For the Truly Patriotic Shopper: Peer In Lord & Taylor’s Windows

The post-catastrophe Zeitgeist is fluttering its patriotic and non-ironic way through the streets of Manhattan, and it’s affording us all a new worldview. The p.c. (post-catastrophe) New York in which we now find ourselves is, paradoxically, a freer kind of a place-especially for the fashion-obsessed. The self-consciously stylish and hiply hidebound (i.e., you and me) can now, without fear of ostracism, do all the geeky things we have secretly longed to do. In the new all-bets-are-off New York, it’s O.K. to be naff: carriage rides round Central Park, dinner at the Tavern on the Green (873-3200) or, naffer still, taking in a Broadway show. Fashion-elitist taboos are now irrelevant.

Freed of my style shackles, I felt the urge to do something totally rad, so I went shopping at Lord & Taylor. Yes, Lord & Taylor, the mumsiest store in New York. She (if ships are female, then so, surely, are departmentstores) tweaked my p.c. sensibilities, and off I went. Previously, the only Lord & Taylor shopper I had ever encountered was a certain stylist named Victoria Bartlett(“Sticky

Vickie”toher

friends), who lived across the street and had developed an irony-drenched addiction to the ditsy boxed-jewelry sales-fake Peretti, owl pendants and pixie pins. Most of thefashion cognoscenti never got further than mocking L.&T.’s so-heinous-they’re-fabulous illustrated newspaper ads. But now, the 175-year-old grand dame of American retailing-the store with thelong-stemmed AmericanBeauty rose integrated into its advertising; the store that has, since the 1980 hostage crisis, always begun each day playing “The Star-Spangled Banner”-was calling to me. I headed to Fifth Avenue and 38th Street.

I glanced fleetingly at the L.&T. window displays and experienced my usual reaction: envy. Allow me to explain. As some of you may be aware, I am, in addition to being a scribe, a window dresser of long standing. (F.Y.I., my memoir, Confessions of a Window Dresser , is now available in paperback, $29.95, author proceeds benefit God’s Love We Deliver.) And Lord & Taylor has always been a thorn in my side. No, I’m not talking about the animated Victoriana of their legendary-but-twee holiday windows; I’m talking about the fact that the L.&T. windows are on gigantic hydraulic lifts, à la dumbwaiters. Every week, the lifts descend to the basement, where bevies of window dressers refresh the displays and switch out the mannequins. With the push of a button, the new displays ascend to street level, where an enthusiastic-or otherwise-sidewalk reception awaits. No window dressers with pierced navels dragging naked mannequins across the shop floor and frightening the patrons! How cool is that? And how genteel?

Under the gorgeous vaulted ceiling on the main floor, I was greeted by the seemingly anagrammatically monikered LaVelle Olexa (senior vice president of fashion merchandising), who filled me in on the 85-store chain and its return to the ethos of yore. “Lord & Taylor was, historically, a store for the carriage trade,” explains Ms. Olexa. The carriage trade ! How fabulously antiquated, and yet totally now ! Under the stewardship of president and chief executive Jane Elfers, Lord & Taylor is doing its utmost to shake off the promotional image that has defined the store since it was bought by the May Department Stores Company in 1986. This new regime has focused on de-cluttering and modernizing the store: Though not exactly sizzling, L.&T. is now tidy and serene, recalling the engravings in a spooky old 1914 store-opening brochure that Ms. Olexa showed me during our meeting. Recent attempts to be hip and trendy-art events with Larry Rivers and Richard Estes-have failed, thank God, to make a dent in this fusty but fabulous Olde Worlde vibe.

But you can’t wear gentility, so what about the schmattas ? I combed the 10 floors of merch and found a complete absence of ultra-groovy design labels:Calvin, Ralph, Tommy,Oscar, Chanel(makeup) and Coach are the tippy-top. There are, however, loads of good deals and must-haves.

I started with a twirl through the jewelry department, where I found heavy “gold,” fake-Hermès studded cuffs by R.J. Graziano for $82. And Sticky Vickie’s boxed jewelry is still in the house: plenty of tragic posies and dragonflies (Liz Claiborne, $15), but also some groovy zodiac pendants from Nine West ($20) and rhinestone-initial necklaces in sterling ($15). My fave? The gigantic brooch wall: check out the Robert Rose cameos for $45.

On the third floor, I found the hip and affordable L.&T. “Identity” label, e.g., a chocolate-brown knee-length rabbit fur-very Marnie -for $672. On the fourth floor: argyle twin sets, also private-label, with zippered cardigans ($39.99, originally $54) and faux shearlings ($229). On the fifth floor: Lord & Taylor cashmere-blend (90 percent cash, 10 percent wool) color-blocked sweaters-very Lucien Pellat-Finet, except price-wise ($129, originally $174). Also cashmere mock turtlenecks ($99.99, originally $134). On the sixth floor, go straight for the Tommy Hilfiger $69 mini-kilts; wear with thick knitted pantyhose and your fall knee boots. Yes, you can buy them everywhere, but why get trampled at Bloomie’s or Macy’s when you can shop in the unstressful majesty of L.&T.?

My tour wasn’t entirely without incident. Dressed in a Burberry shortee raincoat, I lingered a little too long on eight, fascinated by the unsurpassed selection of panties, “shapewear” and-my personal fave-brassières. Soft cups, underwires and the new Wonderbra pump-it-up air bras ($34) are all presented with a tidy discretion that seemed quite patriotic. The mind-blowing array of designs made me think of the brassière-obsessed character of Mrs. Mary Smiling in Stella Gibbons’ novel Cold Comfort Farm . In this hilariously snobby 1932 novel, Mrs. Smiling, “an authority on the cut, fit, color, construction and proper functioning of brassières,” has the largest collection in the world and devotes herself to locating the perfect specimen. What fun to have one’s own brarchive, I mu-sed,examiningthe

gusset on a fabulousVogue Dessous number and looking more and more like a raincoat perv. I overheard a sales associate dialing store security and slid furtively into the gorgeous elevator.

Let’s say you were once a lonely rich girl, and you finally meet a guy, and he has gigantic feet (lucky you!) and you’re mad about him. You want to do something truly caring for him, if you know what I mean, without being flashy. How about coughing up $3,150 and treating him to a pair of custom shoes from John Lobb? The service is available at the John Lobb store (680 Madison Avenue, 888-9797) and most Hermès stores, since John Lobb is owned by Hermès.

Custom Lobbs will make him happy and comfy, and they prevent the development of unsightly bunions, which could make his feet look even larger. Buy him a $690 John Lobb care pouch: If he takes good care of his shoes, they will last him long after your pretty years havefaded.How romantic!

“When War was declared, I went out and bought two pounds of henna,” writes Quentin Crisp in his 1968 autobiography, The Naked Civil Servant . Is there a beauty product in which you might make a Crisp-like bulkcommitment?There’s nothing wrong with stockpiling a favoritelipstickor unguent. It helps the economy and gives you a warm feelingofsquirrel-like preparedness.