Dual Perspective In SoHo Edition

Photo: Danny Ghitis for The New York Times

It's been a minute since we talked about the Thursday Styles' Critical Shopper here at The Shophound because, you know, we've been doing it for a while, but today marks a first for the column: two Critical Shoppers combine forces as Jon Caramanica and Katherine Bernard explore the new Rick Owens boutique in SoHo together. After quite some time of each shopper ignoring the offerings for the opposite gender in the boutiques they have covered, we are finally getting a comprehensive assessment of everything all in one column.
So what have we learned? Not too much about what we didn't already know, though both critics concur that Owen's clothes, freeform-like though they may often seem, disappointingly appear to look their best on the willowy model-esqe type of person so beloved of designers in general. Though only one of our shoppers comes close to fitting that bill —Ms. Bernard is determined to be Tilda Swinton-esque in her angular haircut— they soldier on, noting the significance of Owens' sumptuous fabric innovations that aren't always apparent from afar. Ultimately, they conclude that Owens is more Rick-Owens-y than ever at his new, more accessible location on the corner of Howard and Crosby Streets. This is good for him commercially since the designer has been so pervasively copied in recent years that his signature look, though not exactly classical, now feels much less avant-garde than it once did. It's all still hideously expensive, though, even if the pre-Raf Simons era Jil Sander boutique it took over has been stripped of its polished marble in favor of humbler concrete.

Critical Shopper: Both Sides of a Fashion Eccentric By   


Sparkle Feet Edition

Photo by Jennifer S. Altman for The New York Times

Critical Shopper Jon Caramanica returns in this week's Thursday Styles to take on the dismayingly resilient trend of luxury designer sneakers by visiting the newly expanded Giuseppe Zanotti Design boutique on Madison Avenue. Designer sneakers are nothing new. They go back decades, but the current iteration, mostly aimed at men, has resulted in increasingly embellished and costly athletic shoes that are further and further removed from any actual sports that they were originally intended for. While Zanotti is hardly the only designer offering such footwear, he does make some of the most baroquely adorned models. Our shopper compares the designer's style to the "brazen, sexy vulgarity" of the 1980s, although as someone who lived through that decade, we can assure that Zanotti's designs far surpass the glitz of that decade with higher heels and flashier materials than anything anyone wore back then. 
In fact, it is the glitz of the actual store that first strikes our shopper's eye, but it seems almost too humble a setting for Zan0tti's ever more lustrous offerings. Our shopper isn't blinded by the gleaming surfaces before him, however. It turns out that the increasingly impractical shoes are not all that comfortable. "All of the sneakers I tried on had the first-wear inflexibility of shoes, and the leather began to visibly crack with the first steps," he writes, describing them as "like wearing huge pieces of candy on your feet." The token apparel items presented to complement the shoes seem similarly shiny, impractical and uncomfortable. Ultimately, our shopper never really gets to the bottom of whom this store and its crass sneakers are for. Who is the guy (as usual, Caramanica mostly ignores the larger women's side of the store) who wants to drop $1,250 on an extravagant, bejeweled variation on a pair of $150 Nikes? We never really find the answer beyond the suggestion that it is not our shopper.

Critical Shopper: The Store With the Golden Sneakers By Jon Caramanica (NYTimes)
Giuseppe Zanotti Design 806 Madison Avenue between 68th & 68th Streets, Upper East Side


Insta-Dressing In SoHo Edition

Photo by Emily Andrews for The New York Times

A new Critical Shopper has arrived at the Thursday Styles today. We don't know if Katherine Bernard will take over Molly Young's women's shopping duties permanently, but she does give us a respectable survey of the new Balmain boutique that quietly opened its doors earlier this month in SoHo. Don't worry if you are concerned that glittering label's thirst for publicity is starting to wane. The official opening party is scheduled as this year's Met Ball after-party on Monday night. Now you can picture the requisite Kardashian/West/Jenner extravaganza, and our shopper reminds us that it is almost impossible to make mention of the Balmain brand without also using the words Kardashian and Instagram. She also notes pointedly that Instagram followers do not necessarily translate into throngs of eager customers. Despite Balmain's social media following of multiple millions, the store is a quiet and serene environment in neutral shades of beige and black when she visits mostly because clicking 'like' and 'follow' are free, but owning single piece of Balmain apparel beyond a $365 t-shirt requires four figure investment at minimum. And what of those clothes? They are tight.

