November 29, 2007
PERCEPTION really is reality.
department store windows on
It takes truckloads of top-dollar creative input to impress a New Yorker enough to stop walking in cold weather, but the annual window displays always manage to slam home the emotional impact of the winter holidays.
Dear God, you think, infused with dread. I have to buy a million things.
Max and Clara
Fortunoff opened their first department store in
I have seen a lot of heavy shopping bags from their Fifth Avenue store hanging over a number of minky elbows over the years, so I presumed Fortunoff to be fancy, in that old New Yawk way.
The doorman’s red Beefeater uniform is of a primary-colored, fuzzy felt usually seen on giant animals outside F. A. O. Schwarz. Inside, the store has a spare, masculine late-1960s look, as if Steve McQueen might walk in, hit the dark wood paneling with his fist and reveal a chrome wet bar.
archaeologists are digging
There is a saleswoman approximately every five feet. Some are young, with pencil eyebrows and hoop earrings; others have accents and lipstick on their teeth. You quickly learn that giving them eye contact is like waving an eight-foot croissant in front of beach-town gulls: they’re so attentive, you might lose an arm.
“No thank you, just browsing at the moment, thank you,” I chanted steadily enough to become more deeply Buddhist.
If you reject their initial blasts of attention, they lean back into groups and resume full-voiced conversations, even if you stand in their section, suddenly pointing, clearing your throat and waving your arms around.
I got one to come back.
“Could you tell me who designed this piece?”
I didn’t know how to think about this bracelet — there were so many diamonds all over it.
She began blinking at me, utterly mystified.
“Hmmm, I don’t know,” she said.
She flagged another saleswoman. She, too, stared as blankly as if I had asked her to hold my cormorant.
I resumed browsing, trying to look involved with my phone as a means of avoiding further service.
There was a blizzard of gems, nothing catching my eye, until Wham! There it was: the most tawdry, enormous Chiclet-size aquamarine-and-brown-diamond-encrusted cross since the reign of Pope Liberace I. I was informed that this $14,995 rascal had been purchased “by someone in the rock ’n’ roll business.” Perhaps ... as a weapon.
A small case in back was, for me, the heart of the store: a selection of vintage estate pieces bought by Ruth Fortunoff, who clearly has an eye for them. I loved a thick 18-karat rope fastened by two rams’ heads and glittering knobs of ruby and sandstone. It was very Fall of Rome. Tragically, it was $6,500.
there are silver-dipped baby things, cuff links reminiscent of Thibault petits fours, and an
exhaustively ecumenical array of bracelet charms. Every dog breed, religion,
sport and snack is represented. Hands of
The bridal registry offers designs by Villeroy & Boch, Haviland, Wedgwood, et al. The china was underwhelming, but I was wild about a ruthlessly decadent set of gold-plate and silver flatware, perfect for Idi Amin. I begged a representative to tell me about it.
She stared ruefully at a blank spot where a label was apparently supposed to be. “Tsss. I have to tell the girl. She did not put the thing.” The side of the knife, once I pried off the Velcro, said it was Wallace sterling. No price was available.
Lurking downstairs are the biggest diamonds of all: the engagement sets. The space was once a bank; there is a stunning walk-in vault that looks like a 1920s ship engine, which I was not allowed to photograph. The knowledgeable head jeweler indulged me gracefully as I ogled Girl’s Best Friend in cocktail colors.
“Where did this come from?” I asked another gentleman on the sales floor, about the most monstrous ring I could find: 3.25 carats ($58,000).
“I’m not sure, but there’s no blood diamonds,” he said.
That’s when I saw it: a bigger cross. Enough brown diamonds for a terrazzo casino floor. I didn’t want to know this cross. I’m sorry I met it. I never want to see it again ($55,000).
The largely untrained staff undermines what the new Fortunoff could be — i.e., more like Tiffany, less like Macy’s — in the mind of someone new to it.
Some brides must have emotional connections to Fortunoff. It was a place they went with their grandmothers, maybe, or where their first pearls were bought. Maybe, for them, the name alone is enough to inspire the perception of continuity; of an unbroken chain of family tradition, as opposed to just a chain.
May “The Source” be with them.