Remember when you were ten, and your little finger was curled into your mothers palm as you hid between silken Benares folds or maybe a chiffon skirt. She was talking to that neighbor who had just come back from that whirlwind visit from abroad. Your mother would say, “That’s beautiful, where is it from?” and the reply would come back casual, but topped off with a slice of smug, “New York.”
It doesn’t matter where you’re from, but if you have grown up on your mother’s diet of plastic covered vogues carefully acquired though cut throat negotiations with the local library; you have grown up with an interest in fashion that’s lying dormant and wired with affiliations that are lurking under the surface of your inner shopping GPS-New York and London, Saks and Bloomingsdale, Macy’s and Harrods.
But things have changed now. Abroad is no more that far off never-never land, but a shrug and an economy class ticket away and Selfridges, just a store where you get everything under the sun. So when I landed in New York, pregnant with expectations of large shopping spaces dedicated to fulfill my every material fantasy, I wasn’t prepared for a crash course in the history of fashion or the wondrous rabbit-hole where art and ideas furiously collided to create something that aspires to be more than just something to wear.
A little bit of 5th
For the uninitiated, New York is a big grid composed of crisscrossing avenues and streets. Avenues are vertical numbered for the most part and cut through horizontal streets that make it a very convenient shopping experience. We begin at the top of 5th Avenue and 53th street. Forget about everything before 53th street for now. Behind us is H&M, Lacoste, Kenneth Cole and whole host of high street shopping that we leave for another day or perhaps never. Right at the corner of 53rd and 5th is an old New York favorite, Botticelli. . Before the world became obsessed with red soles, there there will still good quality shoes to be found and since 1968, some of the best European pumps have been found here. Apart from enjoying their 15 minutes of fame on Seinfeld, it’s one the city’s best kept shoe secrets.
Next, skip forward past 54th and 55th street and you find the New York Institution that introduced Coco Chanel to America, Henri Bendel. Established in 1895, it boasted the who’s who in clientele is probably still where Ms Blair Waldorf gets her hair bands. The 35,000 square feet store houses fragrances, perfume, jewellery and of course hair bands. While their leather boxes,born to house that camellia brooch,will set you back a tidy thousand dollars, this is also the place for key chains for your girlfriends that will mean more than that Chrysler building magnet.
Once you step out ahead of Bendel and walk past Trump tower you’ll find Tiffany’s on your right and Mikmoto on your left. If you are that rare fan of pearls you need to stop. An opera strand of Akoya pearls or simple south sea chocker will blast that diamond necklace to smithereens. I am a pearl devotee and I entered my temple with sobriety I reserve almost only for Hermes. One look at the prices and my drool dries up. We depart quickly and continue ahead and cross 57th street. Our pilgrimages next stop – Bergdorf Goodman. Halt, pay homage.
Bergdorf Goodman window dressings are legendary. They may seem frivolous to some but really it is a meticulous meeting of fashion, art and architecture. Today’s window seems to be Tim Burton inspired with cone-head shaped mannequins and floating heads, all centered around a gorgeous lace gown. If you want to learn more, there is a book out called “Windows at Bergdorf Goodman” that tell the story of window dressing from the 1940’s when it developed from draping of mannequins to capturing snapshots of a story
A detour at a left at the window dressing will take you to one of New York’s most loved bookshops Rizzoli as well as the pianist’s heaven, Steinway. Rizzoli is a book lovers paradise where rosewood bookshelves and wrought iron railings take you back to a time when people loved hardback.
To the right is 57th East Street where you can considerably lighten your bank account on the most coveted handbags in the world. If you are a fragrant gal, you might want to stop at Chanel and take a look at “Les exclusives de Chanel”- a collection of 12 fragrances that are only sold at their boutiques. Take a whiff of the Bois Des Iles and continue on 57th and take a left at the Montblanc. You will now find yourself at the slightly lower profile, yet no less hedonistic, Madison Avenue or rather, “the fashionable road”, as it’s called between 57th and 85th street.
Next post- Madison Avenue