A four decade tenure as a personal shopper with Bergdorf Goodman is the kind of job that gets you stories. With clients like Candice Bergen and Liza Minnelli under her tutelage, Betty Halbreich has held that title since 1976, and has seen all manner of people walking through the revolving doors at the NYC department store, including makeup prodigy (and impressively tressed) Edward Bess, a close personal friend whose line she helped launch with the company a few years ago. The two pals took Refinery 29‘s Annie Tomlin through the store and into Betty’s office, and the 85-year old showed off her collections of knickknacks, her signature scents, and an exceedingly charming sense of humor.
Halbreich’s long tenure has taught her, among other things, the importance of a thick skin in the fashion industry. She told Tomlin:
“I don’t read my own press. Joan Rivers doesn’t read anything that’s written about her. Neither does Maggie Smith. There’s something mentally good about that. There is a whole plus to not reading about yourself. It’s very difficult to read about yourself — people strip you of the way you see your intimate self. And, that’s my serious side.”
She also shared some of her favorite garments, among them a gorgeous frothy polka dotted Christian Dior gown, and a Geoffrey Beene leather jacket. And topping her desk is a bit of a disconcerting display from a secret admirer: five metal fingers with bright red nails, each one sent in a separate package over the course of five days. All Halbreich knows is that the packages came from Spain. “It’s a mystery! I have no idea who sent it. Nor have I received the wrist, the elbow, or the leg, or the head — or the man or the woman,” she said. “Isn’t that interesting? Some people think it’s creepy.”
We’re inclined to agree. But we doubt that’s the strangest thing to happen to Halbreich over the the course of her career.