My grandmother, Colette, is one of those women who I’m not sure really exist anymore: effortlessly elegant, calm and confident, and always on the right side of decorum and etiquette. She wasn’t a grandmother who baked cookies and enveloped you in long, warm hugs. She is a woman who you aspired to be.
She had rules for her dinner table, no talks of politics or religion, that my uncles broke zealously in their younger days. They were reprimanded quietly and swiftly. Her table hosted a potpourri of people, everyone from her children and grandchildren to foreign dignitaries and statesmen, sometimes simultaneously.
The decor of her house reflects their travels and how they made their mark on the world. There is no chintz to be found in her house. However, there is plenty of Southeast Asian art, African and Asian masks, and other pieces from around the world. She had two portraits commissioned that I will forever remember; one painted here in the States with my grandfather and the other painted while living abroad in Indonesia.
I remember vividly going shopping with her when I was a preteen and teenage girl. I would pick out clothes I thought were amazing and on trend. She said don’t waste our time. With every skirt I modeled she would reach over and say “There. On your hips. That’s where it belongs.” As a teenager it was mortifying and annoying. In retrospect, it was truth.
She also told me to buy the shoes. When you’ve grown up and have your own money – and that’s important, to be able to do it on your own – buy the shoes. Invest in beautiful shoes that are classic and timeless. You’ll pay dearly for them but you’ll wear them forever. In fact, as you enter the world, keep that in mind for all of your wardrobe purchases, she counseled. When my uncle showed up in Paris last month wearing a cashmere scarf from Garfinckels, purchased by her for him at least 30 years ago, I had to smile. She was right – buy quality, classic pieces for the long haul.
These were my first pair of forever shoes: high heeled, brown Mary Janes. Ten years later the shoes are still going strong and I receive compliments every time I wear them. My grandmother may not be around much longer but the wisdom she imparted, the stories she told, and the elegance surrounding her will always be firm in my memory. And the shoes 😉