anyway, after taking in the luxury of the mall’s International Brand section, I decided to continue to two more brands whose sneakers I did love more than the brand itself, at least when I saw them online.
As I walked in, I went straight to the elastic strap sneakers while the faint voice of the sales guy followed me. The shoes were kinda heavy, but they were every bit amazing. The suede, the leather, the elastic, and the Givenchy logo printed on the back…they just go so well together. The sneakers were shaped so slim they’d look so fly with anything, even a suit. As I inspected the shoes, the sales guy helpfully suggested other colors and some bits of info. I asked if I can take pictures and was stunned to hear him say, “Of course!” like what he really wanted to say was, “Girl, you should’ve done it sooner!” It was the first time that night that I forgot I was designer window-shopping. Like I was doing my normal routine. Nerves relaxed. Bye stress.
What I liked most is that BFF sales guy never mentioned prices unless I asked, nor he persistently asked for my feet size. As I took photos, he kept checking the cabinets for colors and design options, putting them near my line of sight but nowhere intrusive. When I started asking about sizes, that was the only time he started adding them as part of the conversation. Though I ended up with nothing, BFF was still friendly and politely bid me goodbye when I left. The other associate, who just quietly looked while I was window-shopping, also smiled at me and said thanks. All in all, it was a very nice, I didn’t feel judged, kind of experience.
Last, but not the least that night, was Balenciaga. Their sneakers also caught my interest online. Probably even more. Though lighter and sportier-looking, their sneakers made neoprene and mesh so stylishly sporty and was crafted chicly it’s something you’ve never really seen before. I also liked how the Balenciaga logo was subtly engraved on the sides of the soles. If I would give designer sneakers (emphasis on IF) a go, I’d have a hard time choosing between Balenciaga’s Race Runners and the Givenchy sneakers.
The sales lady who approached me looked smart and spoke fluent English. She only answered questions and never tried to upsell nor influence me to buy anything. Like Givenchy BFF, she generously let me know what options are available. She also said the price like, “that’s just 22,000 NTD.” and though I was like, THERE’S NOTHING JUST ABOUT THAT!!! I still found it cool that her price spiel implied a couple of things–it’s an affordable authentic designer pair and that she thinks I can afford it. I smiled and swallowed my poverty, then went on to check the rest of their shoe collection.
As I said thanks and placed the sneakers back on the rack, I saw her look at my watch. Damn, I hope she didn’t see scratches or dried ketchup or any icky stuff on it. I kinda felt it was a strategy to assess one’s economic status. Top of food chain or food in the chain? Or maybe I was just oversensitive. Still, she politely thanked and said goodbye even though I ended up buying nothing (for the last time), just testing her patience, or probably wasting her time, which could also be the reason why she was checking my watch.
After that, I felt like I can walk into the next-door Louis Vuitton fearlessly but, nope. I no longer have the focus to prevent myself from ogling at the designer items and appear smart. I just wanted to go home and start looking at my financial options haha. Spent would be the best word to describe how I felt, which ironically didn’t involve handing out copious amounts of money nor credit. If anything, the only thing I spent generously was my energy. And confidence.
So, would I therefore conclude to buy designer sneakers as replacement for my Vans?
Yes, with reservations.
There were two shoes I genuinely liked coz they, to me, are genuinely representative of “designer sneakers.” They definitely inspired most of the popular designs we now see commercially. You kinda get the sense that what you’ll pay for somehow goes to quality-looking materials. Yet here comes the mother of all buts: I’m not sure it’s worth buying something I need to baby, or avoid wearing too much so they stay good. All of the designer shoes I saw seem to have this fragility about them. To me, it kinda defeats the purpose of footwear. Some people may like them, find value in them, be passionate about them, but I only really see fleeting visual value. I’m not even sure I can pass them on as heirloom or sell them because hello, what are the odds the recipient would have the same feet size as mine? Also, it’s kinda yuck. My foot fossil is yours too? Wouldja like that?
As I passed by ABC Mart on my way home, I felt my shoulders relax and though a button shall pop off my blouse from extreme sighing, I couldn’t care less. Pop all you want. Finally, a store where I can be poor and ignored while doing mental checks on prices. Where I can shirt-shorts-and-slippers my way into the no-frills joys of window-shopping.