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Posts Tagged ‘shopping’

Radical Flâneuserie

August 25, 2016 | by

Reimagining the aimlessly wandering woman.

John Singer Sargent, A Street in Venice, oil on canvas.

John Singer Sargent, A Street in Venice, oil on canvas.

I.

I started noticing the ads in the magazines I read. Here is a woman in an asymmetrical black swimsuit, a semitransparent palm tree superimposed on her head, a pink pole behind her. Here is a woman lying down, miraculously balanced on some kind of balustrade, in a white button-down, khaki skirt, and sandals, the same dynamic play of light and palm trees and buildings around her. In the top-right corner, the words Dans l’oeil du flâneur—“in the eye of the flâneur”—and beneath, the Hermès logo. The flâneur though whose “eye” we’re seeing seems to live in Miami. Not a well-known walking city, but why not—surely flânerie needn’t be confined to melancholic European capitals.

The theme was set by Hermès’s artistic director, Pierre-Alexis Dumas. While the media coverage of the campaign and the traveling exhibition that complemented it breathlessly adopted the term, Dumas gave a pretty illuminated definition of it. Flânerie, he explained, is not about “being idle” or “doing nothing.” It’s an “attitude of curiosity … about exploring everything.” It flourished in the nineteenth century, he continued, as a form of resistance to industrialization and the rationalization of everyday life, and “the roots of the spirit of Hermès are in nineteenth-century Flânerie.” This is pretty radical rhetoric for the director of a luxury-goods company with a €4.1 million yearly revenue. Looking at the ads, as well as the merchandise—including an eight-speed bicycle called “The Flâneur” that retailed for $11.3k—it seems someone at Hermès didn’t share, or understand, Dumas’s vision. Read More »

Fabric of Our Lives, Part 2

May 2, 2016 | by

Karl Herbsthoffer, Junge Dame im Boudoir, 1829.

Last Friday I wrote about an encounter with the platinum card­–carrying elite. But this is a two-part story, you see. For many years later, long after that glimpse into the lives of the rarefied, I found myself at the local flea market.

This is a sort of addiction in my family: even when houses are being sold and divested or apartments are bursting at their meager seams or neighbors have called the city to complain about the sheds on our property (depending on the generation), we are incapable of curbing our need for “bargains.” We brake for thrift shops; we brake hard for furniture on the curb; we scour the local papers for tag, yard, or garage sales. Read More »

Fabric of Our Lives

April 29, 2016 | by

It’s not as if I could afford it. I could never have afforded a nightgown that expensive, and in that moment of my life—marginally employed, tenuously housed, financially and otherwise insecure—I could afford it even less than usual. The week before, a piece of my tooth had fallen out, a jagged shard, its edges brown with decay. I kept it in a dish by my bed. It had become an object of some fascination, but I really needed to go to the dentist. 

But I wanted that nightgown so much. I craved it as I hadn’t craved a thing since childhood. It was, in fact, the sort of thing I hadn’t wanted since childhood—feminine and pretty and frivolous. A whisper-thin slip of cotton so fine, so precious, that it transcended price and moved into the realm of the divine. Read More »

Diamonds and Pearls

April 25, 2016 | by

From a 1916 Vanity Fair cover.

“How are you?” asked a smiling acquaintance on the street. 

“Well, I’m pretty down about Prince—but aren’t we all?” I said reprovingly. 

“Oh yes,” she murmured. “Of course.” I saw her blinking quickly in an effort to summon tears. “It’s the end of an era, isn’t it?” Read More »

The Wrong Scent

April 20, 2016 | by

From a vintage Bienaimé advertisement.

When I rejoined my husband, the first thing he said was, “I love that perfume!”

“That’s just as well,” I said shortly.

Here’s what had happened: I’d taken refuge from the weather in a shop. Guiltily aware that I wouldn’t be buying anything, I sniffed at a series of perfume stoppers. Some customer in a fishing hat, a pair of white socks with sandals, and a bag with a picture of Liza Minnelli on it was chattering with the saleswoman about the exorbitant price of neighborhood tea and his depression. “Maybe some cologne will help your day,” said the saleswoman. Read More »

The Cheese Guy

April 18, 2016 | by

From a 1930 Italian cheese advertisement.

I used to like buying cheese. You could say it was one of the small, reliable pleasures of my week. I never bought a great deal—usually just a small piece to eat for lunch with some bread and fruit—but I enjoyed the process of tasting and learning and then bearing home the neatly wrapped little waxed-paper bundle.

The cheese guy was nice, too. Knowledgeable without making a big show of it, authoritative without snobbery, and pleasantly detached. It was this detachment, in a way, that allowed me to enjoy the transaction—he never made a big fuss about my being a regular. I felt slightly invisible, but in the best possible way. It would have been awkward if he’d been flirtatious or overly friendly. And he never made me try more cheeses than I wanted, which I thought was nice.  Read More »