It has become tradition that when we travel down to my family's Florida home, the women take a "ladies' day" to do some shopping. I may be a fashion editor, but, in my opinion, shopping in crowded stores is about as temping as a trip to the gynecologist. But these outings with my mom and sister are different: They are a chance for the three of us to get away, chat about our personal lives without the interruptions of our kids and spouses, and really, just take some time to relax together.
Our retail haven of choice is Marissa Collections, an upscale boutique in Naples, Florida, which is a 45-minute drive from our hometown of Sanibel. My mom has been frequenting the store for 18 years -- not that my parents were flush with cash when she started visiting the store, mind you. Back in those days, she would wait for a very special occasion, save up, and then head to Marissa's to find something really unique. The boutique stands out as a retail oasis in southwest Florida, which is rife with strip malls. Of course you can find Saks Fifth Avenue, but beyond that, it's mass retail all the way. Marissa Collections was one of the first stores to carry designers like Oscar de la Renta and Michael Kors in a small, intimate setting.
But what really makes the store special, to our family at least, is Jitka. A Czech-born dark-haired beauty, Jitka has worked in the shop for 18 years, and has known my mom as long as we've been going there. She always greets us with a warm smile and a hug and pleads with us to, "Enjoy and relax." And how could we not? The store is brightly lit and full of the latest merch from tried-and-true designers like Yves Saint Laurent, Stella McCartney and Chloe, but they also carry more avant-garde labels like Mary Katranzou, Erdem and The Row. I am always surprised at the fashion-forward designs and wonder who, in suburban south Florida, is wearing these clothes. My mom assures me that it is holiday season and there are galas, operas and parties aplenty for the fabulously frocked to attend.
This Thanksgiving weekend, my mom and I made our annual pilgrimage to Marissa Collections. Two things were different this time around: We brought my young daughter, who, at six years old, has an affinity for shoes and handbags that makes her mama proud. The second difference is that we lost my beloved father six months ago. This was our first Thanksgiving without our dear patriarch, and we were in need of some cheering up that only retail therapy could accomplish. My budget has been rather tight, so my intention was only to accompany my mom, admire the fripperies and then treat her to lunch afterward. With one foot in the door, I knew that my intentions were about to go awry.
The cobalt-colored draped Lanvin dress and eagle necklace on the mannequin at the entrance had me agog, as did the otherworldly wallpaper that the store had installed in its recent renovation. We quickly spotted Jitka in one corner of the store, attending to a client. I gave my mom some space to greet her as I knew she would share the news of our loss with the saleswoman she had come to know so well over the many years shopping in her store. Moments later, Jitka, clad in a rich caramel-colored knit skirt, top and cardigan, came to greet me with a hug and a warm smile. Her perfectly coiffed 'do, tanned skin and red lipstick were the picture of elegance, but this sophisticated woman has made an art out of customer service: She offered her condolences, inquired after my children, rustled up some cupcakes for my daughter and then encouraged me to "Enjoy and relax." With her warm smile, honest advice on what worked and what didn't, she managed to find Mom a white cotton Brunello Cuccinelli frock that looked stunning on my tall, lithe mother. But more than outfitting mom, Jitka put a smile on Mom's face, and that is something that I would have sold my soul for.
I didn't sell my soul, but I did buy a pair of Manolo Blahnik green suede "BB" pumps. I had been lusting after a pair for months, but with a limited budget, they were on my "one day" list. I guess I got caught up in the moment: My mom was thrilled to have found a pretty dress, and her self-confidence shone. My daughter was happily ensconced on a suede banquette with her third cupcake of the morning. Jitka had taken a fun activity and added a level of frivolity and light-heartedness to our day that we truly appreciated. So spending a few extra dollars on a pair of shoes seemed like the right thing to do. That's the thing about salespeople who excel at their jobs: They are knowledgeable about their product, remember their clients' preferences, are warm without being unctuous, and most of all, they transform a mundane experience into something really special. Do I regret buying those expensive shoes? Not one bit. Thankfully, we love ramen noodles, since we'll be eating them for the next month due to my splurge.
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