Wednesday, November 28, 2018

No Holds Barred: Bringing it in NYC

“OH NO ... Don’t  GO!” The perfect balcony to watch and to jump!
by Blair Sabol

All my friends warned me that I would really have to “bring it” on my recent NYC visit.  The city was struggling between frequent rains and 40 mph winds and the upcoming mid-term elections.  They insisted I better bring my best “game face.” A tough proposition since I hate to travel, and New York trips are often tricky for me.  Just getting on the plane in Phoenix I felt a part of the caravan — except the refugees were actually better dressed. 

Ironically, I arrived marathon day and that nonstop energy set the pace for my entire 6 days.  Win or lose, I knew I had to make it to “the end.”
I was worried that if the mid-term elections turned out a complete red or blue wave, there would be street “action" and that alone would be challenging.  The mid-terms came and went and though NYC seemed drowning in rain and political rage, there was less explosive fire and a more subtle venting of steam as a result. 

Spanxed up in red dresses ready for action!
The following day I saw a picture of Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters arm in arm and Spanxed up in red dresses ready for action. Clearly, they have already replaced Melania’s visual of understated “molded” sophistication. So much for the changing of the guard and style.

Not only was I gifted with great weather (I left 2 days before a surprising “snow storm”) but I was blessed with an amazing upgrade at the Hotel Plaza Athénée — a jewel box size suite with triple exposure and a glass enclosed indoor/outdoor terrace.  I lived in NYC for 40 years and never saw such a layout.  It felt like Joan Crawford had stayed there.

Actually, Debbie Reynolds had, and now so does Robert Wagner and Robert Redford.  For once I wasn’t sleeping in a bed where I felt like a hooker and Harvey Weinstein had been the night before. And forget all the terry cloth robes and five-star reviews.  This suite had no “pervy” residue and that is hard to find in any hotel nowadays.
Where Debbie Reynolds, Robert Redford, Robert Wagner (and I) slept (NOT Harvey Weinstein!)
Triple exposures from the bedroom! Here's the view looking southwest ...
And east ...
And north.
Travel for me is fraught and because I hate it all, I do “bring it” all! I pack in four UPS boxes (I never do carryon) and I ship everything a week ahead.  It is not about the clothes — it’s all about the pharmaceuticals (every med I can think of “just in case”), vitamins, candles, etc.  When people accuse me of holding on to my “baggage” — I totally agree. Especially when it comes to travel.  I just read that Lenny Bernstein traveled with 12 pieces of luggage (not including his musical scores) whenever he went on a brief tour.  He even took his own coffee machine and his Torah.  I am almost in his league. Elizabeth Taylor also traveled with a “limit” of 12 suitcases.  Two of them were for her dog Sugar.  We all have our eccentric needs.
Luxe luggage provided by UPS.
Luxe luggage unpacked.
The Plaza Athénée is not about sleek and chic.  It is old, worn out French provincial and who does THAT décor anymore? This is past “shabby chic” — maybe old cozy but definitely not “techy.”  My suite just had the phones “updated” to mobile, there were old radios preset to WQXR and the TV’s almost looked like they had rabbit ear antennas.  The “room controls” were on/off switches.  Not a wall iPad in sight.  I love the whole “set” and lived on the balcony daily just to see the changing New York City skyline.
Indoor terrace of the suite at the Plaza Athénée.
The indoor/outdoor terrace.
New York sunrise.
The sad view of the new 1000 feet high tower “pencil dick” apartment boxes on Central Park South seemed to trounce the elegant old Essex House and Sherry Netherland rooftops.  They call it “Gazillionaire Row” and it has sent such a disturbing message to the new NYC skyline.

I never once watched TV or read a newspaper while I was there. I just stood on the balcony every chance I got and observed the “real news” of people and pets living their lives through their apartment house windows, and the bright night lights switching on in the early Fall darkness.

It has never occurred to me (ever!) to jump from any balcony, but I must say, this suite had the perfect railing to fly from.  I was only on the 10th floor, and it was the perfect elevation to feel “exalted” but still just “in it to win it.”
Among the canyons of pencil dicks.
Since I don’t shop anymore, I decided to do the “Crazy Rich Asian” circuit of luxury stores ... for fun! They were all on Fifth Avenue or Madison Avenue near Trump Tower, which doesn’t even attract tourists anymore.  Each store I explored in less than 16 minutes, so it was my aerobic workout.

This kind of store cruising wasn’t even like art gallery or museum touring — where you stand and study and soak it all in.  These stores felt strangely so offensive and bizarre I couldn’t get my bearings.

