My Hottest Shopping Tip: Buy Straight From the Trunk

Do you return from shopping expeditions feeling as if you just had a Pap smear? Has the process of buying clothes become odious to you? Do you plod despondently through New York’s most notable emporia of style feeling progressively irate?

Even when you find something you like, does the cocky sales assistant ruin your moment with his or her inability to grovel? As you leave the store, do you feel as if you may have been shagged, but meanwhile your ass has not been kissed with an enthusiasm commensurate with the large amount of shekels you’ve just dropped?

The Gen-Y flibbertigibbets who report to you seem to have such a blast shopping at Scoop and Barneys Co-op–why can’t you? You want to feel that tingle in your loins that only a good fashion purchase can elicit. After all, you’re only human.

The solution is quite simple: trunk shows .

Trunk shows are not just for pathetically self-absorbed trophy broads who have nothing better to do. Trunk shows are also for seasoned fashion shoppers who know exactly what they want and are determined to get it in their size with the minimum amount of dicking around. Stores invite designers to bring their entire sample line for a given season–plus several staff members–and set up shop on the selling floor for two or three days. The goal is to introduce you to the collection before it hits the store’s racks and cajole you into committing to as many outfits as possible. The benefits are mutual: It’s your big opportunity to snag the best items, order them in the fabric of your choice and, most importantly, to feel the cool breeze of old-fashioned service blowing up your skirt.

If you don’t believe me, ask Pamela Dennis. At 1 p.m. on Sept. 13, you will find her on the fourth floor of Bergdorf Goodman, where she’ll be attending her own trunk show (daily until Sept. 15, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Affable, accessible, husky-voiced Pam is a real Seventh Avenue broad. Refreshingly devoid of the pretensions that enrobe many fashion designers, she is far more likely to spend lunch time on her knees in a fitting room with one of her customers than augmenting her self-importance at the Four Seasons. She is the reigning queen of trunk shows–and she’s dying to meet you.

I interviewed Ms. Dennis right after she got back from a Houston trunk show. She had no complaints about being on the road. “My dad, Hal Dennis,was with Tommy Dorsey’s band. I channel my dad regularly,” she said. “He had a No. 1 hit for 14 weeks, and he was on American Bandstand . They had to bribe Dick Clark to get on there–they gave him a piano and on they went. But anyway, I’m just like my dad, always on the road–but a bit more glamorous.”

Ms. Dennis radiated trunk-show afterglow. “Yesterday we sold, among other things, 12 bias-cut, full-length leather skirts ($3,000 each) and over 50 beaded pashminas ($1,000 each). I love trunks. Meeting my customers is a drug. I do great business with movie stars: Geena Davis at this year’s Emmys, Halle Berry, Courtney Love, Liv Tyler, Madonna–I did her “Erotica” video–Lisa Kudrow, Sharon Stone and–hello!–Mrs. Hillary Clinton. But by the time the Oscars are finished, I have been beaten, battered and abused by insane egos and crazy stylists holding my clothes hostage! I can’t wait to get back to my real customers.”

What’s so great about trunk shows? “If you’re making some money–and you’re no longer 25–then it makes sense to do the bulk of your shopping at trunks. The entire showroom comes to you, so you get to see the whole line, not just the store buyer’s edit. You try on the sample, you order it in your size–it’s the nearest thing to couture.”

Trunk show do’s and don’t’s, as per Pam:

1) Don’t get plastered before you come. And if the store is serving wine, drink water. “I did a trunk show in Australia, and the women got so loaded they couldn’t remember what they bought. It was a drunk trunk.”

2) “Wear a simple dress that you can step in and out of without screwing up your coiffure.”

3) Most important, enlist a personal shopper at your favorite stores. “She/he will guard whatever you have on hold like a hyena. If you don’t have a personal shopper, your special orders will be kidnapped and sold by mercenary personal shoppers as soon as they arrive at the store.”

4) Don’t order willy-nilly from lots of different designers. “You think you can just order a bunch of stuff and take your pick later on when it all comes in. Naughty! The stores will be out of pocket and you will get a horrible reputation. Leave a deposit, make a commitment–get serious.”

5) Call the personal shopper at the store of your choice, pour your heart out and demand a trunk-show schedule. (Bloomingdale’s: Marian Goodman, 705-3135. Bergdorf Goodman, 872-8757. Henri Bendel: Michael Palladino, 373-6353. Saks Fifth Avenue: Nanette DiFalco, 940-4145. Barneys New York: Sharyn Soleimani, 833-2811, or Noel Estrada, 833-2101.)

My tips, F.Y.I.’s and random gems from the fall trunk-show pantheon:

1) Trunk shows usually take place prior to the season; therefore, most of the upcoming ones will be evening wear (for the holiday season). Major spring trunk shows–Giorgio Armani, Chanel, etc.–will take place in January.

2) Every season Barneys has a vintage-evening-wear trunk show with the vivacious raconteur Cameron Silver of Decades. The next one is Sept. 14 to 16. On the third floor, Cameron will be selling cootie-free offerings from, among others, Zandra Rhodes, Halston and Norell. With vintage rags, there are no agonizing waits–it’s cash-and-carry.

3) Celebrity obsessed? Are you dying to tell Donna Karan how much you adore her? Do you want to give metaphorical head to Manolo Blahnik? They will both be making personal appearances at Bergdorf Goodman: Donna Karan unplugged from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 27; Manolo Blahnik kicking it live from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sept. 28.

4) Do you loathe the fact that men’s garments cost less than yours and are usually better constructed? Every season Barneys calls on the titans of Italian tailoring to do trunk shows for women: Kiton and Luciano Barbera will be on the third floor of the Madison Avenue store on Nov. 7 and 8. Stop by and get the inside of your leg measured.

Devoted (i.e., ambitious) office interns will often try to demonstrate their promotional potential to you by chomping down their lunches at their desks while simultaneously multi-tasking their way through assignments in record time.

This is all very laudable, but it can result in disturbing food stains on their poignantly aspirational dress-for-success ensembles. Reward these Eve Harringtons with a 12-pack of Shout Wipes portable stain-treater towelettes ($2.49 at Kmart). The 12-pack sometimes includes an added bonus: a free carrying case. This will add to the general perception that you are a nurturing kind of person.

Long-lost relatives have invited you to brunch on Staten Island–and you’re simply terrified. It would be such a huge drag if you caught the West Nile virus. After all, you’ve put so much time and money into maximizing your assets and succeeding in your chosen field. My advice: Protect yourself with a mosquito-repellent scarf from Demeter Fragrances.

The brainchild of Christopher Brosius, Demeter founder and creative director, this potentially life-saving fashion accessory is impregnated with geranium, lavender, marigold, spearmint, citronella, patchouli and lemongrass. Choose from silk chiffon ($130) or silk-satin organza ($245).

Stop by the Demeter Fragrance Library shop (83 Second Avenue). If you’re too scared to leave the house unprotected, call Demeter at 800-482-0422 or purchase from eve.com.

If trunk shows don’t rid you of those despondent feelings, you may have a deeper-seated problem. Pamela Dennis may not hold the key to your psychological well-being–but Pamela Anderson might.

Before you up your Zoloft, you might want to check a recent issue of Hello magazine (Aug. 29). The delicious spread on Pam and her beau Marcus Schenkenberg is guaranteed to perk you up. And it contains some hauntingly profound advice from Pamela herself on surviving the rough times: “When everything was bleak, I would walk by the ocean, and pretend that the waves would carry away all my problems.” Give it a whirl.

My Hottest Shopping Tip: Buy Straight From the Trunk