This week's Thursday Styles marks the return of our current favorite critical shopper, Cintra Wilson who visits Balenciaga and learns a thing or two about anonymously reviewing retail establishments. Stealth is key in this activity, and believe us, we should know.
Cintra breaks rule number 1: don't take notes in the store.
The visual overload was such that, walking in, I couldn’t help immediately scribbling notes, grabbing at the confetti-blizzard of information. A staff member was quickly dispatched to investigate.
“Usually journalists show us credentials,” said the nervy young sales fellow.
They needed to see my badge?
“I’m sorry if I’m making you uncomfortable,” I said, sympathetic but unmoved to reveal my identity.
We haven't actually numbered the rules or even compiled a definitive rule list, but if we had, it would be at or near the top. Having pulled out her pen and pad, she has loudly announced herself as a non-customer. She will now be regarded by the staff as some sort of questionable interloper; an unauthorized reporter, possibly some sort of mysterious inspector or, at the very least, a compulsive note-taker and therefore potentially crazy and undesirable. Cintra, of course, further exacerbated the situation by remaining secretive, risking possible ejection but certainly compromising service.
Now, in most stores nobody would care about this sort of curious behavior, but Balenciaga is not most stores. It is in the envied position of being the American headquarters for the Acclaimed Designer of the Moment. It is the Prom Queen of boutiques, carrying the self-importance that comes with knowing that half of its stock is already sold before it even hits the selling floor. That sales staff knows that, at least for this season, all they have to do to make their sales goals is show up for work and pray that a Lanvin or Nina Ricci boutique doesn't open up anytime soon to usurp their tiaras.
Having said that, we must add that we coincidentally found ourselves in the Balenciaga boutique a couple of weeks ago an a break from some nutritious Chelsea gallery hopping. While we did experience sticker shock, we actually found the staff to be perfectly charming and attentive during our extended browse. The thing about Balenciaga in its current Nicolas Ghesquière designed incarnation is that what looks like a peculiar and freakish outfit on the runway turns out to be appealing and wearable in reality when disassembled into pieces. Stylish Cintra probably already knew this, but she still falls into one of her now signature effusive fashion intoxications.
I finally abused the fragile patience of the staff by trying on one last jacket. It turned out to be the Rosetta stone of Balenciaga for me...
...Many unlikely, paradoxical tightropes converged into this impossible, rowdy, schizophrenic, sublime jacket. Ultimately, it revealed something stunningly simple. Like a dream, it installed new doors in an old room, and opened them, revealing a shockingly bright, open, robust new vista of feminine grace. It was refreshing and gladdening to see such courageous invention; an outpour of inspiration with such vivid affection for women.
So, you liked it, right?
Critical Shopper: Not Quite Seven Samurai but Enough by Cintra Wilson (NYTimes)
Balenciaga 542 West 22nd Street, Chelsea