Imagine C.Z. Guest, But Tarty; Summer Sales Beat the Season

Something is stirring in the depths of the Fashion Jungle. It’s me. I’m stirring a little cup of tea while contemplating, in a quivering state of shock, an occurrence that is nothing short of a miracle. No, I’m not talking about 51-year-old Annie Leibovitz’s turkey-baster fecundity. It’s something far more shocking and revolutionary: I’m talking about the unprecedented tsunami of designer bargains that is headed your way.

It started last autumn when the economy went all soggy and sloppy, and your consumer confidence (love that term! It sounds like it refers to various unspeakable aspects of personal hygiene) turned putrid. Mine, too! With one eye on Wall Street, we scrooged our way through the holidays. By the time spring rolled around, our ceintures were as tight as a nun’s wimple. Now the good news: that nasty economic halitosis hit after stores had already placed their spring-summer orders-i.e., it was too late for retailers to reduce their inventories.

The result: an unprecedented glut of spring and summer merch ripe for pickin’. Since I started in retail over 25 years ago at a John Lewis store back in Blighty (the store motto was “Never Knowingly Undersold”), I’ve never seen anything like it! The way the game is normally played, retailers want business at full price, and no store wants to be the first to “break sale.” This waiting game turns sale marketing, even in the best of times, into a complex espionage of rumor and speculation between retailers: Whoever pulls their finger out of the dyke first gets a massive influx of traffic and precipitates the breaking of sale at competing stores.

But this season, there were no Cold War nuances: Saks started broadly discounting in March, and the complex schedule of June sale marketing-private sales, public sales, designer sales-has been brought forward an unprecedented two and, in some cases, three weeks. The private sale events that normally kick off the sale cycle at Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys after Memorial Day started 10 days early. The major designer summer markdowns-Armani, Prada, Chanel, Gucci, etc.-are still officially slated for early June. Hot tip: These party-poopers will, if approached with the requisite international savoir faire and finesse, agree to pre-sell you the item of your choice. Rush to your preferred emporium and give it a whirl.

Don’t be bashful. Look at this as a market “correction”-i.e., normalcy has, at last, been restored to the loony bin of fashion. Well-priced summer-fashion merch is, finally, available to you at the beginning of the summer-and at the price it should probably have been marked at in the first place!

Here are some random gems from this plethora of designer drag (O.P. = original price; S.P. = sale price). In making my selections, I put the emphasis on hedonistic, extrovert, almost tarty items: You will then take these and dress them down in a C.Z. Guest–ish manner. It’s your new look for the summer: Preppy-Tarty, or “Prarty” for short.

Henri Bendel: an ombre denim, skinny Capri pant in coral or turquoise with gold sparkles by Roberto Cavalli (O.P. $368; S.P. $219). Wear with a classic white button-down boy’s shirt (Gap, $24.50 ) and Spring Court sneakers from Barneys Co-op ($60). They won’t be marked down until the end of summer, but buy them anyway because the Beatles wore them on the cover of the Abbey Road album and they were the original groovy sneaker, and because I say so.

Barneys: a Pucci frock (O.P. $1,295; S.P. $779) is versatile-Marilyn Monroe was buried in one, for Chrissake!-but a snotty little printed silk twill Pucci shirt (O.P. $795; S.P. $479) is more Prarty. Wear as a beach cover-up or with Earl low-ride straight-leg jeans (O.P. $107; S.P. $69), a huge straw hat by Shuichi Kameoka (O.P. $445; July S.P. $267) and Miu Miu thongs (O.P. $280; S.P. $170).

Bergdorf Goodman is Prarty Central, from Carolina to Oscar and back again. Don’t worry if it’s not marked down; just try the pre-sell strategy. My pick: a pink shirt-dress from Carolina Herrera (O.P. $1,350; S.P. $799).

Bloomingdale’s: the Marc by Marc Jacobs apple-print cami dress-more Cornelia than C.Z., very jejeune! (O.P. $238; S.P. $141.99).

