Temptation: Tango shoes 2008

IMGP8192 G. wants to hit the Buenos Aires tango shoe shops. And I go with her.

Three pairs are the target: something black, something metallic possibly pewter, and something electric blue.  She wants me along because she knows I am ‘Little Miss Decisive’ and that with one glance I will say things like: ‘No, impossible to clean’ or ‘No, put them down you’ve already got orange and purple stripes’ or ‘No, completely ghastly… don’t do it’. I know it will be a quest of utter torture for me since I don’t have a budget that includes tango shoes, but it’s always good to know what the options are just in case I ever make any money… and so I can help other friends to find what they want faster, and because I know it will be fun.

My own tango shoe history is very brief. After buying one very plain pair of black ‘shipped from Argentina and ridiculously expensive’ (at the equivalent of $600pesos) shoes in London in 2006, I bought six pairs here in Buenos Aires in 2007: each pair cost me $300pesos which seemed cheap at the time. I really only dance in three of them. The other three are of the ‘impossible to clean’ variety, or of the ‘pretty but back strap feels too unsupportive’ variety… these add a rather cool decorative touch to my apartment, but never touch the dance floor. I have learned from my mistakes, all $900pesos of them… and my last was a quite beautiful shocking pink and acid lemon/lime pair bought in November 2007 and so far worn once. Today I cannot afford to buy tango shoes, punto. Really, I have to wear all the shoes I have, including my mistakes, until they die… or at least that is what I tell myself as we plan our little mission.

We decide on three stores: Neotango, Comme il Faut and Greta Flora.

Neotango is our first stop. I’m personally not too keen on their shoes: they don’t seem to fit my feet, but G. has had great success with a black and white pair she bought last year. We enter and see the exact same black and white design and, to my eye, much of the exact same designs in general as they had over twelve months ago. But, we do find a decent pewter metallic pair and the available heels at either 7.5cm or 8 .5cm are both options for G. who prefers her shoes slightly lower than I do. The price is $380pesos. While G. pivots with poise in front of the mirror, the pal of a male customer strikes up a conversation with me: he likes my British accent. When I turn round his friend is dancing a tango with my friend right there on the carpet.  Then bugger me if the shop manager doesn’t dance with her too. Ah, some things never change… she always did get the dances. At least this year I can join in the castellano conversations… we all have a laugh together, but we leave without buying.

Next we head to Comme. We are the only punters and so to my delight I have the pick of the velvet sofas. The manager remembers us and is I think, impressed with my ability to ask questions in castellano about the state of tango tourism in the present world economic environment, and the currently falling number of tango tourists: which she confirms. She corrects my pronunciation repeatedly: she is not so keen on my British accent… but I am proud that I understand most of what she says. In fact I am so engrossed in the discussion of economics that I fail to give G. any attention at all. Out of the corner of my eye I notice that she is pivoting slightly frantically in front of the huge gilt-framed mirror in a pair of cool greens. ‘Nice,’ I encourage. They fit the original plan (well sort of close to electric blue…) and so go in the ‘possibles’ pile, along with a pair of black and gold. So far so good. But then, what always happens in Comme happens: they bring out the box, open the lid and although the shoes are not remotely what you were considering… your heart is lost. And this time I cannot believe my eyes, because the glittering prize lying nestled in the tissue is the exact same shocking pink and acid lemon/lime shoe that I bought almost a year ago. ‘It’s the last one we have,’ the assistant explains, and it’s in G.’s size, of course. I try to whisper, ‘impossible to clean,’ and ‘ankle strap too narrow,’ but I know it is too late: shoes have already fused with feet, are lost in pivots in front of that mirror, and are ‘SOLD to the girl from Los Angeles’ for $360pesos. Well it could have been worse, some of the shoes in there this week are rather OTT ‘bling’ and cost $450. And dear G. is ecstatic, which in the end is all that matters to me. ‘I’ve loved those shoes ever since I saw a photo of yours,’ she enthuses as we emerge into Arenales, ‘And they only had one pair left, and they were in my size… ‘

I smile at my darling friend. At this point, exactly where are we with the black, pewter and electric blue plan? Mmmmm, shocking pink and acid lemon, that’s precisely where.

