They took a shine to a thousand shoes: Some call themselves 'collectors', others 'accumulators', while a few don't mind 'fetishist'. Tamsin Blanchard tracks an obsession

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The Independent Online
THE FILM STAR Sharon Stone was spotted in Milan last month, buying more shoes in one day than most of us see in a lifetime. She spent an hour in Diego della Valle's chic Via della Spiga boutique, splashing out for 30 pairs of shoes, including white and orange tennis shoes, brown leather fishnet sandals, high-heeled slingbacks, and striped cork platforms.

Imelda Marcos is not the only woman to have spent a fortune on shoes. The fashion director of American Vogue, Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele, is said to own a pair of Prada shoes in every colour. The pop singer Sinitta is described by a friend as 'a complete shoe-aholic'.

It seems the world is full of people who cannot walk past a shoe shop without buying a pair, and who cannot open their wardrobe doors without being buried beneath an avalanche of leather and suede.

Karen Hendry, aged 30, from Glasgow, has more than a hundred pairs of shoes. She has been collecting them since she was a student. 'I've always been mad about shoes,' she says. 'I love the sleekness and elegance of them.

'I did a degree in psychology and I think shoes say a lot about a person's character - it's the first thing I notice,' she adds. I wonder what a psychologist would have to say about Karen?

There are shoes crammed into every corner of her tiny west London flat. She opens cupboard doors and pulls yet another pair from its depths. All her shoes are very precious to her, no matter how old or battered.

'They're completely knackered, but I can't bear to throw them away,' she says of her silver Russell & Bromley court shoes that are scuffed and worn down beyond repair. Then she pulls out another pair from a huge cardboard box, saying, 'These are my Maud Frizons - I met Warren Beatty in them.'

Ms Hendry is particularly proud of her Forties brown suede Ferragamo shoes, bought for pounds 17. Being a size 3, she finds lots of old shoes that fit her perfectly. Her most recent acquisitions include not one, but two pairs of Gucci clogs, and a pair of original Seventies mules from a market. Even with her huge collection laid before her, she mutters something about really needing to buy some more.

Another slave to an ever-growing shoe collection is Alex Osborne, a 22-year-old bookseller. 'I've got this terrible thing where at least once a month I dream about shoes. I actually invent pairs in my sleep and then wake up in the morning, disappointed to find they aren't real.'

The shoe designer Emma Hope owns around 60 pairs of shoes. She prefers the term shoe collector. 'A shoe fetishist is somebody who gains possession of ladies shoes by deceit, and then goes away and, er, plays with them,' she says. Of her regular customers, the Americans have the biggest shoe collections.

One of her loyal customers is Mary Killen, the Spectator's agony aunt. 'The reason I have so many shoes is that I feel my feet are my best feature, the only part of me I really want to draw attention to,' she says. She spends about 75 per cent of her clothing budget on her shoes. At the moment, she has 12 pairs of Emma Hopes on rotation (about pounds 1,500-worth) and about 30 pairs of shoes in current use, including seven pairs of Manolo Blahniks.

Collectors often build allegiances with a favourite shoe designer. Janine Ulfane, an actress who lives in Los Angeles and London, has her shoes made by Johnny Moke. She has at least 50 pairs on each side of the Atlantic, including a pair of ballerina slippers she was given at the age of six while on holiday in Italy.

Ms Ulfane does not like to be described as either a fetishist (too seedy) or a collector (too grand), but as an accumulator: 'I never throw anything away,' she says. 'I have shoes I bought years ago, which are now scruffy and holey, but I can't part with them. They become old friends.'

Her favourite shoes are a pair of tapestry boots that she had remade by Johnny Moke in some old couture fabric she found. 'Having shoes made is part of the excitement,' she says. 'It's the anticipation of having to wait for them after seeing the fabric and the design.'

One of the problems of owning more than 50 pairs of shoes is finding enough room to store them. Janine Ulfane has the perfect solution - two homes. She keeps her shoes stacked in their original boxes and has inherited a cupboard in LA with built-in shoe racks so they can be on display. Others spend hours, meticulously cataloguing and labelling their shoe boxes with the shoe colour and style for easy access.

Shoe collectors are usually also quite fanatical about looking after their shoes. The aromatherapist Anastasia Alexander sees her shoes as a collection of art, and is horrified at the suggestion that she might throw them out when they are worn. 'I brush them with tender loving care,' she says of her favourite Emma Hope shoes.

Asking a shoe-lover over the telephone what kind of shoes she has on is a bit like asking her what colour knickers she is wearing. Karen Silverstein, a public relations officer and owner of at least 60 pairs of shoes, does not object to being called a fetishist, saying simply, 'I'm obsessed with shoes.' Ms Silverstein is looking forward to wearing her 'amazing' silver sparkly platform mules this summer. She bought them for pounds 5 from Portobello Market. She tries to be quite practical, shopping at Hobbs and Pied a Terre and only lusting after shoes by Stephane Kelian. She has been known to buy two pairs of the same shoe.

Meanwhile, Ruth du Cann, fashion editor of Hong Kong Elle, is in her wardrobe, furiously counting up her shoe collection. 'Until now, I have never considered just how many pairs I own,' she says. 'Now I am horrified to find that I have over 150 pairs.' About 80 per cent of her shoes are black, but they range from the most expensive, by Chanel, which she has never actually worn, to her favourites, a pair of traditional Chinese shoes. She bought them at the No. 1 Department Store in Shanghai for a mere 15p - which goes to show, it is not necessary to have the budget of Imelda Marcos or turn to crime to feed a shoe fetish.

(Photograph omitted)

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