The Closet by Teo van den Broeke extract: sexual awakenings over Puma trainers

Teo van den Broeke has written a coming of age memoir through the lens of fashion ( )
Teo van den Broeke has written a coming of age memoir through the lens of fashion ( )

The Editorial Director of Soho House, Teo van den Broeke’s nostalgia-filled memoir The Closet tells the story of his coming out and coming to terms with his sexuality, in a warm, witty yarn woven together with his obsession with fashion. It’s embellished with lashings of booze, MSN messenger sessions, new friendships, first crushes, awakenings, breakups and the transformative power of clothes.

“The Puma Mostros is a chapter about the early stirrings of first love. I had met Marc at school when I was 14 and I was instantly attracted to him. I didn’t know why or how. All I knew was that I wanted to be around him as much as I possibly could. I was also desperate to impress him. I bought the trainers, with Marc’s help, in an attempt to do just that. I began to fall in love with him at the same time as I fell in love with my new shoes, and our ill-fated story is central to The Closet. There are plenty more shoe-related shoe anecdotes to pick from too…” Teo van den Broeke

I went straight to bed after Smack the Pony, mainly to allow myself plenty of time to make the decision on my outfit for the next day. I already knew that I would wear my black ribbed DKNY jumper as it was the only item of designer clothing I owned, and I hoped that it would impress Marc. The jumper featured the brand’s logo knitted across the breast and it was slightly oversized.

When I wore it, I felt somehow more held together, the voluminous tube of ribbed cotton providing me with a of soft-edged definition – a fuzzy sense of self – which I sometimes struggled to muster on my own. I also decided that I would wear the pair of Levi’s twisted jeans Mum had bought me in the sale at Madhouse, and, finally, that I would pinch a pair of black boxer briefs from my dad’s underwear drawer as none of mine were clean.

Shoes were trickier. Having gone off Reebok Classics, what I really wanted to wear was a pair of Puma Mostros. Ever since I’d seen a pair in Mum’s Littlewoods catalogue, I knew I needed them in my life, but both my parents thought they were ugly and, as a consequence, neither party would buy them for me. The shoes, which had a futuristic quality, resembled the shape of a foot in a slick, undulating way that the chunkier trainers of my early childhood hadn’t, and the velcro straps, which wrapped around them, holding the shoe onto the foot within, resulted in a contouring quality that made them look sexy somehow, like miniature torsos wrapped in gaffer tape.

 (Teo van den Broeke)
(Teo van den Broeke)

Bereft of the shoes I really wanted to wear, I decided instead that I would sport my old pair of Dunlop plimsolls, which Mum had bought a few years prior for the handful of ill-fated tennis lessons she’d made me embark upon. She thought I had the physique to be “the next Pete Sampras”, though it had in fact turned out that I had the hand-eye coordination of a dyspraxic Stretch Armstrong. The shoes didn’t really fit me anymore, but they looked just about passable with my jeans.

The next day, I set off for Guildford. To get to the bus station, the 479 was required to navigate the town centre’s convoluted one-way system, which took it directly past the street corner where Burger King was situated. As we got closer to the restaurant, I could see that Marc was already standing outside. He was ten minutes early and my heart gave a jolt in thanks for his small act of punctuality.

He was wearing twisted jeans too, but a slightly more fitted style than mine. On his feet were a pair of cream Puma Speedcat trainers and, on top, he was wearing a tight white T-shirt with a navy-blue bomber jacket. Perched effortlessly on the straight slope of his nose was a pair of mirrored Aviators. He looked like one of the models I’d seen in the copy of GQ I’d bought for the first time a few months before. I loved the way the clothes hung on the bodies, angular and unexpected but also seductive and luxurious.

It was a glossy world I was desperate to be a part of, even though I had no idea how to access it. Marc, on the other hand, seemed like he was already there. His perfect level of polish suddenly made me feel entirely inadequate. It was definitely still too warm to be wearing the jumper; I had six months to go before my braces would come off; I had yet to buy any of my own gel; and Dad’s Brylcreem had made my hair far too stiff . . . I felt like a lumpen, remedial Ken doll. With spots.

Alighting unsteadily from the bus, my too-small shoes pinching my toes, I took my time walking over to Burger King. I stuck close to the edge of the buildings on the same side of the street as the restaurant in order to remain in the shade, so that the morning sun wouldn’t make me perspire any more profusely than I already was. As I reached the corner I took a deep breath, stroked my over-crisped hair one last time and patted down my jumper, attempting to smooth away the body bumps, which were (still) going nowhere fast.

