No Holds Barred: Looking for Luxe in All the Wrong Places

Featured image
Detail of Woman Applying Make-up by Ernst Neuschul, 1930.

It was my birthday and I decided to venture out for a “luxe for a day” experience. But first I had to leave my 13-year-old Lexus off for an oil change. I decided to give myself an “oil change” by going to Neiman Marcus for an update on my six-year-old makeup bag contents. The lipstick, concealers, foundation, and eyeshadow were all in pre-COVID decay and so was I. I forgot how to spackle my face in record time. For four years I stopped going out and about and lost my makeup mojo.

Most of my friends dumped their makeup for facial injections, lifts, tucks, eyelash extensions and tattooed eyebrows. I was left behind believing that good old-fashioned mascara and line blur cream could bring me back to a blotch-free face. I didn’t want to go into an “uplift.” I wanted to be placed in a visual “stay.” It seemed less radical and a great way to celebrate another year older.

At Lexus I was given a 2024 $54,000 SUV “loaner” for the day. Some would consider that a treat. For me it was challenging and depressing. Sure, the seats felt like “Relax the Back” but the high techy-ness of it all threw me into anxiety.

My Lexus LUXE ”loaner for the day“ that turned into a nightmare!

I suffer from a low and slow learning curve. There were no door handles or knobs — everything was a button or voice-activated. The dashboard was a complicated iPad which kept blaring alarms whenever my head turned away from the road or my foot left the gas. It was clear I would never be able to buy a new car. There is no tutorial that could get me to understand how to drive it. I like owning a key for an ignition. I like door handles that open and close. I don’t want an Alexa narrator to voice over my rides.

I arrived at my luxe day destination: Scottsdale Fashion Square – a mall filled with the usual brands like Gucci, Prada, Bulgari, and Cartier. Stores I stopped going to four years ago. It was a Tuesday afternoon during Spring Break and baseball’s Spring Training camps. The mall should have been packed. It was a graveyard. During COVID, Fashion Square spent a fortune revamping itself while the rest of the country’s malls struggled and sank. Sure, it was all shiny in marble and silver escalators and there were more high-end restaurants like Nobu, but nobody was there.

My view of first floor Neiman’s in Scottsdale from the cosmetics floor.

Neiman’s cosmetics floor was lit like a morgue. Dead white fluorescence. There were few salespeople, no spotlighted pricey handbags or perfume bottles. No energy. I felt like I was in an outlet. This was not minimal design — this was depressing.

The first floor of any department store should be exciting. It’s the overture. The main floor is the grab to pull you in and keep you strutting down aisles and up the escalator to more discovery. This wasn’t even a fun entry into the mall.

The only “Luxe shoppers” I saw in Neimans

There have been rumors that our Neimans was closing. Macy’s is almost gone and Barneys left Scottsdale years ago. Nordstroms arrived but now friends have told me it’s a sad mausoleum as well. Last week I read that Nordstroms may close more stores and redistribute mostly to their Nordstroms Rack discounted outlets. Neiman’s wanted to unload Bergdorf’s but that never happened. Meanwhile Neimans and Saks are just bonding together to weather the storm. Clearly high-end retail is in a wobble, with outlets and T.J. Maxx upping their game and beauty winning out over clothes. I get that the revolution is coming.

After all, you see the success of how Sephora and Ulta have surpassed all the department stores. There is no need for “cosmetics floors” anymore. Sephora came on the scene and made makeup presentation exciting and even have drag queens as makeup artists doing your makeup. Come on in, it’s a party! Shopping hasn’t been a party in four years, what’s to celebrate?

At least Sephora has tapped the young market via TikTok and now teenagers have Sephora cards to buy their Drunk Elephant moisturizers at $40 a pop. No wonder Sephora is owned by luxe monolith LVMH. This is where the heat is!

TikTokers hocking Drunk Elephant moisturizers at $40 a pop.

I didn’t walk the luxe mall, but noticed there were no more rope lines of “working people” in front of Vuitton or Prada. Either they are broke or are back to outlets.

