I am a sucker for any accessory or garment of the moment, always the first name on a waiting list for whatever the women’s magazines dub “must-have”—the belt, bag or boot that screeches a designer’s name and is the highlight of his or her most recent collection. Some people accuse me of being a fashion victim, but it’s a label I never took seriously—until now.
I arrived at my summer rental in Southampton on a Wednesday night late in June. It’s a Cape Cod–style house, about 100 years old, with burnished hardwood floors and a wraparound porch dotted with Adirondack chairs. Protected from the street by high, manicured hedges, the property is abloom with blue hydrangea and pink azalea bushes.
I hadn’t been to the place in over a week, and when I unlocked the front door, I let out a deep sigh of tranquility. Everything was just as it should be: dining-room chairs pushed neatly under the table and freshly laundered, folded beach towels stacked in a corner of the kitchen, waiting to be grabbed by anyone heading out back to take a dip in the pool.
However, once I entered my bedroom, I realized that something was amiss: The closet door was ajar and the light inside switched on. A noted neatnik, I would never have left my room in such a flagrant state of disorder.
“Strange,” I thought, opening the door wider in order to put away a few belongings that I had brought with me.
Horrific was more like it. The closet was nearly empty; most of my summer wardrobe was gone. My Prada shifts, Chloe T-shirts, Calypso cover-ups and brand-new Claude Pierlot shorts had vanished. My entire bathing-suit collection—lovingly assembled over the years—was wiped out: the Christian Dior floral tankini with matching sarong; the Issey Miyake athletic black two-piece with mesh trim; the two Chanels, a strapless, metallic pink one-piece and another with a red, plaid-skirted bottom. Saddest of all, I would never again see my Ursula Andress camel-colored bikini—Tom Ford’s summer 2004 swan song for YSL. And all that remained of my pink, striped Missoni bikini was the tiny top. The bottom had been stolen.
Yes, stolen. My clothing had been ripped off, along with my Longchamp weekend duffel, which must have served as the loot bag. How could this happen in the Hamptons, that supposed oasis of serenity, gentility and civility?
It was 11 p.m., and I immediately called the Southampton Village police. A squad car showed up, delivering two officers—Romeo and Cornell—to my door. Searching for evidence, they noted that all TV’s and VCR’s were accounted for. Nothing of value (at least to them) had been filched. There was no damage to the house, which was very odd; crime in these parts comes with kicked-in screens and rummaged-through drawers. Local hoodlums are after cash and anything that can be hocked in Riverhead or Bellport for drug money. There had never been a heist of designer pool-wear. The cops were sure the burglar had to be someone I knew. What kind of company did I keep? My last houseguest, as it turned out, was an acclaimed writer and former drug addict.
“Could she also be a klepto?” Officer Cornell asked. He suggested that I set her up by inviting her to my Manhattan apartment to see if anything was missing after she departed.
I wasn’t sure which was worse: a friend with sticky fingers or a friend who would frame another. Besides, the writer couldn’t be a suspect. Aside from being recovered, she spent most of her time chain-smoking and was way too self-involved and disorganized to leave the city and go through the hassle of staging a break-in to schlep a mound of my clothes back home. Also, she didn’t know how to drive.
“What about a domestic?” Sergeant Romeo suggested.
“The housekeeper who cleans this place has been doing it for years. She has a key. Why would she bother to contort herself through window when she could simply unlock the door?”
Still dismissing the theft as an inside job, the police were about to leave until I succeeded in urging them to make one last tour of the property. And there it was, the forensic evidence: a small, dirty sneaker print on a window ledge located at the side of the house, under an air-conditioning unit. Evidently, the perp had climbed onto the ledge, stepped atop the unit, lowered the upper half of the window and then leaped cat-burglar style into the guest room below. The point of entry was no more than a foot high and 18 inches wide. Only a Chinese gymnast or Heather Locklear could have accomplished it.
“That explains why the crook took my clothes!” I deduced proudly. “We’re the same size. I wear a two.”
“Has anyone been stalking you, Ms. Hayt?” Officer Cornell asked.
Stalking me in Southampton? No one knows me there. I keep to myself and only wear my Pucci pareo in my cloistered backyard. Why would I be a target of crime? Granted, my house is located in the “village” of Southampton—a far cry from the estate section—but I do boast a geographically desirable location: “south of the highway,” or “S.O.H.,” the local code for status.
Well, in truth, my rental is only a 1/16th of a mile S.O.H. More humbling, the street is also just north of a Long Island Rail Road overpass—which, in effect, puts me on the wrong side of the tracks, a reality that Southampton Police Detective Sergeant Lamison later confirmed when I called him to find out if there were any leads on my case.
“I’ve got 13 open burglaries right now. Most of them are near you, though none are like yours,” he said. “Don’t get your hopes up.”
My case is particularly perplexing. The thief didn’t take all my clothes; left behind were my shoes, as well as a Marc Jacobs lavender cashmere sweater, Gucci denim jacket and Chanel terrycloth beach jacket. Why forgo such high-ticket items?
“The thief was a woman and the shoes weren’t her size,” surmised my sleuth-minded friend Ellen. “The crime had to have happened on a broiling hot day, because all your swimwear and beach cover-ups were stolen. If it had been a cool day, the cashmere sweaters and jackets would be gone. It could have been someone who came out to the Hamptons for a long weekend and left her luggage on the Jitney. She didn’t have any clothes to wear, so she took yours out of need. It was an impulse theft—really prêt-à-porter, which may be French for ‘ready to wear’ but actually translates into English as ‘ready to carry.’”
Prêt-à-porter. Ellen was on to something. Because the S.O.H. bikini burglar was svelte enough to squeeze through the window and into my designer threads, it’s quite possible she once walked the straight and narrow, namely as a waif supermodel strutting a catwalk. Why else would someone leave behind the Toshiba but make off with a sample-size Tory Burch tunic? And if that were the case, then the crime was one of passion—a passion for fashion—and, I, the victim, might in other circumstances have committed it, too.