Teo van den Broeke is the Editorial Director of Soho House (James Anastasi)
Teo van den Broeke is the Editorial Director of Soho House (James Anastasi)

“Hey, Marc,” I said as I walked up behind him. He turned around quickly, smiling broadly. The bow of his upper lip spread lightly over his teeth and I could see my reflection in his glasses. I thought I looked nervous as he pulled me in for a hug.

“Hey, Tay!”

As far as I was aware, I hadn’t told him that the abbrevia­tion of my name was what my parents, Romy and Lauren called me, but the intimacy fell on me like a blanket. “How are you? Love your jumper.” We had started walking across the road towards the high street and my heart flipped in my chest at the same time as the sweet scent of freshly baked dough entered my nostrils. A branch of Millie’s had recently opened nearby and you couldn’t move around that part of town without getting a whiff of the company’s signature white chocolate and raspberry creation. “Shall we go to Blackson’s?” he said, putting his hand on my shoulder in a smooth move­ment and guiding me into the arcade. “I’ve got some birthday money to spend.”

Blackson’s was a designer menswear boutique, which had opened in town just a year or so before, though I’d never been brave enough to go in on my own because everyone I’d ever seen working inside looked so intimidatingly cool. A small white cube filled with sparsely hung rails of ultra-expensive clothes from brands like Daniele Alessandrini, Diesel and Maharishi, there were £400 cotton cargo pants embroidered with silk dragons, there were funnel neck cashmere coats with off-centre fastenings, and there were voluminous poplin shirts entirely devoid of collars.

They were clothes unlike any I had ever seen in the flesh before, and everything from the soft handle of the fabrics to the perfect thickness of the labels concealed within them, imbued me with a feeling of immense possibility.

It was another high-gloss world to which Marc, who navigated the little store as if he owned it, seemed to be the gatekeeper. As we perused the rails he started chatting to the owner, who was sporting a carefully sculpted beard and Duffer of St George sweatshirt, as if they’d been friends for years.

Moving around the small space concentrically, Marc and I eventually met at the footwear section at the back of the store. The wall had been lovingly punctuated with a series of miniature shelves to display the shoes like rare artefacts, and it was dominated by trainers. There were cobalt-blue Adidas Sambas in fondle friendly suede, retro-looking Nike Cortezes in pastel hues and Puma Speedcats, much like the pair Marc was wearing on his feet.

“You should get yourself a pair of these,” said Marc, casually, gesticulating at his trainers rather than those on the wall. “They’re inspired by the shoes worn by Formula One drivers.”

“I’m quite keen to get a pair of Mostros one day,” I responded tentatively, eager to meet Marc’s confidently delivered trainer trivia with some kind of assertion of my own. “I think they look ace,” I added redundantly.

Before I’d finished my sentence Marc craned his neck in the direction of Duffer of St George and asked lazily, “You got any of those Mostros in yet, pal?” before turning his gaze slowly back to me. “What size are you, Tay?”

“I’m a size eleven, I think, but, um, I’m not sure, um.”

“Don’t worry—” he winked, placing one of his hands – which looked as though it had been recently manicured – on my shoulder “—he’s here to assist us.”

When the Mostros came out, the first thing I noticed was the smell, which was a heady mix of shoe rubber, sneaker glue and cheaply dyed leather. They were black, and the entwined tonal straps made them look like something Batman might wear if he ever decided to give up the Batmobile and race classic cars instead. I put them on and they made my feet resemble a pair of slick Doberman snouts. By contrast, my Dunlops looked like a pair of mongrel puppies, abandoned and unloved on the carpet next to them.

“How much are they?” I asked Duffer quietly. His porcine eyes were buried deep in his face, which was curiously tanned for the time of year.

“They’re sixty pounds, mate.” He paused. “But because you’re with Marc here, I’ll give you 10 per cent off.” Another pause. “Just this once, mind,” he added with a proprietorial sniff.

”Marc,” I whispered, slightly panicked, “I’ve only got forty pounds.”

”Don’t worry, Tay, I’ll lend you the money,” he said, not missing a beat. His hand was on my shoulder again. “I’ve got your back.” His face was earnest.

And just like that, the shoes were mine.

The Closet is published by HarperCollins. Buy it here