Balenciaga had their $895 SUV platformed sneaker and a young Saudi boy and his mom were buying the last three pairs.  Dolce & Gabbana was very big on glitter logo sneakers and glasses and leather puffed jackets. Every price tag seemed to start at $1,820 in all of those places.
The fastest selling Balenciaga sneakers, $895 — sold out!
Balenciaga display.
Hot selling (?) Balenciaga women's styles.
Luxe branding at Dolce & Gabbana.
More "luxe" branding.
Slip-on D&G logo sneakers.
People were milling about but no one was “buying,” and the dressing rooms were empty.  Yet the Fifth Avenue Christmas decorations were already up and lit by November 2nd.  The infamous giant Fifth Avenue snowflake was hanging on high promising a record sell-out season.
Fifth Avenue snow flake starts the Xmas madness!
Tiffany & Co. Xmas decor up by the first week in November.
Gucci was probably the most insane “experience” (sick of that retail buzzword) simply because I remember the real Gucci of 1963 when my Dad bought the iconic “horse bit” loafers for a then exorbitant $41!  Now nothing that classy is available.  Shoes were all fur-lined or blinged and the men’s loafers are now $875 - $900.  The original Gucci was quiet and closed promptly for lunch. The sales help were elegant and trained. The store felt like a holy shrine. Now the double-floored layout resembles the monster house at Universal Studios with so many clashing fabric outfits, bauble coated accessories, and Day-Glo leather goods.
Gucci’s Window — Not exactly sure what's going on here ...
The staff resembled pleasant zombies and were of no help other than to offer you champagne and nobody knew any prices.  The place looked like the child’s clothing store Oilily (that closed years ago) with its crazy contrasting patterns.

But this reaction is my “bad.”  I am not the market.  I am not this madness. I don’t get the joke or the wearing of logos. I never did. Is it art?  Eccentric and crazy can be inspired. But costly wacko for wacko’s sake seems like a cheap con job. I was so threatened by it all I had to leave immediately. Poor Dr. Gucci must be turning in his grave. But so is Coco Chanel and Hubert Givenchy! So much for my “luxe experience” in this current land of branding giants.  I wish them all luck in the oncoming tariff wars.
The interior at Gucci.
The Famous Gucci Loafers — $850.
Fur-lined slide in the $900 range.
Women’s slipper table. Everything starts at $1,200.
Mo Gucci, Mo Money!
Special Gucci bags.
Famous Gucci wallets ... big sellers!
Neon cross-body bags, starting at $2,000.
Gucci Menswear.
Gucci Men's coat (I didn’t even look at the price tag). Perplexing Women’s department.
Gucci Children’s clothes.
Gucci clientele toasting their shopping experience.
By the way, I heard the most successful “brand” store is the new “Levi Denims” location in Times Square.  Featuring everything from a “tattoo parlor” to logo and patch your denims and on-site tailors to custom fit everything.  This has become a major retail “comeback” story and shopping scene. 

I thought about visiting the much-praised Rent the Runway store just to see the whole operation of signing up (monthly is $146) and getting to choose your selection of used luxe designs.  I asked many of my serious fashionista pals if they would partake of such a service and the feeling was though it was a great idea to rent a Vera Wang gown for a wedding or special event — it was not their idea of “shopping.”  Some don’t even like buying at high-end thrift shops.  All of them agreed they’d rather buy and live with their own pricey mistakes and pass them on ... than “rent” anything.  Personally, as a customer who returns a lot of online items, I am finished with the concept of “catch and release” returns.  And in Rent the Runway you can buy the item. But one wonders ... isn’t it just a big cleaning service?  I would be obsessed about who and where each item had been worn.

Forget my obsession, Rent the Runway has already affected the entire luxe retail business and for that they get five stars for already becoming a major influence.

The other big rising star in beauty is Glossier which exploded online as an inexpensive terrifically bubblegum pink packaged line. They just opened their New York flagship store. I tried their jelly cleanser and face cream and found them to be nothing special, but the pink padded envelopes and pink rubber bands almost made me re-order.  The shop is on Lafayette Street and I walked in, but they were not “officially open.” It was like being in a hazy pink womb and the steep velvet molded narrow stairway got me dizzy. 
Brand new store front of the new super beauty company Glossier. Glossier’s funky display wall.
A manager instantly stopped me from looking at the main room of modular pink tables and giant Claes Oldenburg tubes of their “Boy Brow” mascara.  Later the manager had to practically carry me down the steep under-lit narrow steps since there is no handrail.  But they don’t care — they are making an interior statement. The product line is already a cheap hit.  Glossier will become another must see “shopping experience” even if it means a broken hip!
Risky entrance stairway at Glossier (No bannister!)
Shopping used to be fun for me, especially in NYC.  Now, it is out of my league and out of my mind. For a bit of relief, I stopped by Norma Kamali on 11 West 56th Street.  I used to wear her clothes 45 years ago.  She had a great sign outside her boutique saying, “The New Normal.”  Indeed, she is still doing what she does best — great stretch designs (she was the original athleisurewear creator) in wonderful fabrics and rich colors.  Her velvet yoga pants beat anything from Lululemon and her sales staff are present and helpful.  Basically, they size you and order online in the store.  At least nothing scared me. Norma Kamali is holding her own in “user friendly” styling.  Her system of “styling pieces” still stands and she did that concept first.  I left her boutique with some hope.
Norma Kamali headquarters at 11 West 56th street — The original designer of athleisure fashion.
Norma Kamali's creed (and velvet bootcut pants).
On my way home, I stopped to get my usual suede loafers at Little Eric at 84th and Madison.  Owner Michael Pasinkoff had to show me the latest boot that Bruce Springsteen just bought.  Pasinkoff insisted this was the boot Springsteen performs in nightly in his hit one man show on Broadway.  They were nothing special — just a pair of plain black suede low boots for $450.
Italian Suede boots ($450) that Bruce Springsteen bought.
Little Eric’s hot season hits ($250 - $298) — copies of Gucci.
Coincidentally, the next night I attended “Bruce Springsteen on Broadway.” Now, I must confess I am NOT a Springsteen fan.  Far from it — I don’t like his music, the harmonica, nor the E Street Band.  But like the Grateful Dead, I appreciate the cult of it all. 

