A few of you have been shoe shopping with me. You know my hatred for synthetic shoes – PU, PVC, synthetic leather, leather look , pleather, imitation leather. I get terribly disappointed by good looking, expensive, non-leather shoes. If it doesn’t smell like leather I might as well be wearing plastic bags. There are a few pairs of non-leather shoes in my collection though. Occasionally I fall for a cheeky little detail or some bright flowers. Also, it is hard and probably pointless to get non-rubber gum boots.
Generally, therefore, I would suggest that the more leather that a shoe has going for it the better. The nadir of leathery-ness is the triumvirate – leather upper, leather inner and leather soles. Footwear boasting the Full Leather Troika is expensive, high maintenance and completely impractical for inclement weather but your feet can breeeeeaaaathe inside and they smell of leather, not sweaty feet which is a bonus.
My husband, ever practical, has always insisted on me getting rubber stick-on soles for all my leather soled shoes. In fact, he’s been known to whisk shoes off me on the day of purchase to take to a cobbler. This precaution is not so necessary in Australia as it was in Scotland and since re-soling massacres the line of most single soled shoes I tend not to bother now. If worst comes to worst and the shoes are horribly mutilated by torrential rain it appears that I can always sell the results to an ahem, specialist and extremely NSFW websites with an interest in weathered, well worn and abused shoes like this one.
So when I bought these Robert Robert shoes in truth I did not notice the brand – the are entirely leather, a true size fit for my (37.5) feet, of sensible 3 inch walking height. They even have laces up the legs to stop me walking out of them.
When I did some research into the brand, I didn’t manage to find out much more about the designer other than that ‘he’ has a new shoe label called Diavolina (which means Little She Devil an alternative moniker for the Minx if I ever heard one). From the look and the feel, I assumed that the shoes were made in Italy. I found out otherwise when reading the following conversation thread on the Vogue Australia Forum
Post 1 reads: Very impressed with Robert Robert Shoes, anyone else agree?
Most did but reading the following reply made me inordinately cross in a crabbit Scottish way.
Or at least this part made me cross: “I have always wondered about the quality, given that they’re made in China and usually the leather isn’t worked as well as in Italy or Spain.”
In part, I was cross because the post reminded me of an incident in a suburban Myer store a couple of months ago.
I had gone in for stockings. The shop assistant, who in her range of extremely mobile facial expressions reminded me of Olive in on the buses, directed me towards the tights.
After a couple of minutes during which I had to repeat myself frequently, we had a surreal conversation concerning Gerard Butler, kilts and what she would do to any stray Scotsman that she stumbled across after a few sherries.
During this discomfiting exchange I established that by stockings I actually meant hosiery OTHER than tights. She then directed me towards the thigh high hold ups. As my friend Ally and countless other women will tell you – the term hold up is misleading and deceptive. What hold ups really do is stay up until you are walking down a crowded street at which point the elastic parts company with your thigh and the bloody things fall down. So delicious though some hold ups like these Love Me Pin Up hold ups are – I can’t rely on them. Then just at the point I was about to give up my odd new pal found a pair of black opaque stockings. No elastic.
“You’ll need a Tall” she said briskly.
“Are you quite sure” I said “I’m 5 foot 4, that’s not really very tall at all”.
“No” she insisted “all our hosiery is made in China now” and then she sniffed unpleasantly “it is all really, really REALLY small”. Small in this case, seemed to me to be a euphemism for wrongly sized and badly made. She then marched off to terrorise two Eurasian school girls looking at stripey leg warmers.
There is a commonly held assumption in Australia (and elsewhere) that everything that is manufactured in China is crap. “Made in China” is now generally taken to be synonymous with mass-produced, low-tech and low-priced merchandise.
People tend to forget that there is a rich tradition of craftsmanship and artistic excellence in China.
Embroidery is elevated to an art form in China. I have a red silk dressing gown embroidered with birds (pictured above) that I keep meaning to frame. I bought it in the equivalent of a high street department store in Beijing.
The Chinese arguably have the one of the world’s oldest and most distinguished ceramic traditions. My husband, who is a potter, has always been blown away by the Chinese contribution to ceramic art. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Chinese and Arabic ceramics could talk you through the highlights of every ceramic dynasty if you bought him a nice lunch and a glass of wine.
One of the companies that he worked for after graduation specialised in making Scottish ceramic stuff for tourists including a Nessie ornament not unlike this one.
He tells me the story of a Scottish company that designed and produced a kilted garden gnome. Apparently after making 200,000 items the company had had enough of gnomes and then sold the concept to a Chinese company. The Chinese company now makes and sells hundreds of thousands of Scottish gnomes. It is not high art. It is not even high Kitsch but it sells.
One can only wonder what the workers in the Chinese factories who endure long hours and dangerous conditions in exchange for terrible wages think of it all. I reckon that they can’t believe the shit that they make for Americans, for Australians, for Europeans.
Most racism these days is insidious, under the radar, unadmitted. It is both appropriate and far too easy to censure sportsmen like cricketers for uttering racist slurs. Somehow though to refer to a country and its products in derogatory terms is not so unacceptable. This is quite wrong.
We are all of us more prejudiced than we think. The casual bigotry of educated people is worse, one commentator has said, than a “bomb in Brick Lane”. It is about belittling more than attacking. More people who have to deal daily with ingrained prejudice than violence assault. Like those two girls checking out the stripey leg warmers.