These clothes are honest. They hold you. My designer friend tells me that the fabric embrace comes from technically advanced four-way stretch. There’s pull and lift. There’s no darting or corseting, it’s just extremely special fabric.

Ultimately, the experience seems like a taste of fantasy, complete with a salesperson impersonating a paparazzo. For better or worse, Balmain and its once reserved designer Olivier Roustieng has thrown their lot in with social media stars and red carpet glitz. The rabid rush for last Fall's H&M collaboration collection proved that, so if runway walking  in glittery opulence is your aspiration (and within your means), your boutique has arrived.

Critical Shopper: The Balmain Army Steps Out By Katherine Bernard (NYTimes)
Balmain 100 Wooster Street between Spring & Prince Streets, SoHo


Chelsea Homecoming Edition

Photo: Stefania Curto for The New York Times

There isn't exactly a Critical Shopper column in this week's Thursday Styles, but Jon Caramanica wrote about going to Barneys in Chelsea, so it seems to be one in all but name only. As per usual, the review begins with a little nostalgia. This time its our quasi shopper's memories of a Brooklyn childhood where the thought of Barney's (It had an apostrophe once) seemed too fantastical to be real (except that Mom had been quietly shopping there for herself all along). But that was a different Barneys than the one that currently sits on Seventh Avenue between 16th and 17th Streets. Even Caramanica notes that this new flagship store seems to be missing something, or a lot of things. "It’s like the airport version of the Madison Avenue store, perhaps more a suggestion of actual Barneys than the thing itself," and then, "It’s the MP3 to the FLAC file of the main store," —remember, he's a music writer too. Well put, although, to us it's more the the remix that bears almost no resemblance to the original track. 
After all, Barneys in Chelsea is essentially a women's store now. The store that built itself on men's suits now devotes only a fraction of its space to any kind of men's apparel, and there is neither a traditional tailored suit nor a necktie to be found in the entire place. Caramanica calls the merchandising scheme "ruthless" allowing for only the most reliably profitable items, which is why, like in any other department store the main floor is an "ocean of handbags", and Chelsea Passage, the home department named after the neighborhood where it was born, has been neglected altogether. In the end, our shopper finally finds satisfaction in the basement in the chair of the Blind Barber, which tells us that maybe the inevitable comparisons to other versions of the store miss the point at the new Chelsea Barneys.

Living the Barneys Life By Jon Caramanica (NYTimes)
Barneys New York 101 Seventh Avenue at 16th Street, Chelsea


Madison Avenue Bookworm Edition

24CRITIC5-blog427It's been a few weeks since The Shophound has caught up with the Critical Shopper over at the Thursday Styles. This week, it is Molly Young's turn to take on the city's newest boutiques, and she has made her way to the new Sonia Rykiel boutique on Madison Avenue. Hey, we were there too when it opened just about a month ago, so we are very well familiarized with the store's unique red lacquered bookshop aesthetic which our shopper describes as "eye-catching in a way that makes passers-by halt, whip off their sunglasses and peer inside"
And that's half the game right? 
While The Shophound was more taken with the store's design and décor, Our shopper hones in on the clothes, having reportedly just over purged her closet. Here is where we learn that Sonia Rykiel, though always a label steeped in a woman's point of view from its flame-haired founder to its current designer Julie de Libran, is perhaps not for every woman. Of a rainbow striped jacket she concludes, "On a taller person, the fit would have been slouchy. I looked like a garden gnome." But we were most surprised by the critique of a pleated dress in 'creamsicle' polyester for $2,190, "it should have been chiffon, at that price". Well, Molly, chiffon and polyester are not mutually exclusive. Chiffon is a particular weave of fabric, like satin or corduroy or gabardine. Polyester is a fiber out of which you can make that fabric and many others —but we knew what you meant. Your copy editor didn't, though.

Critical Shopper: French Lit, Stripes and Cigarettes at Sonia Rykiel By Molly Young (NYTimes)
Sonia Rykiel 816 Madison Avenue between 68th & 69th Streets, Upper East Side


