Wednesday, December 4, 2013

No Holds Barred: Go Big or Go Home

Drab 57th street flake ... a sign of the season?
No Holds Barred: Go Big or Go Home
By Blair Sabol

I couldn’t believe I had to stare at this 70-year-old man's hairy legs (dirty sandaled feet) the whole four-hour flight from Phoenix to New York. What was he thinking? His 200 pound mini-skirted seat mate had her bare legs and feet slammed up against the bulkhead wall.

This is the look of luxury travel nowadays: Dress codes and rules be damned. I finally asked the guy if he was going to change into real shoes and pants anytime soon. (After all it was 45 degrees when we left Phoenix and reportedly 28 degrees in New York).

I guess I didn't t have it THAT bad!
When I arrive in the city the meter starts ticking ...
He explained that he had just finished playing a round of golf before the flight and had no problem. So he sat in his sweaty attire and took out a liverwurst sandwich to eat in my face!! Welcome to Holiday Flying.

Admittedly I take my bi-annual trips East seriously. Always Fall and Spring. For me it is NOT about the city's theaters or culture — it is all about seeing friends and walking the streets (listening to the conversations along the way) and breathing in Central Park.

I guess it is the typical "buzz injection" everyone craves from New York City. The only show I was advised to see was "Twelfth Night" and The Met is now loaded with shows from textiles to the jeweler JAR. I did neither. I can't stand standing in any lines and here's why ...

When I arrive in the city the meter starts ticking both fiscally and physically. I have exactly three days and two nights and every mini second counts. I stopped trying to find hotel deals. In NYC there are NONE! Even the Tenth Ave. hookers have to pay at least $350 "an afternoon" and that's before true "room service tax," the so-called “Javits tax" (what the hell is that?); not to mention the state and city and "Bloomberg tax.” All told that could be $250 on top of the rate.

Those of us out-of-towners always share NYC hotel horror stories. We all know there are no bargains or promotions EVER! Upgrades? — to a room with a closet? I say choose your favorite location (in my case it has to be the Upper East Side ... I'm a brat), and simply "bend over and take it."

Hopefully it will be worth it. Most of the time it is not. So we all move on. But to me, hotels are part of a New York "experience” and a sanctuary, so I want a good one. I have been an East Side hotel "slut" for four years, and lately each one has disappointed me. We are all awaiting the re-opening of The Regency. But I hear the rates will be elevated. The Carlyle Hotel now has too many rap stars in the lobby and The Mark has that cougar bar and the rooms are tombs. However, I need Central Park for the morning walk, or why come.
Just watch out for the Lance Armstrong wannabes in Central Park.
So the Plaza Athénée stepped forward. Remember no discounts! The room was HUGE (by NYC standards) and high ceilinged, and had a real, functional balcony (not an outdoor shelf).

The staff was incredibly accommodating and low-key; and I never had to ask twice for a thing. They got all my requests down and done smoothly. No snubs, no bed bugs!

The hotel's location is sweetly "tucked away" on 64th Street (between Madison and Park). It is known as "The Chanel Hotel" (the store is around the corner) but I never noticed any nasty French people or any of those big double C shopping bags clogging the entrance.
Small but cozy, the Plaza Athénée tucked away on 64th Street.
I loved my shabby chic room interior. My bathroom had enough shelves to hold all my toiletries (New York hotel bathrooms are always a problem). I always figured that if you can stretch out your arms sideways and touch the walls you are in real luxury. Most of the time the bed fills the room — forget a chair; and that's for $750!

I did hear that the Plaza Athénée has a great bar, and a restaurant that is a neighborhood fave. I had no time to try either. Although friends assured me that the New York Athénée is nothing like the Paris version. Who cares? There were no strange Russian men sneak smoking in my hallways, and no rude German art dealers elbowing their way at the front desk.

