My Valentino Shoes
Elizabeth Meneses Del Castillo
I bought my first and only pair of Valentino shoes in Italy in 2007. Designed for what I believe are special occasions, these shoes became an idea of moments I wanted to experience in my Canadian life. They are also the most expensive investment I have ever made and ever will for my limited shoe collection.
I was window-shopping in an Italian outlet mall, an hour from Rome. I had visited the Valentino store twice before I seriously considered buying the shoes that I fell in love with at first sight. I checked the heels, smelled the sole, and tried them out, walking this way and that. I finally decided to spend 160 euros—around $320 Canadian dollars at that time—on this pair of shoes.
Buying those pricey shoes made me feel different. I was entering the big leagues of shopping. It wasn’t just a pair of shoes in front of me at the store, but the symbol of a love story—according to my interpretation of the brand ‘Valentino’ in the fashion world.
I learned about brand names while living in Canada. I was exposed to magazines, the red carpet at the Oscars, and entertainment and fashion television shows where glamorous people wear Valentino and look beautiful. To be honest, before coming to Canada, my shopping was limited to the local Colombian manufacturers and retailers who have made a big name among, well, Colombians.
I loved the romance behind the style of Valentino’s designs. But those ideas were too expensive for me to have, considering I was an immigrant woman who was working as a community reporter for a Spanish language newspaper in Toronto. I had an extremely modest income.
Travelling and shopping were a break from college and work. Italy was a luxury that I could afford, thanks to my discipline with money. And the shoes could be too. So, there I was in Rome, hypnotized by these beautiful pink shoes that made me dream of a better place in life, giving me hope for many experiences and places that were yet to come, and allowing me to fantasize about where these shoes would bring me: elegant restaurants, maybe? Romantic nights? Hopefully. Red carpets—why not? Cannes was on my to-visit list during that European trip, after all. Lost in my dreaming, I handed over my credit card.
Back to reality and Toronto. My Valentino shoes spent a couple of months in my closet before that special occasion finally came. I was assigned to cover the visit of former Governor General Michäelle Jean to a refugee house in Toronto. I put on my light-blue linen suit that everyone thought was Italian, and I never told them otherwise. It was made by a gifted Colombian modista (dressmaker). I left my basement apartment feeling amazing and walked three blocks to the bus stop wearing my beautiful Valentino shoes for the first time. Waiting for the 29 bus, I already thought that the shoes felt funny. But this was my first date with them, and when you’re in love, even if it’s with shoes, those little details really don’t matter. I then got on the subway, walking confidently but carefully, protecting the pointed shoe from potential scratches, and watching that the heels didn’t get stuck between tracks and that nobody stepped on my beloved treasures.
At the refugee house, the media weren’t allowed to go inside, so I was waiting outside the door when a limousine arrived, and the governor general came out, walking straight toward me. Smiling, she shook my hand, and with natural confidence, I said, “Nice to meet you!” I introduced myself while she seemed to be waiting for directions. For a minute or two, nobody was there but us.
Finally, two women—one of whom was the director of the refugee house—jumped between us and walked her inside. Thirty minutes later, I was allowed to go in. I talked to the refugees about their conversation with Her Excellency and then walked alongside her to the back of the building where graffiti art that was painted especially for her was unveiled. She was friendly, and for a few minutes, I felt that I was a part of the same world as the governor-general, the Canadian world, the world of accomplished people and, yes, the glamorous world.
It was all thanks to my Valentino shoes, obviously.
By the end of the event, I couldn’t take one more step with those shoes for one simple reason. My feet were killing me, and the shoes were slippery. They weren’t designed for the adventure I had subjected them to. They were better suited for walking on a carpet, preferably a red one.
My Valentino shoes are still with me. They haven’t walked me to many places, but they remind me to dream high. So, I do.
ELIZABETH MENESES DEL CASTILLO is a communications strategist with the Ontario Public Service. A former TV reporter from Colombia, Elizabeth has also worked with the CNN Spanish edition from Toronto and CityTV.
She has also published several articles for Spanish and English publications, including TrustLaw, a Thompson Reuters Foundation and women’s rights blog, El Tiempo, Colombia’s largest daily newspaper, and Correo Canadiense, a Spanish language newspaper in Toronto.
With her husband Andrew, Elizabeth guides her daughters Penelope and Amelia to navigate the beauty of being from two cultures, Canadian and Colombian, while enjoying the ride herself.
Since it was created in 2011, Elizabeth has contributed to The Shoe Project because there is no better metaphor for the journey of immigration in a sophisticated way than using a pair of shoes.