Dumb Bows

They’re putting bows on clothes again. Bows are alighting everywhere, like locusts: ends of sleeves, tips of shoes, bringing up

They’re putting bows on clothes again. Bows are alighting everywhere, like locusts: ends of sleeves, tips of shoes, bringing up the rear of a big puffy skirt. It may be “pretty,” but it isn’t good. Bows belong on presents, not on New York women.

Try to buy a simple black pump these days and bam, a bow hits you in the face. “It’s so Audrey Hepburn,” is how they try to sell it. Hey, not all of us want to look like a deer with a ribbon around its neck. We just want some black pumps to get us around the grimy streets with some dignity–is that so much to ask?

Apparently. Walk through Scoop, the upscale boutique of the moment, and find bows as far as the weary eye can see. There’s a “peasant” top costing a couple hundred dollars with little bows on the elastic sleeves–stomach-curdling. Pawing further down the rack … a stringy bow on a seafoam cotton sweater with a label that reads “Martin Kidman”–no relation to Nicole, one hopes, because no stylish movie star should be sporting that twittery little bow business on her collarbone.

Meanwhile, horror in the shoe department: A mean Jimmy Choo lizard mule with a lace woven through slits, like dental floss through teeth, culminating in a charming, delicate…bow. This from the supposed heir to Manolo Blahnik? Nearby, in a sub-section dubbed “Scoop Sexy”: a leopard-print bag with a big pink leather you-know-what slapped right on the front. Leopard and leather may deserve to fall under the header “sexy,” even if the leather is pink, but bows? It just doesn’t ring true.

It’s not like a tie on a wrap dress, which gives a woman agency; she decides when and how to tie it. A bow comes tight and prefabricated, like you don’t know how to do up your own shoelace.

Indeed, when rich ladies on the Upper East Side wear those Chanel ballet flats with bows on their toes, it’s like they’re telling the world, “Some guy is taking care of me, so I can dress like a little girl.” Bows are sinister precisely because they’re infantilizing. That’s why a lot of men are baffled by the bows that show up in the middle of bras. It’s a case of mixed signals.

They’re saying minimalism is over. Thing is, minimalism suited Manhattanites, who don’t want their movements impeded. And while fringe and ruffles may have their place in this society predicated on efficiency– maybe –this bow situation just seems like so much desperate anti-minimalist flailing on the part of the fashion people.

Fortunately, there’s a sign that the trend may be peaking: Recently Miuccia Prada joined perennial bow champions Kate Spade and Cynthia Rowley in foisting these little pieces of frippery upon us (see this month’s In Style , page 90, for an example). Even with her track record, however, Ms. Prada can’t make bows ironic. They’re just too dumb.

–Alexandra Jacobs

Mr. Cattrall

Kim Cattrall, who plays Samantha Jones, the slut on HBO’s Sex and the City , got a real husband a couple of years ago. He’s an audiophile from Boston named Mark Levinson. In high school, Mr. Levinson and Ms. Cattrall would never have met. He was the A/V guy who dug jazz. She was the beautiful star of school plays.

Here’s how it happened. It was in early 1998, right after Ms. Cattrall had come to New York to shoot the pilot for Sex and the City . Stood up by friends and looking for some excitement, she headed downtown to the Blue Note to hear pianist and Scientologist Chick Corea. Mr. Levinson spotted her across a very crowded room. They were both divorced and both kind of famous. For 20 years, she’d been showing up in roles in mediocre movies. For 30 years, he’d been making and selling high- end stereo equipment to aficionados and celebrities. To stereo geeks, he’s the Manolo Blahnik of sound.

“I was looking for a mate, not a date,” Mr. Levinson said recently. He was sitting cross-legged on the floor of his Madison Avenue stereo equipment store, Red Rose Music, which is right next to the Whitney Museum. He had removed his shoes. His arms were wrapped around a vintage tambura, a lute-like Indian instrument. Ms. Cattrall was there, too, listening to her husband pluck the strings and tell their old story.

So, yes, Mr. Levinson and Ms. Cattrall locked eyes that night at the Blue Note. Mr. Levinson, who also plays the flugelhorn and a 17th-century double bass, did not know much about pop culture, so he had missed Ms. Cattrall in The Bonfire of the Vanities and in Mannequin , in which she comes alive for Andrew McCarthy. Ms. Cattrall, for her part, did not know much about stereos; when they met, all she had was a Sharp boombox. But they hit it off, anyway. He proposed a little while later at a bar mitzvah. “I’m not exactly sure how it transpired,” he said.

“I do,” Ms. Cattrall interjected. “He introduced me to a friend as his fiancée. It was the first time he’d ever said it. But it was very mutual.”

Anyway, Mr. Levinson, now 52, with gray hair and bushy eyebrows, must deal with questions he never thought of before, such as: How do you like seeing your wife hump a fireman on TV? (In the show’s current season, Ms. Cattrall’s character romped, pretty graphically, with a fireman.)

“I’m very proud of her, she’s doing brave work,” Mr. Levinson said. “Kim said the fireman was one of the most supportive partners she’s had. You can tell from his eyes he’s a caregiver. He has warm, caring eyes. His whole presence was very sensitive. I think in a way it’s a victory for the show. They could have had a stereotype stallion-built guy. But they took someone who risks his life for others.”

Mr. Levinson was born in Oakland and grew up in Boston. His father was Daniel Levinson, the Yale psychology professor who wrote Seasons of a Man’s Life , which Gail Sheehy later popularized in Passages . His father also happened to be a big jazz fan and introduced his son to Louis Armstrong, among others. “We got our first record player when I was six years old,” he said. “It was a Garrard changer, with the plastic switch. The arm rotated and came down. They were very human players. Back then there was much more of a sense of humanity.”

Mr. Levinson went off to Brandeis University, but after two weeks he split to play bass with Sonny Rollins. When he was 19, the pianist Paul Bley offered him a chance to go on tour in Europe as his bass player. “I asked my dad what he thought and he said, ‘Go for it, you won’t regret it.’ So I got on the plane and went.” Later he studied Indian music in California and took lessons from Jimmy Peacock.

But in 1969, Mr. Levinson started to think about how to make the music he made sound better on record. At the original Woodstock, one of his homemade soundboards was put in at the last minute for all the bands. “All the music at Woodstock went through it,” he said. “I can say I was at Woodstock, I guess.”

The Mark Levinson brand of stereo equipment was born in the basement of his parents’ house in Woodbridge, Conn., in 1971. Within a decade, it was one of the most prized brand names among audio purists.

In 1980, he lost control of his company. (The Levinson name is still marketed by Madrigal, without his input.) In 1984, he started another company, Cello, but lost control of that one, too. Now Cello is a French restaurant.

At Red Rose, Mr. Levinson sells a $10,000 three-piece system made by a company called Audio Prism, which he bought out. The speakers alone are $3,000 a pop. He’s also helping Sony develop a new CD and player called SACD that Mr. Levinson said “must” replace our current systems.

“Think about it. We’re listening to a CD system that was designed 20 years ago,” he said. “It’s no good, it’s outdated. And there is evidence that the frequencies CDs are recorded on now are harming us, making us disoriented and unhappy. There’s a reason we don’t like sitting down and listening to a CD the way we did a record. SACD actually mimics the warmth of records. It’s amazing.”

Ms. Cattrall stood to leave. She had to film another episode, leaving her husband to sell stereos alone.

–Roger Friedman

Dumb Bows