Kleptocracies come apart for all sorts of reasons, but it's a rare delight that the Zimbabwean military's to-date rather slick putsch was triggered, in part, by Grace Mugabe's freely decadent history of luxury shopping.
Ever the snappy dresser, the now-embattled first lady, 52 – at this writing under house arrest with her husband, Robert, in the couple's $10-million, 25-bedroom Blue Roof mansion in Harare – was until a few weeks ago a regular in the world's fashion capitals and well-known in Harare and beyond for her jewelry, her collection of designer shoes, and not least, for her habit of dropping rock-star levels of cash in the best shops of Paris, Rome, and London.
She famously hit one Paris shop for a whopping $75 000, a spree that she denies but that nevertheless has stuck in the popular imagination.
At home, the 2014 wedding of the Mugabes' daughter, Bona, staged by her mother for a 4000-strong guest list in the 60-acre gardens of the Mugabes' Borrowdale estate, cost a reported $5 million.
The caterers were flown in from Singapore.
European Union sanctions against the Mugabes restricted their Continental shopping only somewhat since the early Aughts.
As they held office, she and her husband were welcome in the Vatican, and could traverse Italy to get to this or that celebration at the Holy See, which provided Mrs. Mugabe with opportunity to visit some of Rome's better merchants. For the moment, she remains welcome in the United States.
Derisively known in Harare as "The First Shopper," "Gucci Grace," and perhaps more poetically as "DisGrace," Mrs. Mugabe has put together an extensive wardrobe featuring, among other baubles, a reported mountain of Salvatore Ferragamo shoes.
Quizzed by a reporter about the footwear, she blithely replied: "I have very narrow feet, so I can only wear Ferragamos."
That celebrity endorsement will come as a surprise and now arguably as a great relief to the marketers of Jimmy Choo, Louboutin, Prada, Proenza Schouler, Bally and Tod footwear, whose exquisite work does, also, run in small sizes.
Shoe brands aside, the fact is that Grace Mugabe has cut a radical – if also wholly ridiculous – Cruella De Vil figure on the international fashion circuit. Her most recent appearance at an international fashion event occurred in New York just this past September 19th, a scant six weeks before the army decided to call an end to her spree, at the Fashion4Development's First Ladies luncheon, pictured above.
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