This story is part of a series, Past/Present, highlighting images and articles from Vogue that have personal significance to our editors.
It was in high school when I first discovered fashion, something that felt like a guilty secret as I grew up in an environment where the definition of masculinity was narrow. And as a teenage boy, any interest in glamour felt to me like cause for shame and embarrassment. Then, at some point during my high school years, a teacher began delivering daily newspapers to our common rooms. And while everyone else was checking up on the FTSE 100 or celebrity gossip, I got to sneak away with the highlight of my week—the glossy fashion supplements.
At that point the actual act of buying any of those clothes meant nothing to me. But I do remember being in my bedroom when Prada’s fall 2012 menswear collection popped up on the Vogue site the day after the show, and after scrolling through just a few looks, switching over to the brand’s YouTube channel to take in the full experience.
The set was an auditorium in the round, with an exploded Persian carpet as its base; think Soviet-era Kremlin interiors given a trippy revamp by Rudolf Stingel. The models stomped their circuits with military precision, wrapped up in double-breasted pinstripe suits and fur-trimmed coats cinched aggressively tight, while tinted sunglasses and rosettes were not so much pinned to their breast pockets as plunged into them. My go-to holiday read has always been a John le Carré spy novel, and it was like seeing the shady characters that populate his stories come to life; instead of sliding briefcases across park benches at clandestine rendezvous points in Belgrade or Gdańsk, here they were walking a runway in Milan. The casting of veteran actors like Gary Oldman, Willem Dafoe, and Tim Roth—all of whom could easily be the antiheroes of a blockbuster Cold War thriller—only upped the ante.
Needless to say, I was obsessed. I wanted everything. And for once, I thought, why not spend a bit of my student loan on something exciting? Within minutes, my resistance to splurging on high fashion was broken. I spent the next year trawling online to see if I could find a piece someone had discarded from the collection. Eventually, I got the ultimate prize on eBay—a pair of the black brogues with an angular sole pattern and white-and-red floral leather appliqués on top. To this day, I only wear them on special occasions and clean them twice yearly.
Without that fully realized, escapist fantasy Mrs. Prada crafted of Chekhov patriarchs returning from their summer dachas to stalk the halls of power (or at least that’s the backstory I made up for it) I’m not sure I would have fallen in love with those shoes in quite the same way. It wasn’t just the casting that made it feel like more than a fashion show—it was cinematic all on its own.
Last summer, I traveled to Italy for a friend’s wedding and decided it was time to whip out those brogues once again. This time, though, I forgot all about the momentous fashion show they came from and spent the entire night on the dance floor, waking up the next morning to find the shoes in a distressingly shabby state. Despite my best efforts, I still can’t remove the white streaks on the heel. My teenage self would be horrified at treating a piece of my personal fashion history like a throwaway pair of sneakers.
But let’s be real: I shouldn’t feel guilty about my best shoes getting knocked around a little. Fashion isn’t about the pristine looks that float down the runway every season, but the individual pieces you want, and wear over and over again. All it really took was one reckless night out on the tiles to remind me that the most treasured things in my wardrobe are fine as they are. A little scuffed? Sure. Beloved? Certainly. I no longer think of them as relics from a specific time and place in fashion, or pieces to be fussed over like objects in a museum. However silly or obvious it might sound, they’re not Prada’s anymore—they’re mine.
Originally Appeared on Vogue