Beyond Ballet Flats Edition

21CRITICAL4-articleLargeIn today's Thursday Styles, this week's Critical Shopper Molly Young makes her way to Soho to check out the Repetto flagship or Mecca for generations of ballet flat fans. it is not, however, the eternal ballet flat that interests out shopper this week. She gives it its proper historical context (Brigitte Bardot, Kate Moss, Amy Winehouse etc.), and there are clearly lots of them to be had there for both professional dancers and civilians alike, but it is the other items at Repetto that really catch our shopper's eye. The well priced sportswear gets its due, although it seems a little bit too well-priced to have actually been made in France, but the item that sticks is a fawn-colored ankle boot. "It felt like having someone gently blow kisses toward my foot from a distance," she describes, which seems tough to resist, even for $425. And yet, the delicacy that makes it such a treat for her feet is also its chief drawback, How could such a dainty piece of footwear stand up to the rough sidewalks of New York? Of her trusty shopping partner she finally says, ". . .I’m grateful for friends who remind me of the important things in life — like keeping the maximum amount of shoe between me and New York City’s fathomless secretions," —perhaps finally remembering the heartbreak of having a new pair of shoes destroyed by the very streets of the city we call home. We have all been there.

Critical Shopper: Be a French Girl. Or Just Look Like One. By Molly Young (NYTimes)
Repetto 400 West Broadway between Spring & Prince Streets, SoHo



Make It Depressing Edition

31CRIT-BROOKFIELD-PLACE-slide-UQ0P-jumboToday's Thursday Styles features steady Critical Shopper Jon Caramanica's take on the beginning of the retail cavalcade that has descended upon the neighborhood immediately surrounding the World Trade Center's memorial as well as its re-imagining still under construction.
And he's finding it all a bit jarring.
Rather than focusing on just one store, he takes on the entirety of the Brookfield Place luxury mall featuring fresh new outposts from Gucci, Ermenegildo Zegna, Bottega Veneta an more among its roster of international status brands. Our shopper's overall thesis this week is that we shop to forget —to anesthetize ourselves against the adversity we encounter in life. In this case, he is obviously making a reference to the tragedy of September 11, 2001 which haunts the financial district in general, and he is really giving in to the ghosts. Of the mall he says, "It is a testament to the resilience of our real estate developers, if not our national mood. Here, at the heart of the city’s suffering, we are being told to shop: To spend is to be healed."
Perhaps we are somehow protesting the specter of international terrorism down town with the kind of luxury and profligate consumption specifically abhorred by our jihadist enemies, but hey, it's New York. We're just being ourselves. By that token, we could argue that the city's sprawling shopping culture exists to distract us from so many of the more disturbing aspects of our city. After all, it's not that we have seen a homeless person or two on Fifth Avenue, but that any city resident has encountered so many in every neighborhood no matter how tony it may be, not to mention everywhere in the public transit system.
But back to today's column, where our shopper has faintly admiring words for the just opened Gucci shop at Brookfield Place. It is the first New York example of the label's new creative director Alessandro Michele's re-imagined retail format for the brand. It's not all that different from the old format which features lots of handbags up front with lots of logos and red and green striped webbing. It's a respectable update that nicely shows off Michele's relentlessly eclectic, dressed-in-the-dark Resort collection, but The Shophound has to admit that we have had a lot harder time working up enthusiasm for a designer who thinks that putting a high, chunky heel on a gold leather version of you grandmother's house slippers makes than somehow appealing.
It does not.
Caramanaica calls the lineup of stores at Brookfield Place "shrug worthy" and it's true in the sense that it appears to includes not a single boutique that doesn't exist somewhere else in Manhattan in a larger and more comprehensive version. Perhaps it is the relentless retail drumbeat of the Holiday Shopping season combined with this year's weirdly balmy Holiday Season that has put his mood off, but still, he doesn't leave empty-handed. Our shopper remembers his professional purpose and picks up a smart overcoat at nearly 60% off from Club Monaco along with a bracing scented candle from Nest.

They all smelled the same until finally I landed on one — Sicilian tangerine — that was almost acidic. It had bite, the scent creeping up my nostrils and scraping away. Instinctively, I winced, but at the same time began to salivate. For a moment, death felt far away.

It's tough to stay down on shopping when it is an explicit part of one's work assignment. The choices are to rally or resign, but everyone is entitled to a case of the Holiday Blues once in a while. Like the neighborhood around Ground Zero, however, one eventually has to pick oneself up and carry on.