Greta Flora is our final stop. Now I have seen these shoes on another friend’s feet and know that they are gorgeous and different so I am excited. It’s a bit of a trek to Villa Crespo and by the time we get there we are in a rush, so we have to make it quick: 20 minutes only. Not enough. Again we are the only customers, this time in a tiny space high up in an apartment building. There are some exquisitely made shoes, many with the beautiful signature flower, but it’s a bit complex: only these designs in your size, the heel size you want, in these three colourways etc. We need some time to take it in and we do not have it. The heels are thicker than the Comme stiletto style I normally like, but somehow the shoes manage to carry off elegance: I love them. In here we do encounter a black pair and a turquoise/green pair, both ‘possibles’ for G. at $330pesos each (other styles are I think more expensive). I actually try some on myself, because I adore that flower… very tempting, but fortunately I feel that my big toe is spilling out the front, which saves me. We learn that the shop is moving in a couple of weeks, to a more central location (good news) but we make a date to return to the current venue on Monday when we will have more time. Decisions like this cannot be rushed. We leave without buying, but I am pretty certain G. will when Monday comes. I am slightly nervous of going back in there: I suspect I will try on a few more pairs…

So, this little tango tour has taken us two days (with various other missions along the way), we have one pair of shoes that were not on the shopping list, but we have possibilities for the pewter (Neo), the black (Greta with flower), and the blue/green (Comme and Greta with flower). I have found out that spring 2008 prices are in the region of $330 to $450pesos, that even Comme who has a traditionally fast turn over are still selling some of last spring’s styles, and that Greta Flora will be moving location soon, so beware of trekking out to Abasto without phoning first.

The good news is that I kept my credit card in my pocket. Comme-wise (always my weakness) I still like a soft brushed gold pair with a double length wrap around ankle strap… these have been available on and off for a while, but they are luxury-gorgeous and of course probably of the ‘impossible to clean’ variety. But apart from these nothing came close to grabbing the ‘corazon’ of this little tango dancer. I decide firmly, on the bus home, that I would only buy the same patent leather style I have already, and then only if it came in black again: mine are horribly stretched across the toe bar after eighteen months of constant wear and yet I still love them.

I’m a bit shocked at how practical I have become: but I guess that is what happens when you turn from tango tourist into tango immigrant, and at the same time the world economy gets turned upside down: you learn fast that your tango shoes have to last.

Ah but then again, if I’m honest, I do find myself secretly hoping that G. might drag me back to Comme for the green shoes, because as I fall asleep with tango heels on my mind, I can’t quite forget the lustre of soft ‘oro’. And let’s face it, they do say when world financial markets are in chaos there ain’t no safer place to put your cash than into gold…


16 Responses

  1. I have always loved the pink and acid lemon pair, too but my sensible side told me that they would look sooo much better on somebody with slightly darker skin than mine. I’m temporarily over my shoe addiction and can live with just looking…I think every time it gets out of hand and I absolutely cannot resist although I cannot afford them there is something else missing in my life – but who could resist at least trying to own beauty?

  2. I have had it confirmed that Comme il Faut and probably other shoe stores have two prices: one for the portenos and one for all others. I have too many pairs of CIF already but the new prices and that information are enough to put a pall on my enthusiasm. Maybe by the time I return they will have figured out that selling shoes is more important than gouging the tourists.

  3. what an odd coincidence that today i go looking for info on greta flora, and you’ve posted this! a friend will be visiting in about 9 days, for a few weeks, and has generously offered to bring home a pair for me… i’m hoping he won’t have too much trouble, since he is a he (that is, not a shoe fanatic like us 🙂 and doesn’t have much spanish. it’s great to know that GF may be moving location. thank you~

  4. Hi, I would be interested in hearing more about the state of tango tourism there these days. Also I was wondering if shoe prices have gone up? When I was there, pretty much all mens shoes were $240, but when I received an email from DNI about a pair of shoes I was interested in there, she said it was $340 +shipping. I’m pretty sure when I visited that boutique in April it was $340. Would it be $240 if I walked in there and asked how much in Castellano? What do you think? thx –

  5. Oops, sorry, I meant it was $240 in April…

  6. Oh god. I’m so nostalgic now.

    I’ve reached that tipping point where the memories of the painful bits of BA are less vivid than the memories of the joyful bits and the hopes and dreams for future trips, and so am starting to feel the desire to visit again. I understand there’s a similar point with having kids – the pain of childbirth fades in your memory, and is overwhelmed by memories of cute babies and the desire for a girl/boy/nother chance to name a human being. 🙂

    Those Greta Floras actually are pretty, and different. I never thought anything could compete with the Commes in my eyes, but I’d like to give those a go. Are they as stable as the Commes, though, heelwise?