As for my makeup expedition, I frankly lost my excitement once I found my “makeup expert.” I asked her why the place felt so flatlined. She said, “Everyone is shopping online. They only come in to the store for returns. Not even to browse.” So department stores are now return depots. Who can buy makeup online? Don’t you have to smear it on? Isn’t it one of the few shopping interactive experiences left?

After 45 minutes I ended up with two new brushes and four high-end products that cost me close to $400 and I left wondering if I should just return it all.

So little for so much money! The crocodile gold luxe makeup bag was not included.

I didn’t even get off into the WTF spirit of birthday spending. I looked around at my final cash-out moment and saw a few older women limping through the aisles looking for a cheap thrill or maybe a memory of a cheap thrill. The sales help seemed stale as well. I get having too much trans or diverse help might be intimidating, but where was the razzle dazzle of retail?

An aspiring “luxette” on Insta trolling us plebeians.

I can’t follow who is spending what and where anymore. Luxe is mentioned everywhere but I’m not seeing it. Sure, there are still a lot of $15,000 handbags and $850 stilettos. Maybe everyone is an “aspiring” luxette now, but no one looks that well off at all.

Sure, more people can afford luxe, but something has happened. Now high-end is becoming the lowest common denominator. We’ve lost the look and feel of “exclusivity.” Is high the new low? It is best seen in the lack of any “service,” be it customer service or do you remember gas station attendants? Maybe they were hustlers/hookers, but I loved “service.” I hate the grocery self-service checkout lines. I want great service people back; just to talk to. They made the experience special.

With the exit of great service comes the end of civility and manners and common courtesy.

We’ve lost high-end service where people cared about the quality of presentation and dressed in great uniforms. Nobody wants those jobs because everyone is now entitled. For many, where is the fun in helping anyone find anything or educating anyone on a purchase? With the end of service comes “smash and grab” store robberies and razor scooter street hit and runs.

I get what has happened. As more people acquire luxury (even in a steal) down goes the idea of quality — and up goes cost. And it is now open season to acquire high-end goods by any means.

We have been experiencing a rise in home burglaries across the country called “dinner-time closet steals.” Apparently, it started in California and has gone on to Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and now here in Scottsdale. Robberies in wealthy homes where the owners go out to dinner from 5:00 to 8:00 PM are also called “happy hour break-ins.”

Gangs of Chilean “tourists” are extremely organized, using technology to find the homes (via drones) where the best luxe closets are located. They are skilled at breaking through elaborate security systems and getting past guards. They have succeeded in terrorizing neighborhoods. No homeowner has been assaulted … yet! This is where luxe ends.

People are now hiring private patrol companies and are building blast-proof bunkers to stash their wardrobes and jewelry since safes and cellars aren’t working. Apparently, bunkers are a new feature in deluxe real estate sales.

Luxe may be coming to an end as I recently watched Bethenny Frankel (TV personality and Bravo Housewife) perform a public service by displaying the joys of “cheap shopping.” T.J. Maxx over Bergdorfs. Walgreens over Nordstroms. Dollar stores over everything. She displayed a $24 woven “pleather” (plastic) tote that looked as great as a $1,300 Bottega Veneta. She got me to buy a L’Oréal face cream for $37 that was as good as an $800 La Mer. A pal just sent me a $5 brooch from Hobby Lobby that looked as special as a Van Cleef and Arpel.

Clockwise from top: My $5 Hobby Lobby brooch that looks as good as Van Cleef & Arpels; L’Oreal Paris Telescopic Lift Mascara drugstore brand is better than my $38 Chanel mascara; $36 L’Oréal Midnight Cream, as good as $1,000 La Prairie face cream.

I am thinking of returning my pricey makeup splurge. Not because I think Chileans have an eye on my bathroom vanity, but labels are now just labels. They don’t stand for real quality. Now luxe is no longer high style. It has become high risk. And what for?

I suddenly realized,  feeling safe and sound is now the only real luxe left.

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