“Tango is magic between bodies,” says Alicia Muñiz, the founder and designer of tango shoe studio Comme Il Faut in Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires. “I still tango; I love tango.”
Now, I’m not a tango dancer, but I do like sexy shoes.
Home of the revolutionary tango shoe
So on my trip to Buenos Aires, I made my way down the chic Rue des Artisans, up the stone staircase of a discreet whitewashed, European-style building, to the studio of Comme Il Faut.
There’s a little steel window at eye level. When you ring the bell, someone slides it open, and when you identify yourself, lets you in. Speakeasy-style entry to the home of the shoes that have taken over tango.
Tango’s working-class roots run deep
Argentina’s most famous contribution to global culture, tango, developed in the 19th century in poor port communities where European, African and Native workers mingled.
Tango is music between bodies
Tango is both music and one of the world’s most dramatic, sensual dances.
The dance spread from Argentina’s most gritty streets to occupy a special place in the lifestyle of the country.
In the rest of the world, tango is for professional performers. But in Buenos Aires, you’ll find it everywhere: on stage, in community centres, clubs, bars, and even on the streets in neighbourhood milongas (tango dance clubs).
Everyone you meet dances, as do their parents, and they will tell you their grandmothers light up when it’s time to go to the milonga. Women don swishy dresses, slip dancing shoes into fabric shoe bags, and go out to tango with their men.
Even when it was elevated to the stages of the world, the captivating tango was ‘of the people.’ For accomplished tango dancer Alicia Muniz, tango’s working-class roots had a downside for a woman of style.
“I didn’t like the old shoes the dance had. They were strong shoes, ugly materials, bad quality. And always black.”
Then Alicia saw an ad for a shoemaking course. Her first pair took two years to perfect.
The beauty of a good tango shoe
“It was a challenge to make the perfect heel. It’s very important for tango shoes to have such a high heel, and the heel has to be perfect… so comfortable you can dance better!”
She moves with a dancer’s grace around her studio in Buenos Aires, flipping long, blond hair over her shoulder. An elegant, Argentine doppelganger for Donatella Versace, Alicia Muniz has single-handedly brought glamour to the world of tango shoes.
I like lace for the shoes, I like leopard, I like gold, velvet, many materials and colours nobody used in a tango shoe before
“These are not ugly shoes. I like lace for the shoes, I like leopard, I like gold, velvet, many materials and colours nobody used in a tango shoe before. I made open-toed shoes—that was completely new! And still we only make shoes with high heels—very thin high heels!”
Limited edition footwear
Buenos Aires is known as the Paris of South America. It’s not just home to the world’s widest boulevard, or the many whitewashed, wrought-iron-trimmed buildings and Parisian-like streetscape in the old quarter with cut-flower stands, small dogs on leashes and chic boutiques.
The city is also home to one of the biggest theatre scenes and important opera houses of any global city. Argentine people are well-versed in the arts and proud to support them.
Comme Il Faut is a double play on words that Alicia knew everyone in Buenos Aires would instantly understand. It’s both the title of a famous tango production, and translated from French, means, ‘how it should be.’
If you are a tango dancer, these shoes will make you dance better. If you are not a tango dancer, you can wear sexy shoes. Party shoes.
Her new take on how tango shoes should be struck an instant chord. Within six months of opening, Comme Il Faut needed a bigger home.
Today, Comme Il Faut exports 17,000 pairs of shoes every year to 35 countries. Tango dancers around the world swear by Comme Il Faut shoes. And they are a trophy for any woman who loves sexy footwear.
The workshop produces thousands of shoes every month, but only 100 pairs of shoes are made of any design, so every pair is a limited edition. And they’re unexpectedly reasonable cost-wise, in the $100 USD range. Muniz also custom designs and fits shoes for clients’ special costumes or party dresses.
“If you are a tango dancer, these shoes will make you dance better,” she vows. “If you are not a tango dancer, you can wear sexy shoes. Party shoes.”
It takes two to tango
Alicia personally guides me through my first tango shoe fitting in a high-ceilinged, white salon with open windows, gilded mirror and animal-print benches. I’m joined by a woman in her 50s from California whose tango teacher sent her here to buy her first pair of quality shoes, and a young local woman who is adding another pair to her growing collection of Comme Il Faut tango shoes. Does she tango often? Of course.
For me, Alicia and I decide on black, white and gold, in a tulip-like design at the heel. The fit is perfect. The style, paired with a little black dress, will make me the envy of any room. And I really feel I could tango through the night in that heel!
Well, that may be unlikely, but Alicia slips my new pair of shoes into a satin shoe-carrying bag anyway, so I feel like a local resident on my way to a neighbourhood tango milonga in Buenos Aires.by