Six months ago (when he opened to raves and higher than “Hamilton” ticket sales), everyone insisted I go since people who were not Bruce fans in particular were loving it and feel “transformed” by the whole live acoustic “Experience” (enough with that word!)

“Bruce” became an instant “must see.”  My supersonic estate lawyer Guy Matthews (who goes to every Broadway show) insisted that we go before Bruce closes in December.  Guy was not a Bruce fan either.
Bruce at the end of his two-hour and 49-minute show. Fans are in awe and phones are out.
Nobody told us the show was 2 hours and 49 minutes with NO intermission.  We only heard that as we were going through security.  Guy’s last words to me were “Keep an open mind.”  Instead I kept wondering why I didn’t wear a diaper.

As soon as we sat down, we were in “The Church of Bruce.” Very inducting as my seatmate was from Duluth and had already been three times. The atmosphere was heightened by the constant announcements of “cellphones must be turned off and put away.” And Bruce even announced mid-show, “Please don’t call out my name. I appreciate it, but please.” 

The first 45 minutes were interesting, and I appreciated his deftness on the guitar and piano (I still hate the harmonica) and his life story was heartfelt. We were in the first row of the mezzanine, so thankfully I could put my legs up on the railing.  But frankly — no one’s life story is that riveting after 50 minutes. Everyone needs a break just to “process,” let alone pee.  I felt like I was in an EST meeting.  Even though Cher is about to do her own Bio on Broadway, she will have other actresses perform it and there will be an intermission.

Maybe Bruce felt that an intermission would “break the Springsteen spell” and some of us would leave.  For sure I would have.

Meanwhile at 10:49 PM, Guy and I were the only ones to fly up the aisle while the rest of the enraptured Bruce audience stayed behind for selfies.  By the way, Bruce was not wearing the $450 suede boots — he was in a pair of worn out thick rubber sole work boots! Deluxe Dr. Martens.
Springsteen's performance lug sole work shoes.
Meanwhile, back at my hotel, I had to take four Advil to get over my night with Bruce. When the show was over, he looked as worn out, bent over, and exhausted as I felt.  I recently heard the show has now been filmed for Netflix. As well it should be. It will not be the same as actually sitting in a Broadway seat (which is like flying tourist on Air India) during a live performance.  It will become another “concert film” — and therefore for Bruce Fans, it will live on Forever.

In a wacky kind of comparison,
the next day I went to Philadelphia and saw a Philadelphia Orchestra matinee with THE rock star Conductor of the moment, Yannick Nézet-Séguin. I had no familiarity with the program which consisted of Wagner and a new composer Mason Bate’s “Alternative Energy” piece and mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato.  I listened with “an open mind.”  The Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall had the greatest wide plush velvet seats and the makore wooded ceiling and walls were opulent.  The performance was two hours long with an intermission.  I got lost in all of it and loved every minute. 
Philadelphia orchestra conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin at the finale of his concert taking a bow in a scuba shirt.
It's Gotta Be the Shoes!! Christian Louboutin Morning Dandelion Embroidered Velvet Slippers -- similar to the shoe Yannick wore conducting!
Yannick held my attention completely in his opening remarks, and his personal active choreography on the podium.  I was blown away that he was wearing what looked like red sole Louboutin loafers with gold inlays (listed online for $1,200) and his black jacket was some kind of stretch scuba shirt design.  I was not a classical music fan — but now I am — or maybe a Yannick “follower.”  So, in the end, I got my musical “live” onstage “transforming experience.”

It was indeed a packed six days and I feel I “brought it” all and maybe broke the bank in the process but isn’t that what New York is famous for? Bring it and go for broke, or go home!