Critiquing The Critical Shopper: Isabel Marant’s Soho Store
Cintra Wilson, I love you. Your review of the JC Penney in Herald Square was my Gchat status for weeks, and when someone first sent it to me, I read it four times straight, laughing harder each time, and forwarded in a manic frenzy to everyone I knew. Your differentiation between Kiki de Montparasse and Victoria’s Secret-heavy Agent Provacateur? Spot on, and sent me straight to the Kiki store. Which is why I say, as a total groupie, Isabel Marant as an Army-Navy store? Non!
When I first moved to New York, I found myself in the Soho apartment of a quadtuplet of NYU seniors with deep Parisian roots. We lounged around on sofas, chain smoking and actually talking about literautre, love and art until four in the morning– an utter parody of francophones who meant it. “What’s the primary difference,” someone asked late in the night, “between New York and Paris?”
“Details,” a girl said immediately.
“Exactly,” one followed up.
“Yeah,” a guy said, “New York just can’t come close on the details.” (I swear, most of the conversation was better than this.)
And so it is with the juxtaposition between the featherweight flannel $400 tunic in the new Isabel Marant Soho store, and the racks of vintage stores in Paris bursting with old flannels. A composite of minute, barely detectable differences give the former the power to transform the wearer into one of Wilson’s “carefree Parisian chicks”, and the latter only the ability to make the wearer look like a Midwestern fifteen-year-old on a roadtrip through Indiana who found a shirt at a rummage sale she hoped might express her longing to actually live on the Lower East Side.
I ventured in to the new Isabel Marant store on my lunch break the other day, and decided to put my indignation to the test. I’d come into the office wearing cropped black cigarette pants, Chanel flats and a lavender cashmere sweater, looking a bit, I realized as I stepped into 55 Greene Street, like a Georgetown freshman out on internship. The store was empty, save for an etheral Asian woman with a cream Bottega woven tote, teacup Yorkie and Missoni knit dress. I hustled to the dressing room with the aforementioned $400 flannel tunic. Foisting my cashmere crewneck off, I yanked the flannel over my head, and — hello friends! All of a sudden, I looked like I’d been out raving at Le Baron all night and was now, the grey morning after, on my way to write in a courtyard in the Marais.
There may be more psychology than science behind this transformation, but having hunted for the perfect flannel tunic for years everywhere, including my friend’s closets (sorry, guys) I’ve always had to convince myself that there isn’t something slightly off about the bagginess at the elbows, the awkward boxiness at the hem, or the sexy-fit flannel, which can make even Ralph Lauren look like American Eagle. It’s not that these flannels, found in closets and thrift stores and sale racks of malls worldwide, scream “atrocious,” when you look at them, it’s just that there’s something that doesn’t vibe quite right, disappointments which lie in the fact that they weren’t constructed specifically to convey the sentiment of “I slept in this shirt, you silly child, and these pants were on the floor,” measured in missed millimeters of nipping at the elbows and indifference to the benefits of a subtle bell-curve in the last inch of a tunic.
This realization was borne out for the rest of my trip around the store. A short, knit minidress actually appeared to be the upgraded version of a Wet Seal staple, but what an upgrade it was. It was soft and heavy, with a neckline cut wide enough to flatter collarbones exactly, and not low enough to make the sincerely abbreviated hem look cheap. The merits of the well-made version of the fringy-boot over what I’m sure will be its eventual Steve Madden iteration are obvious.
But Wilson’s point, which I loved, near the end of her column, is that quality, and indeed the spirit of Isabel Marant, is not to be found in things that are either too precious, too refined or too self-concious. Some of the best things I’ve ever found have been: a lonely pair of silver chappels for three dollars at the bottom of an Old Navy discount bin two years before chappels became ubiqitous, a Hanro nightgown from my grandmother I wear as a dress, a fringe miniskirt from Express, and the trim of a Navajo rug I’ve worn as an obi for years. But for those who find joy in taste and aesthetics, a critical eye knows the difference between rocking these items and looking like you’ve just emerged from a long spell locked up in a costume trunk can be summed up in one word: Details, details, details.