The hotel scored in service and that's the end of my review. Over-the-top service doesn't exist anymore. It is common knowledge that New York is now as expensive as Paris and London. But none of us mind IF WE GET THE BEST SERVICE. Unfortunately, that is rare.
My "large" room with kitchenette and desk.
MY wraparound terrace at Plaza Athénée.
So my next high-priced city ticket was my hair. Call me superficial ... and I am. For the last six months I have dreamed of coming to New York, and having my hair cut and colored by "the Pros." New York City hair stylists are notorious for being pricey and sometimes dicey in their results. That is why most of my close city pals stick to their low rent neighborhood salons and pay $85 for a cut and /or color! But I was ready to bite the $700 bullet on some kind of redo.

I had heard of Alexis Unno at Garren Salon (Sherry-Netherland). She was touted as the correctional colorist of the moment and her husband Manabu is the sensational haircutter. I had already met and observed them and did my homework on them in previous Spring visits.
Entry to Garren salon at the Sherry-Netherland.
I booked an "all day" procedure with both. It was terrifying and exhausting. I started at 1 p.m. and got out at 6 p.m. Both of them were indeed sensational and absolutely OCD in what they do.

I have never had every strand of hair examined and shaded and conditioned the way Alexis did it. If it wasn't absolutely correct by her standard, back to the washing bowl we went. She was a perfectionist to the end, which is what you want.
Alexis Unno in action at Garren salon. Master cutter Manabu in action.
Manabu cut my hair like an origami design. Each scalp section was carved and held by his assistant and then he gave me the greatest head massage at the end ... which was worth the price of admission. Both Manabu and Alexis are a precise double team event. He dresses in Lanvin jackets and she is in Philip Limm wrap dresses with unique ear "bar" piercings and cascading dainty jewelry. She is Cuban and he is Japanese. They run the gamut.

Remember Alexis is not just a "colorist" — she insists on "correcting" your base shade, and in my case I was a triple process threat and extremely complicated in highlights and lowlights. But most importantly, she is into making sure she gets your hair back to a decent condition since everyone I know with color looks fried or shoe polished or bright orange.
Manabu cutting my newly dyed hair.
Alexis ear bar piercings. Protected hand bag at Garren hairstylist ... so no dye stains.
I loved when I arrived at her "color balcony" and she immediately encased my handbag and reader glasses in a plastic bag and ordered me a gourmet organic foods lunch (or you can have booze and chips if you prefer).

This whole experience was a loooong way from the days of merely sloppy tint “slap-ons” or doing straggly "foiled pull throughs." Alexis and Manabu have lasered focus, and though I fell apart by 3 p.m., they kept the energy going to the proper end result.

It was another kind of New York Marathon. At least I felt transformed by these real "professionals” ... dare I say "artists." Okay, so now I guess I have to come to New York for my hair ... yet another addiction. But honestly a decent haircut and color is more important to me than any Botox or "pull backs." Imagine: I get instant gratification and no "recovery" time or numbness. I guess it is a matter of picking your "vanity poison."
The hair "dream team": Manabu and Alexis Unno at Garren salon. Alexis Unno (right) with her assistant Tory.
Within minutes of leaving Alexis and Manabu I was freezing. The temperature dropped from 50 to 29 degrees in that five-hour period. Everyone in the street looked like street workers or delivery boyz in varying degrees of puffer coats. Personally, I secretly wish more men would go back to wearing real overcoats — the look is far classier than all these quilted parkas.

But apparently "puffy" parkas are a form of "city initiation." Kids are getting into gang fights for MARMOT quilted jackets; they are the height of "The Biggie Goose." Whatever, I think the holidays and winter brings out the worst in street attire because it is about survival, no matter what Bill Cunningham is reporting!