Jeffrey New York: Mental and fabulous shoes are the specialty de la maison: snag a pair of René Caovilla satin-and-rhinestone evening shoes (O.P. $640; S.P. $448) to wear with one of your dour prison dresses from Prada or Jil Sander circa 1996. For poofy, designer-lovin’ men, or women with big feet, Fendi “Zucchino” sandals (O.P. $295; S.P. $207): Logo stuff is Prarty if worn with old khakis or vintage tennis skirts.

Saks Fifth Avenue: While the economy was still pumping last year, Saks buyers optimistically bought heavily into avant-garde designers-and now you are the beneficiary of this fashion folly. It’s Comme des Garçons, Junya Watanabe, Miguel Adrover-a-go-go. Caution! Much of this merch is more laide than jolie. However, some of these designers did preppy parodies: I recommend Junya Watanabe striped pants (O.P. $420; S.P. $252) and Miguel Adrover’s pinstriped blazer (O.P. $1,295; S.P. $777). The men’s designer sportswear area is also groaning with Prarty potential-e.g., Martin Margiela’s flasher raincoat in brown mini-houndstooth (O.P. $888; June 6 S.P. $532.80).

If you simply don’t have the cash for any of the above, please don’t start turning tricks in the meatpacking district. Remember, further markdowns are right around the corner; by the end of July, everything will be 75 percent off.

Consider the following scenario: You’re in Bendel’s, pouring yourself into those stretch Roberto Cavalli disco Capris, when you catch sight of yourself in a mirror. Aaagh! You don’t look very Palm Beach at all-you look much more like the pasty-faced hermaphrodite in Fellini’s Satyricon. Yes, you’re dehydrated, but you’re also unbelievably pale.

Scamper downstairs to the Tarte counter and ask Mia to show you a stick of Sunkissed bronzer ($23). Top makeup artist Susan Hauser swears by Tarte’s pigments. “They are dense, and the Sunkissed bronzer has no orange-so you won’t get that hideous tan-fastic look.” The good people at Tarte recommend applying it “like a Raggedy Ann doll, two circles on the apples of the cheeks and then blending.”

Are you in love with your own childhood? Arch, disdainful, fan-twitching Karl Lagerfeld is. The summer 2001 edition of Nest magazine ($12.50 at better newsstands) has a piece by Stephen Todd about Kaiser Karl’s devotion to his childhood suite of “pint-sized Biedermeier” furniture. Serial chateau-purchaser Karl has, disturbingly, just purchased a teeny, two-room pied-à-terre on the Rue des Saints-Pères in Paris, where he has installed his desk and itsy-bitsy bed. Herr Lagerfeld says: “My dream is to become a little old man who lives in a little apartment with his childhood furniture. No more rendezvous, no need to check the time, no need of a social life, nothing. Like when you’re a child. Liberté totale.” Creepy … non?

Picture the scene: You’re feverishly checking out the racks at Bergdorf’s, snapping up summer bargains, when suddenly you become aware that a good-looking stranger is checking out your rack. Your vendeuse interrupts this fleeting flirtation (her timing always sucked!), and the sexy stranger evaporates. Flushed from this fleeting encounter, you dash, gazelle-like, onto Fifth Avenue and into a cab, where acrid aromas and malfunctioning seat belts momentarily erase your tingle. Gradually, the smoldering gaze of that hunk floats back into your mind’s eye, and you start to kick yourself. Why the hell didn’t you-or he-exchange pleasantries, or better still, phone numbers? Another missed opportunity for lifelong happiness? Not any more, thanks to HeyYouIt’sMe.com.

This new Web site allows you to “get that moment back” by providing you with an electronic notice board upon which to post your missed opportunities and potentially turn back the clock (e.g., “You were jogging next to me at Crunch-you were wearing cerise leg warmers,” etc., etc. …).

HeyYouIt’sMe is free and scrupulously secure, but don’t try and use it to vent rejection-sensitive spleens (e.g., “You didn’t want to share a cab. When I saw the size of your fat ass,” etc. etc. …). This kind of belligerent, vulgar posting will, unfortunately, be deleted.