Chanel opened its One Mag Mile boutique last week--in a corner of the One Mag Mall that had been Stanley Korshak--by hosting a cocktail reception. It attracted the French consul general, the appropriate local glitterati, and several hundred prospective and past customers.
The downstairs is a high-gloss rectangle; at its Michigan Avenue border is the perfume counter, and along the sides are handbags, scarves, some clothes. Upstairs, it's jackets, dresses, gowns--a place where women can get down to serious business.
On my way up the staircase, I was passed by a fabulous Far Eastern model--remember Mickey Rourke's love interest in Year of the Dragon?--her hurrying was split-screened by the faceted mirrors along the stairs. She looked like a beautiful stutter. She reappeared later along with four other outstanding models all wearing pieces of the 1987 collection. They circulated holding signs authenticating their garb as official issue.
I walked up to the upper level and found a tri-layered, strapless, red gown dominating the landing. It was a handsome piece of work even without anyone in it and I asked how much. $3,960. How many are there in Chicago? Two: one size 6, one 8. "But we can get more on a moment's notice," the vendeuse told me. What if four people showed up at the same party wearing the same dress? "It happens all the time in New York," she said, as though for $3,960 that shouldn't matter.
Waiters with trays of Moet et Chandon Brut Imperial and assorted hors d'oeuvres threaded through the party area. A blond man with an intricate haircut and a European cut of clothes savored a beef-and-hollandaise concoction, made a face--as though we wanted him to--and judged it, "Yummy," in a verbal equivalent of flicking off lint.
I made my way to a room whose two video monitors repeated a continuous runway show, where a Vic Damone look-alike was chatting up a woman who was outfitted by Vuitton: some of the partygoers were making contrary fashion statements.
"Yoo-hoo, siiirrr," a gray-blond, flowsy-haired matron yelled out after a waiter, "can we have an hors d'oeuvre?" She wore black stretch knit that struggled to contain her midsection, and pulled along her male companion who seemed both horrified by and used to her behavior.
The catering was excellent. The waiters and waitresses maneuvered skillfully around the packed rooms, were cheerful, and saw to it that I had plenty to eat. They also ferried coats and briefcases and drink orders and, if that weren't enough, looked vaguely Chanel themselves: black skirts (or pants), white shirts, and black cummerbunds and ties.
A few women actually pulled out their vintage Chanel--suits and such--all of which still looks great. Coco Chanel was the Cubist of couture. She introduced sensible, comfortable garments that set women free from the orientalia that belittled female fashion to froufrou-dom. Chanel admired men's clothes, their tweeds and flannels. Hers are clothes that feel good to a man's hand.
The trademarks of the Chanel look are little black dresses, big black hair bows, crisp white shirts, cardigan suits, black quilted handbags with chain straps, costume jewelry; dresses and skirts in which stockinged legs look somehow bird-fragile yet wonderfully sexy. Jodie Foster looks great in Chanel.
At such a gathering I would have thought the women guests would have been careful about their own accessories. Not so. I saw more scuffed, badly designed purses and unfortunate footwear per square inch than anywhere save for the 22 Clark Street bus.
At the bar, a heavily powdered, expensively draped woman handed her full glass of white wine to the bartender and asked, "May I have a real drink? A good [by which she probably meant quantity but didn't want to say so] vodka and water with an olive or two?" And, turning away from the bar, greeted a friend, "Isn't this exciting . . ." with bewildering enthusiasm.
The room with the bar was outfitted with several fans to keep the air circulating. They took their toll, mussing hair and worse. A gust from one unsettled a ridiculous straw flat-top hat off an aged redhead, who recovered it with one hand and scooped hors d'oeuvres with the other, thanking the waiter for the "delicious crab salad thingies." The waiter accepted her praise as though he had made them himself, and as I was leaving, I heard them discuss the recipe, but I'm sure he was yanking her.
The party pulled some names: Susan Anderson showed up and acknowledged a woman who pleaded, "Oh, Susan, we miss you." Abra Prentice Wilkin looked very good indeed. I could be mistaken, but I believe the party was Sugar-free--but that doesn't make sense.
The matron in black knit had already smeared salmon mousse thigh-high on her port side, and she was explaining to her companions in her coloratura that where we were standing was not the Chanel boutique proper, but was rather part of Stanley Korshak, "who, incidentally, went out of business." She said that twice, presumably to indicate her business acumen. She pulled on her cigarette for emphasis, exhaled for punctuation, and glowered through her thick glasses for approval. Her companion, for whom I was developing deep sympathy, looked as though there wasn't enough vodka anywhere in the world.
As is often the case, the longer the party lasted the better-looking the guests got. More men showed up, dragged along by enthusiastic wives. The women cooed about the couture, the men made do with small talk. One gentleman, a casualty of a recent divorce, I suspect, was able to get out, "My life has changed, somewhat . . ." before the person he was talking to walked away.
But I was here to celebrate one of the only designers who's worth thinking about. She was a gal's gal and a guy's gal, strong evidence that an enthusiastically heterosexual woman can do a better job of draping women than a homosexual man. The store seems to me a guaranteed success: if a gentleman can't find something for his girlfriend here he has no business having a girlfriend in the first place. And maybe this is why:
A young woman, 19 or so, who wore her prettiness as though it didn't exist, with a light dusting of makeup and wearing a simple charcoal dress in light wool, took a tour of the store. I watched her finger some perfume to her pulse points. She turned around from the counter, smiling, fragrant with what Coco Chanel thought should be a woman's second scent, transformed: one hand was steadying her body against the counter, and the other hand was trembling.