A dear acquaintance insisted I get personally and stylistically "puffed up" by Nikki DiConza. She is currently the representative for JOTT USA. JOTT stands for Just Over The Top. These vests and jackets are from France and are the rage because they are super thin and cut lean and meant to be layered so you never look like a Michelin Man. And the colors are sensational.
Nikki DiConza with her line of Jott USA puffers. Jott car coat style.
Nikki was having a trunk show two blocks from the salon so I blew in and got fitted for three pieces. The price range is $199 for a vest and $229 for a jacket. There are great car coats and men's and kid's designs as well (go to:

Here's what I loved: the fit is trim and you feel "supported" in goose rather than lost. Nikki taught me about different "down chambers" (smaller is better) and bad "bottom bandings." There is a dressy chic-ness to this line.
Sherpa-lined Jott puffer jacket. The label inside the jackets and vests.
Jott kids pufffer jacket ... a best seller.
Me in front of Athénée in my double puffer (vest and jacket) and new hair.
The popular Montclair puffers are too expensive and the Uniglo versions are cheaper and colorful but too boxy. I am now officially "puffed up." I can even wear these layers in my desert environment as well as the frozen tundra of the East Coast.

When I left Nikki I was astounded to see so many New Yorkers dressed in such drab colors. And this was five days before the store-busting year-end celebration of being "Merry and Happy." Maybe that is why people looked so "spent and used up." Because they are!! Even the giant 57th street iconic snow flake looked drab and sad unlighted.

What has happened here? Other than I think most people won't be shopping the stores. Online ... for sure. And sales?
Puffer dress at Uniglo.
Puffer jackets for $60 at Uniglo ... too boxy ... "bad quilt canals."
What sales? 20% discounts are not discounts. In the last two months my computer has "dinged" me every morning with more meaningless promotions. If my Sephora girl doesn't stop emailing me with "deals" (that are NOT — just "purchase with purchase"). I swear I will tear up my VIP card, which isn’t about VIP anyway.

I think this Xmas promises to be not so "ho ho ho.” As I breezed through a few department stores and Madison Avenue shops, I felt desperation and not "joy to the world." But who knows what "slash and burn" finale promotion merchandisers have up their sleeves in the last December days.
Pucci puffer for $3000. Xmas window at "agent Provacateur" lingerie store.
The whole season "may be in progress."
I had only one final stop and shop before my exit and it was at Artbag at 84th and Madison to pick up my long awaited (four month — slight delay) "Stella" bag in bright orange leather.

Owner Chris Moore had it all ready and it was like picking up a brand new BMW. I love this bag — it is the first design I had personally organized for ME! Sure there are Hermes and Prada and my "Stella" ain't cheap (close to $900) but Artbag delivered ... FOR ME. I have worn it every day since my pickup and I decided I loved it so much I wanted to marry my bag. (It is more than "a pet" ... as some women nowadays treat their carryalls).
My wonderful Artbag bag. I want to marry it. My Artbag interior: compartments and places for everything!!!
It changed my life because I no longer have to dump my entire contents out on the street everyday to find my cell phone and it doesn't "puddle" on the floor. Also the shoulder straps don't fall off or dig their weight into your shoulders. The bag doesn't weigh a ton ... my contents do! Chris Moore just emailed me and insisted "don't marry your bag ... just carry it."

On my last day my private car and driver arrived at the hotel and he was in a lather. He had already gotten two "standing" tickets just by leaving clients off in "questionable zones" but neither were "no parking or fire hydrants." My driver explained; "I even got these tickets by the same officer. Bloomberg has been awful for us drivers and I doubt de Blasio will be any different."

I kept hearing this same refrain from all my New York friends. Everyone in the city seems politically dazed and confused. The Obama hate and disappointment has left most people exhausted and flatlined. Bloomberg is suppose to move to London leaving New Yorkers behind nervous and on the brink. Happy New Year!!!
Me "layered up" in my Jott USA puffers in front of Plaza Athénée.
Meanwhile, my New York City trip meter gave out. With all the great NYC vigor and enthusiasm I felt like I had been through the wash and rinse cycle and my wallet was picked clean. Luckily my pals wined and dined me all over the city but I must say I found the food fine but totally overpriced.

But as my rich New York friends warned me: "When you come to NYC ... You go big or go home." True. I went Big and went broke and split. But at least I got a couple of great “puffers,” decent hair color correction and cut, and a Plaza Athénée note pad and pen to show for it.
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