One of my vivid childhood memories is going with my father on Saturday mornings to “the shoeshine store.” It was a repair shop near a military base, so the shelves held row upon row of combat boots, and behind the counter was a gruff giant of a man in a dark green canvas apron. He worked in silence, handing over my dad’s polished brogues and small change without a word. Of course there was the smell – a primal scent-memory I can conjure up effortlessly, shoe polish and leather and repair glues, I’d guess. I found it as exotic as if you’d dropped me in a Moroccan bazaar. Maybe that’s where my love of leather boots was born.
It’s fall here now — boot season, aka the most wonderful time of the year. The summer sandals are tucked away (my feet only know two seasons: sandals and boots) and I’ve been to the shoe repair shop multiple times recently. Our local guy’s named Vince, and while the shop itself has moved from where it used to be back in the day, it feels very much the same. In addition to shoes and boots, and bottles of polish and leather conditioner and laces for sale, there’s a rack of red chile powder from a local vendor. I love this; you find bags of red chile for sale everywhere here, from corner bodegas and gas stations to this place. It’s as if we’re all preparing for some sort of red chile emergency.
My high-heel phase, such as it was, was short-lived; I had arch issues and small kids underfoot, and a sturdy shoe (or boot) was needed to get the job done. My downtown work life had its share of ballet flats and loafers that lived under my desk at the office, but I don’t wear them here; why would I, when there are so many fabulous boots to be worn? I love them all – western, moto, grunge, granny, as long as they’re low- or flat-heeled and reasonably sturdy.
Some favorites, at random: these fancy Lucchese boots in their iconic black cherry, which I had absolutely no business buying 30 years ago when I first lived in Santa Fe. (Random hilarity: I thought the boot brand was “Lou Casey” until I saw it written out.) I kept them after we moved back to DC, a souvenir of my former life; now they’re on my feet often enough they needed new heel caps and a spa day. I still wear the Nocona shoe-boots I saw in an issue of Vogue in the 1980s and tracked down pre-internet – they have a vibram heel and are spectacularly comfortable. I have the Fiorentini + Baker moto boots all the young Hollywood starlets were wearing bare-legged a few years ago, roaming the mean streets of Beverly Hills while clutching a latte. I found mine on eBay; they appear for re-sale pretty regularly, probably because they’re a pain in the ass to put on and take off, and I don’t care, I rock mine with tights or leggings and feel fierce.
I’m short on closet space and storage in my casita, so I have a repurposed bookshelf (a boot-shelf?) for a dozen pairs and the rest are lined up in various places, including by the front door. It makes those last-minute decisions about which to pull on a lot easier.
If all these boots were to inspire a leather scent, which would it be? I think it would be more classic but also in your face: Bandit, Tabac Blond, and Knize Ten spring to mind. If I myself were wearing a leather fragrance, I’d probably pick something a little softer like non-vintage Cuir de Russie. I love to smell those intense leather frags, but they’re generally not something I wear; big leathers make me feel like I’ve put on someone else’s magnificent coat that’s not quite right on me.
Are you into leather – handbags, shoes, fragrances, etc.? Is the smell part of the leather-goods experience for you? I have some fantastic-smelling leather handbags! And I gave our wonderful leather wing-back chair and ottoman to the Maine crew, my favorite thing about it was its rich leather smell when I sat in it … hmmm, I think I need a “leather” candle, not leather and amber or cognac or fir or woodsmoke … I want pure, old fashioned leather.