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My first luxury: A pair of Maison Margiela Tabi boots

Tianni Janae Graham recalls a sales associate who gave her a jump on a private sale

Shopping for designer goods is about more than beauty, workmanship and cost. It’s an emotional experience that often comes with a personal story. In this series, women recall a singular piece and a moment in their journey into luxury. 

Tianni Janae Graham, 29, of New York, is the principal archivist at Thom Browne and curator at archivealive whose first big luxury purchase grew out of her work as a fashion historian.

I didn’t really come from money, so I knew not to ask for Louis Vuitton. Like, that was just out of the question. Luxury for me was Polo and things that you could find in Macy’s. It wasn’t until I started making my own money and working in fashion that I started to creep into that.

First through secondhand and vintage, and then the different jobs I worked, getting a steep discount, or working in a showroom and getting free samples. Those were things I didn’t have my eye on, it just came to me out of convenience.

I started getting a little more into luxury in college when I was getting my refund checks. I would go to Saks Fifth Avenue but still shop the clearance aisle. I’m going straight to the sale rack. I would avoid talking to the sales associates so they couldn’t upsell me on anything because I knew I didn’t have the money for that.

But two years ago, I took my boyfriend to Miami for his birthday. We love Miami. And this is, like, the fourth time that we went. [Graham’s research and consulting firm] Archivealive started picking up as a business and my salary from Thom Browne was really starting to get some weight. 

I’ve always loved Margiela and as I started Archivealive, Maison Margiela is one of the first designers that I really started to research, and then through that research, I fell in love with the brand. So we went to the Margiela store. My boyfriend already had a couple of pairs of sneakers and he wanted to see what else they had. I’m looking around and we’re talking to the sales associate who we made friends with the year before. And the sales associate was like, “Our private sale just started and we haven’t finished marking everything down yet, but I could show you some things?”

I said yes because the things he was going to show me weren’t shown to the public yet. I’m the type of person I never, ever wanted what everybody else has, I’ve always been that person. People know me for having my own style. I don’t really follow trends, I know what’s going on but I actively avoid what everyone else wears. So he showed me these Tabi boots. The heel looks like when you turn a cardboard box on its side and you can see the fill. Being an archivist, I work with boxes all the time, so this was a full circle moment for me. They were originally $1,050, but I got them for like, $700.

I love Margiela because of the brand’s thoughtfulness. There is intention behind everything. You can easily become a collector of Margiela. I feel like these boots were my investment in my Margiela collection.

Now that I have a little bit more money to spend, and working in fashion, I like a full experience. I like to talk to a sales associate who knows what they’re talking about and is passionate about the brand. Tell me things I’ve never known, especially as a historian. There’s a lot that I know. So I love when people tell me something that I’ve never known. I love to be taught. 

Liner Notes

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Channing Hargrove is a senior writer at Andscape covering fashion. That’s easier than admitting how strongly she identifies with the lyrics “Single Black female addicted to retail.”