Remember when shopping therapy really worked? When we all had consumer confidence and money and the belief that a Hermes bag splurge could change a bad day? When “buyer’s remorse” just meant we could give our bag away in a month to a “domestic assistant” (who already had a closet full of real Louis Vuitton “regifts”) and go on to buy a pricey Loro Piana cashmere scarf for another momentary hit?
Those were the days (11 months ago) when retail for many was as addicting as benzos. Now retail itself needs therapy just to get our attention to come back and shop.
Since Covid, we all started to spend in big box outlets — Target, Costco, Walmart, and of course, the Godzilla Amazon. Many people have turned to Home Depot and Office Max buying new desk chairs and other home office décor. Others have gotten giant deals on new cars and now carwash boutiques have become the new Barneys. So how and why will we ever really return to department stores, malls or brick and mortar stores?
I realize stores are trying to say that customer service and feeling the merchandise up close and personal still counts. But a lot of customer service deteriorated pre-Covid, and meet and greet experiences with designers and salespeople may not mean all that much anymore. Sure, we want to support the economy, but times are changing.
Last week Gucci announced they were trying to reinvent their fashion week by releasing a series of short films directed by Gus Van Sant. Featuring a cast dressed entirely in Gucci. It’s called a week of “Guccifest.” But honestly, who cares? Fashion has already tried a lot of digital offerings in place of live shows and PR. Nothing has stuck. Do big name directors, celebrities and films get me to shop anymore? Hardly! See for yourself …
Then we have Neiman Marcus’ much touted Christmas book 2020. Always known for outrageous luxurious items and fantasy high-priced “experiences” with trips and celebrity private “master classes.” This year their fantasy looked like lunacy. With “good luck/protective” and “evil-eye” necklaces from $3,400 or a Zegna lounge jacket and jogger pants for $4,000 (in place of sweats).
How about designing your own Bowlus aluminum trailer RV for $255,000 (will that keep us safely on the run from Covid?). Then there is a year of wellness at Canyon Ranch Spa for $345,000. Actually, that’s an old getaway and now with virus spread — all spa destinations are sanitation hazards. A visit to the Perini Beef Ranch ($185,000) in Texas (another Covid hotspot) to meet the owners and stock up on a year supply of beef … who are we kidding?
Neiman’s describes the fantasy gifts as an expression of “Love, Family, Kindness and Hope.” None of that rings true in their 150 pages of exorbitant masks, socks, candles or La Mer gift baskets. It’s not even amusing. I would rather have a six pack of Lysol wipes (not available till February) and a decent air purifier. Do you get the picture?
Luxury right now has a problem. Even as a flight of fantasy, we are headed for a “dark winter” of nonending virus spikes. China has already reported that their luxury stores re-opened to a flat line reception. The irony is Neiman’s already announced they were going bankrupt, so why not do a “lockdown” Xmas book with great “essentials.” Forget the deluxe sweat suits, please. Maybe re-calibrate the word “luxury” to give it a whole new meaning in these days of Netflix and Teledoc. I don’t want to meet pottery designer Jonathan Adler for a $145,000 redo of my shelves with personal ceramics. Maybe he could come to my house and help clean out all of my shelves. I’ll stay masked and six feet distanced and get a rapid Covid test. Now that “service” would grab me.
Department stores and malls are at a serious loss to find a reason to get you back. Even Disneyland is having problems on that front, and they are masters at creating an “experience” in spending. If Mickey can’t do it, who can?
Magazines aren’t helping with spreads of strange looking diverse models in ball gowns!! The latest New York Times style issue looked like it was selling “death.” They called it their “Spirited Away, Haunting” travel issue. The models had gauze ghostly wrapped heads and wore odd formal attire in hazy dark locations. Well, maybe the NYT was right “on message” as our winter is supposed to be dark. And since the travel and hospitality business is struggling, maybe only ghosts can survive it.
Actually, retail (much like Broadway and The Arts) has to take some time to reboot — not a sabbatical, but a reality check. When we come out of Covid, the idea of luxury might not even be where we run for salvation. I doubt we will be living those lives or dreaming those dreams. Retailers haven’t gotten the message that we aren’t going anywhere to get dressed … yet!! But leaning into fantasy doesn’t make us feel better, in fact it makes us feel lost.
I think the best retail decree came from Uniqlo in their recent full page ad:
No wonder Uniqlo did great and survived Covid and not just in selling sweats!
Meanwhile, beauty and skincare continue to hold their own even though you can’t wear lipstick. But people are interested in maintaining good clean simple skin. Luckily Sephora and beauty counters everywhere have stepped up tremendously in the sanitation efforts. Covid has already taught people they need less product and post-vaccine makeup counters will seem more clinical and less artificial. There will always be hygiene protocols in place and product sampling will change.
Of course, YouTube and Zoom beauty influencers will continue. My absolute favorite is “Everyday Glam with Caitlyn Jenner.” Apparently, Caitlyn is becoming her own Martha Stewart with these demos of her lifestyle from cooking to clothes.
Personally, my greatest make-up session was 50 years ago with Warhol star transvestite Jackie Curtis. He taught me more about eye makeup than any trained cosmetician. Caitlyn is different. She is very haphazard, casual and funny. You won’t learn a thing in her video. It’s just great to see her push her own daughter’s lip gloss and in the end not really take the whole process that seriously.
And speaking of online virtual retail, there are many vendors being saved by online private shopping. London’s Saville Row recently stated they were rescued by their online fittings. Recently I realized I needed new bras. But I couldn’t stand the thought of going to Nordstrom’s or a lingerie shop — the dressing room idea alone was out of the question. Three years ago, I had the amazing life-changing experience at Bra Tenders (630 9th Ave, Suite 601, bratenders.com) and getting fitted for a non-surgical breast and life lift.
Lori Kaplan, owner and fitter par excellence (for over 30 years), spent 90 minutes with me, and I walked out with five bras that lasted me till now (quarantine and gravity changed my bustline). But what to do? I couldn’t get to NYC for one of her hands-on sterling consultations.
I wrote her and she immediately wrote me back an update of her business. The lockdown for Lori was devastating as she had a large following and was a provider to many Broadway costumers as well. She took a tremendous hit. But she decided to open carefully by appointment only (one customer in the store at a time) and then on to try virtual fittings. Suddenly, in addition to customers across the US, she had customers from Saudi Arabia, India and Malaysia as well! Women with breast augmentations or large breasts or just plain “boob issues.” Lori is now an “essential” for your torso troubles!
I decided to try her virtual fitting experience even though I hate all things Zoom and was scared this could land me in a Jeffery Toobin “accidental” disaster. Lori assured me though, it was just us, and the platform was safe and secure.
You do need a tape measure and your own worn-out bras to model. She will discuss your issues (uneven boobs, cup spillage and back fat drop). It takes an hour and Lori prepares a “fitbox” of four or five bras she thinks will work. When you get them, you have another Zoom fitting and mail back what doesn’t work. So far, she told me she has been five for five on most orders.
I actually found the Zoom fitting even more personal, since I did my own measuring while Lori watched and corrected with her perfectionist eye. There was no humiliating dressing room with bad lighting or weird mirrors — and most of all no virus fears. For Lori and her clientele, it has been a win/win experience and a great retail rescue story.
Lori’s sign off words to me were hugely hopeful “with virtual I can now uplift the world.”
Now that is Luxe to the Max!!