  7. Hi Claudia, the way I normally avoid temptation with all ‘past life shopping spree behaviour’ these days is simply to stay away! It really works, along the lines of what I don’t see, I don’t know exists and therefore I do not want… I haven’t been to Comme for 10 months until now! But I can’t help wanting to occasionally see what is out there, and then once seen… temptation is just dying to say ‘Hi Sal, well why not? You are a tango dancer and tango dancers NEED shoes don’t they?’ and as you say, they are sooooo beautiful!
    Once upon a time I couldn’t leave Comme without buying, and last week I did, so I guess my behaviour is changing a bit: at least I will think about it first!

    I have never been a shoe person otherwise… one pair of boots for winter, one pair of sandals for summer: tango shoes are something else. And now I just want to avoid mistakes because if I end up with something I really do wear for hours and hours and hours: well in my world, they become very good value very fast.

    Do you have a lot of pairs you never wear? Maybe you could sell them, to fund your next ‘beauty buy’. Now that could be the best of both worlds 🙂


  8. Hey Nancy, maybe that is true about the prices. I don’t personally know.

    It is tough though, all prices (not just tango shoes) are shooting up here, like visibly on a daily, weekly, monthly basis… and everything knocks on to everything else.

    Perhaps ‘designer tango shoes’ as I think of them are a luxury item that probably only foreign visitors can afford anyway, at least in terms of multiple pairs, and maybe that has always been the case. Many Argentines dance in shoes that have not been specifically made for tango. And in general I find that people who come here for a tango vacation do still tell me that the prices are still good compared to what they would have to pay back home.

    It is worth mentioning that for those in search of a bargain, Comme, Neo and Greta had some styles marked down in a sale area… so there is always the chance of finding something cheaper.


  9. Hi Cindy

    Ah more serendipity eh?
    I am going to post more about the Greta Flora shoe buying experience so that may help you: G. ended up buying some shoes there yesterday. And if your friend needs help with his mission, email me.

    I am happy my post was of use to you!


  10. Hi b. Well I will ask G. to check the prices in the DNI boutique next time she is there: next week. But I have to say that it’d be pretty impossible to pretend you were a porteño in DNI no? Or do you think you could pull it off? 😉

    Hug, SC

  11. Hi Psyche
    Well when we get our hands on the Greta Flora shoes that G. did finally buy yesterday (being made), I am gonna have a dance in them and see how they feel to me. I have only worn Commes since I came to BsAs, and in a way I think it just depends on what we get used to and of course what works for one body may not work for another… it is tricky.

    Ah nostalgia: I can sometimes get it about my early days here. All the exciting late nights, new tango venues, gorgeous men… then I remember I was ill for months from lack of sleep, the many nights when no-one danced with me, fighting off the creepy guys. Mind you, on the other hand when I think of a trip to the Amazon rainforest in 1992 I have never reached that nostalgia point: snakes in the roof above my bed, two million mosquito bites (through my clothes), bedsheets soaked with humidity, a shower full of tarantula sized spiders! Ain’t probably ever going back there!

    So maybe if you end up on the nice side of nostalgia, it is safe to come back! Hope so, cos it’d be nice to see you again.

    Besos, SC

  12. hi sally,
    great!! and thank you for the lovely offer. luckily, it isn’t his first visit, & i’m sending him off with specifics including the online map (is it cherie’s? great map) with shoe places marked… hopefully these will help a bit!

    i will vouch for greta flora~ i have a pair, the black suede peep t-strap with flower, which are my favorite shoes… beautifully made, stable and even a little padded in the front. holding up nicely since february too. the 8.5 cm heel is higher than my 3.5″ heel CiF, by 1/4″ or a little more. many compliments (including from my favorite leader)…. (grin!)

  13. Thanks, Sal. I’ll be curious to hear. I never tried to fake Portenoism–I can barely speak a word of Castellano (Um, tiene estos en quarente-y-dos? No? Quando? Nunca? Oh.”–but I was perfectly happy with paying $240 for really nice shoes all over town. So maybe that was the “gringo who at least came to BA and is desperately trying to speak Castellano” rate, which is a lot better than the “Gringo emailing from The States rate,” maybe. Or could be it’s just inflation. Can’t wait to find out!


  14. b. I will post a comment here as soon as I have news.
    besos, SC.

  15. Cheers.

  16. b. A friend checked DNI for me: mens shoes $340pesos. un beso. SC

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