When I was four or five years old I remember standing outside a shoe shop in Skewen with my mother gazing at a pair of red patent leather shoes in the window. Everything else was black or brown, muddy and dull against the cream window dressing, practical and necessary. But these red shoes, they shone, glistening and opulent, glowing like a beacon to the little girly girl I was and still am.
Despite my requests, then demands, then tears, those shoes were never to be mine.
As I write this I am wearing a pair of red ballet shoes, and I have the most delicious red sequined numbers tucked away in my shoe drawer for special occasions.
I am now an adult and can buy all the red shoes I want. But do you know which red shoes I really, really want?
I saw them yesterday, and I think they were behind my childish passion outside that shoe shop all those years ago.
They were at the Hollywood Costume Exhibition at the V and A in London, and when I discovered they were going to be there, I had to go and visit them.
I queued quietly and calmly till I got to the end of the exhibits and there they were. Underneath the faded blue checked dress that Dorothy wore in the Wizard of Oz, stood the red shoes. Tiny, sequined and the reddest red you could ever imagine. I wanted to slip them on and click my heels three times to see where they would take me.
Perhaps that was why I craved them so much when I was a little girl. All you had to do was wear them and click your heels and they would transport you somewhere entirely different – somewhere multi-coloured and vibrant and a little frightening or somewhere sepia, and warm and welcoming.
And I still have that childlike hope and awe when I watch a film: I see ET and Elliot ride a bike into the sky and a part of me always wonders what it would be like to do that, I watch It’s a Wonderful Lie for the hundredth time and am still relieved and tearful that George has seen the light and returned to his family and friends; every time Audrey Hepburn climbs out of that taxi in the opening shot of Breakfast at Tiffanys with that harmonica playing in the background, I feel whistful and hopeful at the same time.
The exhbition was brim fill of one iconic outfit after another: Kate Winslet’s gown and hat from the beginning of Titanic, Scarlett O’Hara’s green dress made out of curtains from Gone with the Wind, two Marilyn Monroe dresses – one skin tight and sexy, the other silky and feminine, Keanu Reeve’s long coat from The Matrix, George Clooney’s suit from Ocean’s Eleven, a couple of Brad Pitts….
The adult part of me analysed and admired the costume designers art; the childlike part of me wanted to put on Ginger Rogers sequin and mink dress and disappear into a black and white Busby Berkley dance number, or squeeze into Audrey Hepburn’s little black dress and be Holly Golightly being rescued romantically in a taxi by George Peppard.
These clothes are not just clothes, they are part of a portal into another universe: the one where Rocky Balboa wins against all the odds, where Batman comes to our rescue and the bad guys never win, and Indiana Jones puts on his hat, cracks his whip, saves us from the Nazi’s and gets the girl. Every time.
I have been told that in a country lane not far from where I live someone has put a road sign pointing towards Narnia. As a child I loved The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, captivated by the possibility that there was another world slightly different from our own – hidden just out of sight, but you could get there if you could find the secret entrance.
But actually, to be transported to that other world, you just have to go to the cinema or put on a DVD. Just chose the world you want to go to: funny, romantic, sad, frightening, and its there at the click of a switch.
But its somehow still magical, isn’t it. And being so close to the clothes that are part of that magic made me feel that anything is possible if you just wear the right shoes, just like I felt when I was five.
I’m just going to get my sparkly red high heels out now…
copyright Chris Penhall 2012