It was just one of those days again where I couldn’t stand the idea of staying in stuffy classroom, studying what I felt to be irrelevant material. I was far too tired to stay awake during class, soI went out to do a little shopping instead. I ended up at Fifth Avenue, New York City’s high-end shopping thoroughfare.
Ever since I had heard of Turnbull & Asser, I wanted to get a bespoke pair of gloves and custom scarf. I decided that this day would be the day that I would venture out to see what my options were.
I got out of the Fifth Avenue train station. One of the first things that struck me about the windy gray day (can you tell that I love writing about rainy days?) was the smell. I exited right near Central Park, and the air reeked of horse manure or some other rank existence. It wasn’t pleasant, especially not when I’m a fresh air fiend. It was a little bit early for the shops to be open, so I sat down on a bench. At my back were those iconic pockmarked gray stones tinged with moss that make up the outer wall of Central Park. The wind was pushing around the shopping bags of the rich and flapping the thin nylon of tourists’ windbreakers. A fashionable Japanese woman walked up the bench next to me and took a picture of something, and a man in a red windbreaker swept puddles of leaf infested rain along the curb. I wondered if I would ever be a tourist some place, if I would ever travel to some foreign land to see the sights.It was time to leave for Turnbull & Asser though. I made my way to 42 East 57th Street. Before I got to the door, I admired some of the shoes they had displayed in the window. As nice as they were, they didn’t quite fit my own personal style, and I was not looking for dress shoes as I already own a pair of Allen Edmonds Soho shoes: a handsome and formal captoe. Moving on, I reached to pull open the door. To my surprise, I was rudely interrupted by a lock. I looked at the sign: Mondays through Fridays, they were open at 10 to 6. My watch said it was five after, so I peered inside. I didn’t see anyone, but I did see a doorbell and pressed it. A fellow came to answer the door.For those of you who don’t know about Turnbull & Asser, they are a British clothier (as if the name didn’t already give away their heritage). Considering that they are rather exclusive, with locations in only two others aside from the one I was visiting, I damn nearly expected the folks working there to be British. Hell, I thought they’d be asking me if I would care for a cup of tea when I stepped in.
Alas, such attentions were not available to me. In fact, my whole experience at Turnbull & Asser was underwhelming. It seemed that nobody wanted to do their job. All of the employees were minding their own business. Now, considering this the type of place where they keep the door locked and have to buzz you in, I might understand if I looked like some type of riffraff who wasn’t exactly going to buy anything. But I came here in my bespoke suit (with waistcoat and tie no less) with the complete intention of making a few purchases. I was told via email that they had bespoke gloves and scarves, and that was what I was here for.
Unfortunately, I browsed aimlessly with little guidance or assistance through their little haberdashery. The establishment itself was nicely decorated. The wine red carpeting and warm orange-brown walnut paneling adorned a small and comfy space. The neat shelves made efficient use of the space. The architectural design reminded me of a study or a small library in a wealthy person’s mansion. I browsed their small selection of silk knots and silk logs after I had noted that I should purchase a pair of socks that I had asked about. Unfortunately, the burgundy silk log I wanted was missing its mate. While I was digging through the pile for the matching piece, the criminal use of sleight of hand crossed my mind.
One of the few words spoken to me while I was at Turnbull & Asser was to tell me that the shirts were upstairs on the second floor. I didn’t care much for shirts, as I preferred to purchase my shirts bespoke from Michael Andrews Bespoke. Even so, I went upstairs to have a gander. I noticed that there was some seemingly promotional print behind a framed pane of glass, saying something about James Bond. I didn’t bother to read it thoroughly and passed it. There was nobody on the second floor. Had I wished to purchase some shirts, there would be nobody to complete the sale. There was a mirror though, and I took the opportunity to preen and adjust my appearance, since nobody was around anyway.
Up on the third floor was where the bespoke section was, which was what I was here for anyway. I walked up another flight of stairs. Right off the third floor landing was a small bar, and right next to it was a little nook set into the wall where two prim looking leather chairs sat. Between the chairs was a small wooden table that held various magazines, as well as a spread of matte black brochures that contained literature about Turnbull & Asser’s bespoke services.
I entered into the back of the third floor. An older gentleman was taking his time sorting through various shirts. Good manners dictate that he should look up from his work to greet me in my initial presence. However, he seemed a little too absorbed in his work. I looked at a table that had on it various umbrella handles and a swatch of material, presumably for the canopy. Moments later, I turned, and only then did the fellow say hello. I returned the salutation and walked across the small room to look at some gloves and scarves. While I ran my fingers over the broad expanses smooth cashmere that came in so many vibrant colors, I thought to myself that customer service and salesmanship could most certainly improve here. Taking matters into my own hands, I spoke to the fellow, who was still folding shirts.
It turned out that they did not do bespoke gloves or scarves. I was incredibly disappointed. I did however find out about the umbrellas. I was intrigued and very much wanted a nice umbrella to match my nice suit and nice shoes and nice accessories. However, the cost was prohibitive, even for a fiscally irresponsible person such as myself: it would take four to five weeks and $500 to get my hands on one of those umbrellas. Considering how many shirts I could get at Michael Andrews Bespoke for that price, and considering that I probably would dress down on rainy days in any case, I opted not to spring for an umbrella, as tempted as I was.
When I returned to the first floor to purchase my wool socks, ones that go over the calf, I asked if they had a restroom. The young associate, who seemed far friendlier than the other fellows, directed me to it. It was quite a nice bathroom. Not only was it spacious, it smelled pleasant. The deep green marble tiles swirled with white, and the same walnut trim lent its warmth to the room. The walls were decorated in what seemed to be vintage newspaper clippings and advertisements for Turnbull & