Author and cruelty-free handbag designer Cornelia Guest shares the story behind her favorite summer sandals, a pair of T-strap silver-and-gold flats she used to steal from her mother's closet.
How did these sandals come into your life? "My mother got them years and years ago. I saw them and I loved them because they are both silver and gold, so the minute she got them I tried to steal them. And they went back and forth, back and forth for years. She used to try and hide them from me, and that was never very successful. When she died, she gave them to me, but before we had an ongoing fight about them."
Lucky you had the same size feet! "Her feet were a half-size or a size bigger than mine, so she would always kid me, but I loved them so much I would just tighten the straps. I would just put more holes in them. She used to try to use that, 'You know, they're too big for you.' And I was like, 'Well, I think they're fine.'"
How long ago did she buy them? "I think it was probably in the late '70s, early '80s. They've been worked on; the soles had to be redone, the straps had to be redone, but I still wear them. They just go with everything. You could wear them day, night, any time with anything, and they're just so versatile, we both loved them."
Do you remember the first time your mother wore them? "The first time I ever saw her wear them, we were in Florida. And I just thought they were so pretty. And my mother, she used to wear long skirts. I remember seeing them peek out. And a day later, I saw them on her with shorts, and I was like, 'Hmm, I think this is something that I want to steal.' It took a minute for her to realize that they were gone. What I would do is, I would wear something of my mother's and I would hide it. I would always hide everything under my dog's bed because I knew she would never look there, and sometimes I would hide stuff in her own closet from her, which would make her crazy. So, you know, we used to joke, I found them under her bed."
Sounds like they're a great source of connection and memory to her. "Yeah, they are. She would always say to my father that I stole all of her clothes, and it was really terrible, and he needed to put a stop to it. And my father would just laugh. And I remember once, she got me so crazy, so I was like, 'Okay, fine.' So I went and hid literally every left shoe. So it was time for her to go out for dinner and all of a sudden I hear, 'Cornelia! Cornelia! Where are my shoes?' I go, 'What do you mean?' She goes, 'All of my left shoes are gone, all of my left shoes are gone.' And she of course ransacked my room. And I had hidden them all in my dad's closet. I mean, I would torture her."
So funny! What possessed you to do that? "She would do the same thing to me. She would find something I would get that she would like and it would be gone out of my closet. And you know when you're the daughter, you're like, 'What's wrong with you? I'm the daughter, you're the mother, I'm supposed to steal clothes from you, you are not supposed to steal clothes from me. And then she would do it specifically. She would steal my favorite visor, she would take my tennis racket, it was hysterical."
How do you like to wear them? Any styling tips for flat-soled strappy sandals? "In the summer, I love shorts. I wear shorts and a T-shirt for dinner, I wear shorts and a T-shirt as much as I can. So they're great casual, but when I come into the city and I want to wear a dress, I'll wear them with a dress, too. So you can wear them very casual or dress them up, at night you just add a little silver or gold minaudière, some sort of little fun bag, and you're ready to go. They transcend through everything."
The fact that 30 years later, these shoes are still as relevant and wearable as they were back then, is a real testament to their design. As a designer, are you inspired by timelessness? "Yes, I like things that are timeless and classic. Someone once said to me, 'How many different pairs of shoes can you make, how many different handbags are there?' You know, there's not that many, so you're always trying to put a new twist on the wheel. It's like a beautiful pearl necklace, how many ways are there of making a pearl necklace? There are a lot, but there are not a lot."
How do you interpret such classic values in your own designs? "One thing I have in all of my collections is a mirror. People always say to me, 'Oh my god, I remember in my mother's bag she always had a mirror.' Well, I think it's important. What girl doesn't want to look at herself? I mean, come on. I like a chain, I like to knot a chain that's long so it can be a cross-body, but then if you knot it it can be over the shoulder."
How often do you wear the sandals? "I wear them a lot. I've always had them on trips with me. I remember going to a wedding in Palm Beach and I had the prettiest white dress. It was such a beautiful night and I wanted to dance, so I wore those shoes. I was like, 'I'm not wearing high heels, I'm going to wear these shoes.' I had so much fun with these shoes, and everybody had high heels on and they were all complaining and freaking out, and here I had my little shoes on so they were perfect."
Would you say that a lot of pieces in your wardrobe are also vintage or hand-me-down? "Yes. I love classic with a twist, and for me, that's how I look best. I've never been a trendy dresser, so I really like things that I've had for a long time, that look good on me and that I feel comfortable in. Perfect example, today I have a little burlap-y, linen, camel-colored skirt and a jacket. It's a little jacket, three-quarter length in your arms, and it's Oscar de la Renta. It's so old, it was a sample of his. I don't know how long I've had this. It's the best go-to thing in the summer because it's light yet has a little jacket. You can take the jacket off when you're walking down the street, because when you go into every building in New York, the air conditioner is on so high that you need to carry a down coat. I just love that suit."
Finally, when you see those sandals, what's the first word or feeling that comes to mind? "A big smile on my face!"