(Photo by Soumountha Keophilavong)
A few months ago I stepped my foot inside Bergdorf Goodman's for the first time. You know the mythology surrounding it: a legendary luxury department store, spanning a whole 5th Avenue block and gazillion floors (or so it seems), that carries every conceivable designer and bag and shoe, and is also home of the inimitable Betty Halbreich whom I adore for her books and for stealing that Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf flick. It is the most luxurious, excuisite, discerning and just the mostest of all department stores. Its clientelle is also the richest, most sophisticated, hardest to cater to... I was curious to see it in the flesh.
Can you guess? It was disappointing. Too many people, the overall department store atmosphere, owing no doubt to prominent perfume counters, and racks and racks of dresses (expensive dresses, mind, stuffed almost obscenely on a sales rack!)... Add to this indifferent salespeople, and it all amounted to "THIS is what luxury is?" sense. But of course it is not.
We live in the age of this ultimate oxymoron, mass market luxury, where every airport in the world has a Louis Vuitton store as if it were McDonald's, and where every Chanel/Dior/Saint Laurent boutique looks the same no matter where in the world you are. The experience is homogenized in the very opposition to the notion of luxury as something special, unique, something that is just for you - custom, bespoke, made to measure and to order. BG may be better than most department stores because there is only one of it, but the insides of it are as homogenous as elsewhere.
Of course, the truly rich are taken into some secret compartment of the store where they are waited on by personal shoppers and are offered complimentary champagne. But for the rest of us, BG offers only an illusion of luxury. Department stores are to luxury what heavily logoed Vuitton wallets are to wealth: a hollow symbol that functions only because of its mystique propped by advertizing. Brands that once signified quality now only signify themselves.
I suspect that nowadays the experience of true luxury - that is, attentive service, personalized help, custom goods, and above all quality - can be found by regular people but not at the self-designated luxury brands and stores. It exists in smaller spaces - boutiques, online stores, Etsy even - and it is not called "luxury". But the experience of finding true quality, in clothes as well as service, is what luxury is, really - and I thank all the smaller brands and designers who answer my emails and invite me to their spaces. I thank all salespeople in the stores I frequent who email me to let me know when something I might like comes in or give me heads up for new collections or sample sales. And I am happy to pay a bit more for this, and I would much rather do it there than at some mass luxury designation where unless you are super rich you will get a distinct experience of shopping at Macy's but the one you can only afford a scarf and maybe some perfume, which Target also carries.
That was a long lead in to a shout out to such a place - Another Garde, a cool online space founded and helmed by the amazing Soumountha Keophilavong. It seems like the past few months have been so generous in letting me meet great women who are clever, passionate, and committed to making a difference in the fashion world. I met Soumountha last week, and really enjoyed hearing about her philosophy of promoting and supporting women designers, as well as getting to ogle her very tightly curated selection of beautiful and functional clothing.
Here are some pictures from Another Garde's pop up in NYC: