For the last few months, I have been talking non-stop to my friends about a woman I met through Instagram. "Her name is Mina, and she’s basically a real housewife of New Jersey,” I’d say. "No, she’s not really on the show, but she is friends with one of them. I think."
I called her up while she was vacationing in Hawaii and learned that she (or, her mom) bought her first pair of Pradas in middle school. I learned that she's spent roughly $292,000 on shoes in her entire life (my calculations, not hers), and that her most expensive pair — “maybe $2,900?” — was a pair of Hermes riding boots. "My husband reminded me that I brought them to Hermes last month for a spa treatment when I spilled champagne all over them," she told me later in an e-mail, signing off with the emoji of a monkey covering its eyes.
It was then I decided I had to meet this woman who made her reality TV debut featuring her baby's take-me-home outfit in an itty-bitty garment bag. Several weeks later, I find myself sitting in the Au's 4-story house, eyeing a set of cupcakes (from her for-charity bakery) and vegan almond cookies (from the private chef next door).
Au, it turns out, recently moved with her husband, son, and extremely talkative eight-year-old Yorkshire Terrier (reportedly from the same breeder for the Dell and Gates family). "I've lived in apartments my whole life, so this feels really big," she says. "Like, too big. It's a lot of work." Work, as in the installation of an elevator? I ask (because, they are installing an elevator). "Yes, but also, the apartments we were in had doormen for packages and a car service to take you to the ferry. Now when I go on vacation, I have to tell my neighbors, 'If you see my shoes, pick them up for me!'"
Over the course of her lifetime, Au has purchased somewhere between 600 to 700 pairs of shoes, roughly $400 to $500 each (because “some are sales shoes!” she says). "The shoe obsession actually runs in my family," she explains. "I have two older sisters, and growing up I would hear about their shoe shopping adventures with my mom. My childhood memory is of my dad building a shoe closet for them in my home."
Au still has her first pair — pointy, kitten-heeled, pink, and from Prada. Since that very first buy, her collection has grown to roughly 200 pairs of shoes — after a few edits and donations to charities and nieces. They all reside on the first floor of her home next to what will soon be her husband's "mancave." "As soon as I buy more I try to get rid of some, only because I run out of space, and my husband would then get extremely mad at me," she says.
Of course, you can't talk about this number of shoes without talking about money, and almost $300,000 in footwear in 36 years is no small number. “I’m very lucky that I'm in the position that I can buy these shoes, because they're not cheap,” she acknowledges. “I recognize that my husband's line of work [Editor's note: He works on Wall Street, because of course he does] allows me to have this lifestyle. But the other thing is, I don't buy much else. I have friends who spend tens and thousands of dollars on clothes, like $80,000 every season on a new wardrobe. And I don't do that. I don't do anything close to it, and I don't feel the need to.”
But, that doesn't mean another vice hasn't emerged in the past few years: kids' shoes for her son. "Prada was making mini [kids] versions of their adult sneakers, but they discontinued them," she says. "So before they discontinued them, I bought mini versions in every size for every stage of my son's childhood." At one point, she had somewhere around 11 sizes of the same shoe; she's since donated most of them.
But does her six-year-old kid even care about fancy footwear? Turns out, yes. Sure, he might ask for the "checkmark shoes," or the light-up ones — both which his mother refuses to buy for him, but "he's noticed that every time he wore his loafers, people would stop and comment on how cute he is, and he really likes to match his dad," Au says. "Now he's asking for specific shoes on specific days. He says, Well, I'm going to wear my loafers on this day, and those shoes that day. I'm like, 'Oh my god, what have I done?' But at the same time, I love it."
Here, we got an inside look at Au's closet, a.k.a. footwear nirvana.
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Behold: Mina-Jacqueline Au's shoe collection. Even as a single girl working as head buyer for the Cornelia Day Resort, Au would buy so many shoes she had to store them in her dishwasher. "It's like an uncontrollable addiction," she says. "When I walk into a department store, it's a magnetic gravitation." Does she ever think about the money? "Well, shoes are the more inexpensive items that you could collect," she adds. "I wish I had it for something cheaper, but I guess it's better than $100,000 cars that guys have...and it's better than drugs, which are totally unhealthy and bad for you."
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Of course, with that amount of shoes, it's nearly impossible that she wears them all regularly. In fact, there are a few that have never been worn. "Some of them I love so much I bring them back and I can't wear them," Au says. "So I bought these Louboutins with hearts made with crystals, and every time I put them on I can't bear to walk out in them. It's so silly — they're meant to [be worn]. My husband thinks it's the biggest waste of money."
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Then, there are shoes Au has worn to the ground. "For comfort, I wear Jimmy Choos the most. Those are my drop-off and pick up from school shoes," she says. "For events, I wear a lot of Louboutins. As much as people won't believe me, I do think they're comfortable if you find the right shoe. I have a few pairs that I wear to death, and I'm scared that once I wear them out I won't be able to find them again." Shoes that get worn out are either repaired endlessly, donated, or, if flat, relegated to the "rainy day" basket — shown here. (We did spot a pair of Nine West shoes in this pile).
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Of course, her husband isn't immune to the value of nice shoes, either. Here, her partner's collection of Prada and Gucci sneakers, and her son's occasional matching pairs. Still, "my husband doesn't get it," Au says. "But my argument is, I don't spend on other things. I don't buy clothes unless I need to." As for her son's want for Nikes and light-up shoes? She says she doesn't know "when he would wear them," since he has his school uniform shoes throughout the week, and his loafers and slip-ons for weekends.
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The acquisition of new shoes for Au, however, can seem endless. In the time between our first phone call and my visit, she had purchased another two pairs of shoes: A pair of gray Chanel booties, and crystallized Giuseppe Zanotti heels (shown on the next slide). "The beauty of buying so many shoes is you have really good sales people on your side," she says. "I've had sales people hide shoes for me and give me amazing deals. " Oftentimes, she says, they'll just email her photos and she'll respond with yes or no.
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Shown left, Au's wedding shoes and her new Zanotti heels. "I would never touch my wedding shoes again because of the story behind them," she says. "Tamara Mellon herself had told the store manager to gift those shoes to me as a wedding present. It was one of the nicest things that has ever happened to me, especially because she means so much to me. Of course, I've never worn them again — they're white, satin shoes."
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Ask for the most expensive pair in her closet, however, and you won't get a straight answer. "I actually don't really know, but I want to say either a pair of Louboutins, or a pair of Hermes riding boots," she says. "The riding boots I think were $2,800, maybe $2,900? It's nothing crazy — not like $10,000. But the Hermes riding boots — I'm obsessed with Hermes, and I love its craftsmanship, and I love the equestrian lifestyle — I think it's so chic." In lieu of a photo of her boots (they were, after all, at the spa), here is a little shrine to Hermes in Au's closet.