- Jan 26, 2005
- Reaction score
By ERIC WILSON Published: February 17, 2009 From the NYT: WHO among us, man or woman, rich or less than rich, fashion reporter or prostitute, cannot relate to the “Pretty Woman” experience of walking into a designer boutique and being made to feel unwelcome by a snooty salesclerk? It’s nothing personal. A former employee of the Yves Saint Laurent shop on Madison Avenue once confided that it is a common and effective practice to size up a customer by looking at two simple things: his watch and his shoes. If the accessories are not expensive, he is not worth the effort of even a simple hello. But the recession has quickly transformed the attitude of the Madison Avenue work force from impenetrable to inviting, seemingly overnight. Salesclerks, haunted by the papered-over windows of stores next door, are being trained to exude a level of customer service rivaling that of Disney. MaxMara, for instance, recently held employee seminars on enhancing the shopping experience of anyone who walks through the front door, and it has been reported that other stores are making more effort to greet and engage. Any potential credit card holder, it would seem, can be treated like a star. So, dressed, if not poorly, then as plainly as possible in a sweatshirt, jeans and dog-walking shoes, I visited more than a dozen stores last week to see just how hard it would be to be ignored. There was little chance of that. Within 30 seconds of walking into Chanel’s fine jewelry store at 735 Madison Avenue, I had a $4,500 black ceramic J12 watch snapped onto my wrist and a cheerful salesman telling me he had just read a book that claimed men who wore big, chunky watches were often remembered by those who met them as being taller than they actually are. I had walked in wearing a digital watch that cost less than $3 (made by Acqua, if you’ll excuse my name-dropping), which was placed gingerly on a velvet tray. At Emanuel Ungaro (792 Madison Avenue), I tried on a $3,000 salt-and-pepper tweed topcoat with side vents, interestingly enough, in the front. It looked silly, but the saleswoman offered to stitch up the vents, even though the coat was on sale at 60 percent off. Walking though the Ralph Lauren mansion (867 Madison Avenue), I felt like a regular, encountering no fewer than 17 employees who said “Hello,” “Howareya?,” “Can I help?” on three floors. At Prada (841 Madison Avenue), where years ago I was made to feel small for returning a belt that, paradoxically, would not fit around my waist, a patient salesman attended as I tried on eight styles of loafers in three different sizes, all of them too big in the heel. After switching to lace-ups, the only pair that fit well looked like safety shoes. They cost $695. I told him I’d think about it. He couldn’t have been nicer, although I will point out that at John Lobb (680 Madison Avenue), the salesman actually got down on his knees to put my feet into a pair of $1,100 loafers. It was almost shocking, then, to step into the Gucci store (840 Madison Avenue) and encounter a greeter who asked, in a sharp tone, “What are you looking for?” Upstairs, I thought I’d try on a $350 swimsuit — what the heck? — but stood stock-still in the middle of an empty room for a full five minutes before anyone appeared to offer assistance. The swimsuit was cute, but unrealistic. As I left, another salesman approached and asked, “You still here?” “I’m just looking.” “Looking, looking, looking,” he said, wagging his head. Ew. Tom Ford, the former Gucci designer, opened his own store one block up, across the street (845 Madison Avenue) in 2007. It’s the most pretentious place on earth, but also pretty fabulous. I expected the worst. Instead, a gentleman approached and asked right away if I’d like anything to drink. “Um, water?” “Still or sparkling?” A minute later, a uniformed butler approached with a highball glass on a silver platter and asked if I might prefer lemon or lime. After admiring a pinstripe suit and a display of dress shirts in 20 shades of pink, I slunk out of the store, feeling as if I was the one who was rude for being so presumptuous. But not nearly as presumptuous as when I challenged a saleswoman at MaxMara (813 Madison Avenue) to find a lightweight, light-colored coat in a size 8 as a gift for mother. She produced, within five minutes, five styles that were not even on the sales floor, each more delectable than the next, none of which I had any intention or ability to buy, as was evident by my watch and shoes. Sorry, mother.