Yesterday was a particularly beautiful day in New York City. My wife and I decided to go to SoHo to check out a few shops and do some errands. It was at John Varvatos that a sales person was helpful enough to show me a jacket that was similar to the one I had just tried on. He let me walk around in it (as I subtly looked at the price tag and opined that I miss the Barney's Warehouse Sale). Then I politely said we would be having lunch and "think about it." That is usually code for "no." However, the salesperson said, "What's your name?" and as a reflex I said, "John." I'm Mike." A handshake and that, I thought, was that.
We then had a wonderful lunch a Bistro les Amis at which I was able to trot out a little French and enjoy la belle vie du New York. She had successfully shopped at a terrific clothing store called Gudrun Sjödén, and we headed toward Warby Parker. On our way there, I stopped in at Emporio Armani. The sales person was one of those in-your-face people (OK: 20-somethings) who told me things like "this is a classic Armani design," and "this shirt is made of silk and is very light." He then followed me to every corner of the place until I finally said, "thank you so much" and left to get some air.
We then stopped at Hugo Boss where I bought three conducting shirts. (I have eight concerts in six days this July at the Lincoln Center Festival and, well, there's just so much laundry one can do in time for the next concert.) Everyone was extremely helpful and ordered one shirt from their Chicago store that is on its way e'en as you read this.
My wife then went to Warby Parker for new glasses while I went across the street to Paul Smith. Over the years I have come to be selectively fond of Smith's whimsy. That meant one Christmas I spent close to a thousand dollars on scarves for everyone in the family, including (I confess) myself. It means cuff links and a pair of pajamas in Paul Smith stripes that our son bought me one Christmas. My wife will not shop there because the sales people are rude to her, either because she is a woman, or she is older than 40, or it is a company style--like French waiters are supposed to be, but actually aren't.
I, however, stop in from time to time at the Fifth Avenue store at 16th Street. That's when I go directly to the socks. Socks are an amazing thing for a man--they just make one feel good and successful and smart and trendy and they cost a lot for socks but not a lot when you compare it to a Porsche. I have a lot of Paul Smith socks and I wash them by hand and never dry them in a dryer.
And so I entered Paul Smith in SoHo. The shop was empty, except for a sales person in the front who was wearing a full-on Smith get up, including a short-brimmed hat. "Is this the boys' side?" I asked cheerfully. "It's the men's side," came the corrective. "Oh," I thought, "no airy persiflage with this one." I spent fifteen minutes or so moving among the various jackets, and T-shirts, wending my way to the back of the store to check out the socks, only to find that I already had all the new designs. I asked the other sales person when the next shipment would arrive. "August," I was told. After a little chit chat about the London store, I wondered what had happened to my wife. As I walked toward the door, the first sales person said, "Do you have a wife?" "Yes." "I think she was looking for you."
That's odd, I thought. I have been here all this time. My cell phone rang. It was Betty. "Where are you?" "Walking out of the store. Where are you?" "Across the street. The sales person in the store said, 'I think the old guy left.'"
I was born in September of 1945 (a mere ten months before young Paul Smith) and have traveled around the sun almost 70 times. I refer to them merely as "earth years." That is their only meaning. People generally think I look pretty good. I was, I should say, wearing an Etro linen jacket, a new dark chocolate brown polo, pale blue chinos, and chocolate brown suede shoes. If I were a sales person in SoHo at a high-end shop--with no customers in it--I might think the man who was so dressed and chatted about Paul Smith and London might be someone to cultivate.
I have occasionally wondered when I would first feel the thrust of some younger person calling me old. It happened yesterday afternoon. The old guy definitely left the store. The old guy will definitely not be shopping at Paul Smith ever again. I'll find socks at Thomas Pink and Ben Sherman and a lot of other places. My wife has told me that she and her girl friends are frequently followed around a shop by security guards if either of them is carrying a shopping bag.
Old is the new Black.
But here's a note to those who sell things:
We silly old people have really silly habits, like buying stuff we don't need but that make us feel good about having worked hard for a half century. We pay our taxes. We like participating in the economy. Some of us have expendable income and spend it on bright spring Saturdays.
We walked back to John Varvatos. The place was packed. It looked like a rock band had invaded to store and credit cards were being swiped all around me. I saw two men wearing what looked like that black goat suede bomber I had tried on, back when I was young an hour or so before. I asked for Mike with a slight sense of panic. Mike came up the stairs and smiled. Two sales people said, "You're back!"
Mike had put the jacket downstairs with my name on it. Within a minute I was standing before a mirror and Felix, the tailor from Belarus, was measuring the sleeves for alterations. Free alterations. A customer came up to me and gushed about attending my performances at the Hollywood Bowl. I shook his hand gratefully. I was not only getting younger, I was getting timeless!
The jacket will be mine in ten days and I will wear it until I drop dead and then pass it on to my son. It cost over $3,000 and is worth every penny of it.
Note to Paul Smith's employees:
I come from hearty Sicilian stock. Every one of my relatives lived well-passed 90. Uncle Jim was 97 when he died, shortly after sinking his first hole-in-one. The last time I spoke to him, his sense of humor was intact. "Johnny," he said, "the wheels are falling off!" Aunt Jenny was 96 when she died, telling the nurse that she did not want any drugs that would "dull (her) sensorium." She wanted to fully experience The Last Trip.
That means I might be wearing this bomber jacket for 25 more years. That also means I get this jacket for about 36 cents a day. It also means I will not be shopping at Paul Smith for 25 more years. That's when I'll check it out, provided they are still in business.
Yep. The old guy has left the store.