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."