True, I was learning some fashion trends for this season: mesh is in (you could find the sporty material in ready-to-wear Commes des Garçons, Jil Sander and, yes, even Burberry, not to mention all those mesh-encased booties from Chanel to Reed Krakoff), tight bandage dresses are in (woe be to anyone with a BMI higher than .02%), and so is a tony punk aesthetic, as realized by the infamous Christian Louboutin spikes as well as the prevalence of “takes” on the motorcycle jacket. It was unclear if these seasonal items were inspired by the upcoming Met Costume Institute Gala, “Punk: From Chaos to Couture,” or the other way around.
The color “guava” was also thrown around as a high seller this season.
Still, I doubted it would help with my larger problem: my complete inability to dress myself. I wanted someone to tell me what I needed to wear in order to look fabulous, how to accessorize without clashing and then, preferably, hand it to me in my size at no cost.
“Does this store have a layaway plan?” I attempted to joke at the hour-and-a-half mark, after fingering a gorgeous Michael Kors black and white gown. Mr. Schaefer gave a half-cough/half-laugh and mercifully treated the question as rhetorical.
Even more devastating was the fact that I couldn’t just buy whatever the model was wearing and call it fashionable.
“No one buys a whole look,” he had told me when we arrived on the floor. “I mean, you can, but you’ll hardly see anyone do it. It’s much more of a mix and match.”
I tried to explain that my version of matching was wearing two different shades of black, but we gamely kept going. On and on and on. Fendi, Zoran, Missoni—each designer like a new constellation that needed to be memorized in the fashion universe. This wasn’t fun. It was work!
And then something strange happened. Though Mr. Schaefer was gently guiding me by the arm through the first hesitant hour, by the second I was darting away to look at pieces I liked. I stopped doubting that all my choices were ridiculous: After all, if it was being sold at Saks, it couldn’t be a faux pas, right?
Mr. Schaefer knew that I was ready to fly on my own. “I think it’s time you saw your new favorite designer,” he said, with a mischievous smile. “I think you’re going to be a big fan. It’s Stephanie Seymour’s favorite too!” I honestly wasn’t sure if I saw the connection. All doubts vanished from my mind, however, as we reached the realm of Azzedine Alaïa.
Like a moth called to the flame of the Tunisian-born, France-residing designer, a moment after I walked into the alcove I was banging down the dressing room doors to try on the eggshell-blue Calypso skater dress, the matching, metallic bolero, the pink and black Papier vitrail cut-out dress with its tulle skirt. The Entrelacs dress in its muted pearl, which originally looked so staid, paired so perfectly with the greige textured cotton Alvéole biker jacket that it attracted a small crowd of bystanders when I stepped out of the changing room to show it to Mr. Schaefer.
“May I ask … are you a model?” one of the women asked.
This lady could have been a plant for all I knew; in that moment, I would have willingly forked over … jeez, the $8,145 that the ensemble would have cost me.
“Consider it an investment piece,” Mr. Schaefer said, before noting that the ALAIA was the preferred brand of Peter Brant’s wife, Stephanie Seymour.
We barely had time to rush to the Saks shoe floor before the three-hour mark, a place so overwhelmingly glamorous and gargantuan that Mr. Schaefer had gone to D.C. to petition the postmaster general to give it its own zip code—a brilliant piece of marketing savvy that has led to branding of the department as “10022 Shoe.”
It was there I tried on Kanye West’s Mercury-inspired Giuseppe Zanotti heels (complete with golden wings) and a collection that featured the heel in the middle, instead of the back of the shoe. I marveled at (but didn’t even think of trying) Sergio Rossi’s razor-thin, 4-1/2-inch bootie heels. Even more terrifying was Mr. Zanotti’s 6-1/2-inch wedge with no heel whatsoever, letting the wearer’s soles dangle precariously off the ground, like a high-wire act with no safety net.
Anyway, after conquering the socialite soldier’s baptême de feu that is shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue, I figured, the shoes could wait for another day.