A basic rule of fashion is that every season you will need ‘one thing’. You’ll see it in these very pages: ‘If you buy one thing this season, make it this.’ It is usually referred to as a ‘key’ piece, which sets our imagination free to ponder what the key might unlock. It is a kind of madness to imagine a bag or coat could be a talisman – a delicious one – but, as someone with mental-health issues, it’s something I have to watch.
Fashion is often an outlet – as music can be – for brilliant, miswired brains, with obsessions retooled as motifs. Clearly, there have been many genius designers with mental-health issues: Thierry Mugler and Claude Montana in the Eighties, the late Alexander McQueen and John Galliano today (as a Jew I will say that Galliano’s anti-Semitic outburst seemed to me like a psychotic break).
The belief there is a magic item to genuinely improve my soul has troubled me my entire life. A psychiatrist recently explained to me that the more scattered your focus becomes (the more your mind is fragmenting), the more you dwell on one thing. I’ve always done this with fashion. When I was seven, I wanted a polka-dot dress. I was given it for my birthday but the polka dots were multi-coloured instead of monotone. I was crushed. When I was 13, I wanted a floor-length floral skirt and looked everywhere for one until my grandma made it for me. Despite her hard work, the skirt, again, solved nothing and, again, that realisation stung.
The first ‘dream buy’ that worked on me was a Dolce & Gabbana slip dress, when I was 18. By dream buy, I mean I projected my dreams onto it, the way movie-goers do with film stars. I was super curvy at a time when Kate Moss was the ideal and this dress directly referenced bombshells Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida. People would whistle when I walked by. That’s a bold statement for an 18-year-old to make, and that dress – which really did have a palpable energy – led to a whole lot of trouble.
It led to secret pub lunches with a much older man who had a girlfriend. He said, ‘No, I can’t do this,’ and I literally said, ‘I don’t care, get in the cab with me.’ I’m not proud of myself and I’m not saying the dress made me do it. But it was, as fashion can be at its best, a superhero costume (or supervillainess, given the havoc I wreaked on him, her and myself).
I forgot about Dolce for some years (I’d say they became a little less bold). But in the past year they have exploded in my heart again, on the wave of exploding hearts they have embroidered over this season’s bags and shoes. It’s a lot of intense Catholic symbolism on this Jewish girl, but those flaming hearts move me. ‘Yes!’ I imagine shouting at the clothes as they make their way down a catwalk that could never cope with all the love they have to give. ‘My heart is on fire, too!’ Then we run into each other’s arms and I am saved. Or if not saved, empowered.
Here’s what I want to have in life: a loving husband. A healthy, happy baby. A great career. To be able to look after my parents. Here it starts to scatter: I want my cat to never die. I want my child to never be in pain, emotional or physical. And because I can’t make those things happen, my meditation refocuses on one thing: an embellished Dolce clog.
Perhaps it makes sense that someone who tells stories for a living has become so transfixed by embellishment. The handbag is out of my price range. The boot out of my leg length. The heel out of my comfort zone. I go for the clog because I love the idea that they’ve taken such a pedestrian shoe and embellished it with magic. And it is low so I can wear it everywhere, not just for special events. It won’t just make me happy, it will thrill everyone I pass.
After searching every day on Net-A-Porter, Farfetch and Ssense, I finally found a pair in size 38. They are the most beautiful things I have ever felt too upset to look at. These shoes fit absolutely everything about me, except my feet. Unreturnable, they are now yours to own, in the name of charity. Please bid on these never-worn lovelies, they are dear to my (flaming) heart.
Emma is auctioning off her Dolce & Gabbana shoes and giving the proceeds to the charity Mind. See her Twitter for details.