Critical Shoper: Shop the Pain Away By Jon Caramanica (NYTimes)
Brookfield Place New York 200 Vesey St at West Street, Financial District


Middle Of the Road On 5th Avenue Edition

03CRITICAL4-articleLarge-v2In this week's Thursday Styles, Critical Shopper Molly Young discovers the Lands' End pop-up store on Fifth Avenue, but what strikes The Shophound is not so much her assessment of the store, but her childhood take on the mail.
"There were days as a kid when I was so bored, I organized my entire day around the mail delivery"
As a a kid, in the pre-digital era, the mail delivery could be a magical moment. There are so many potential delights in the mailbox like magazines or catalogs and always knowing that none of the bills are for you.
This is all get to the point that the boring old Lands' End catalog that she would discover pushed through the mail slot has come to life in Midtown Manhattan where she notes that the updated, elevated merchandise seems to co-exist among the same bland goods seem that have been populating the catalog for 30. Maturity seems to have given her a new appreciation for practical but potentially dowdy Land's End standards like full length a down coat's versatile zippers and hood, "The younger me would have been blind to these components, but time has a way of turning defects into assets. Now I just want to be weatherproof," she writes. The vanity sizing doesn't hurt either.
Ultimately, our shopper isn't all that excited by the store or its gimmicks like a "selfie station", which reveals itself as a trope to capture customer information, but manages to walk away with a very Lands' End-y purchase, new gloves. The store's general modestly seems counterintuitively refreshing among the forced Holiday merriment that descends upon retailers the end of the year. "If the store were a party, it would be the kind where the guests are gone and the dishes washed by 11 p.m.," and sometime that's just enough.

Critical Shopper: Lands’ End Updates Its Image By Molly Young (NYTimes)
Lands' End Holiday Pop-Up Shop 650 Fifth Avenue at 52nd Street, Midtown
Pop-Up Proliferation: Nautica & Lands' End Pop-Ups Push Upscale


More Than Goth On Madison Avenue Edition

29CRITICAL1-articleLarge-v2À propos of the days before Halloween, Critical Shopper Molly Young makes an excursion to the recently opened Givenchy boutique in today's Thursday Styles. Riccardo Tisci's version of Givenchy is offering possibly the darkest, witchiest vision in luxury fashion these days, and while it is frequently described as "Goth", it has really evolved into more of a moody, baroque aesthetic with tinges of mysticism. Our shopper seems to enjoy her visit noting that the gallery-like boutique seems to welcome all,

Givenchy is also a great place to encounter beauty, no matter what your tax bracket. Looking is free, after all. The salesmen are warm and offer coffee. You can stare at $22,000 velvet dresses and silk blouses with an all-over centaur print ($4,195). You can flip through books by Marina Abramovic.

It's the sort of successful brand statement that makes sense of the fashion in-joke of using competitor Donatello Versace as this season's campaign model, and given the dodgy job security of running a Parisian couture house these days, a strong brand image is Tisci's best form of employment insurance.

Critical Shopper: Givenchy on Madison Avenue Mixes Metaphors, Beautifully By Molly Young (NYTimes)
Givenchy 747 Madison Avenue at 65th Street, Upper East Side


Versace Diffusion Profusion Edition

08CRITICAL5-blog427In today's Thursday Styles, Critical Shopper Molly Young informs us that a Versus boutique has quietly materialized on Greene Street, not far from the downtown home of its mother brand, Versace —and she is not entirely sold on it.
As usual, there is an extensive introduction to the label, a relic of the brand's '90s high point when there appeared to be an infinite number of sub-brands connected to Gianni Versace —Versus, Istante, Versace Jeans Couture, V2 Versace Classic, Versace Sport etc. etc...
With the company's more streamlined 21st Century model, the Versus label has been exhumed as a laboratory of sorts for emerging designers who can be trusted to keep the line's point of view well within the hidebound Versace aesthetic of sex, skin and Rock and roll. Current creative director Anthony Vaccarello seems to fit that bill nicely, turning out sexy dresses and separates that cost about a quarter of what analogous pieces in the premier Versace collection would go for, but our shopper is not swayed to even go through the perfunctory try-ons, wondering exactly who these offerings are aimed at. "Who is the Versus girl? I couldn’t extrapolate from customers on any of my visits, because there weren’t any," she writes in a cold jab that may say more about the store's quiet arrival than the public's appetite for Versace at a price. Still, this version of Versace seems more watered down to our shopper than re-interpreted, as her shopping companion suggests, “It seems like the kind of brand that would thrive in the duty-free section of an international airport”. Perhaps the shop's saving grace will be that SoHo remains teeming with tourists primed to respond to this sort of thing.

Critical Shopper: Versus Versace Store in SoHo: Caught in Transition By Molly Young (NYTimes)
Versus Versace 75 Greene Street between Broome & Spring Streets, SoHo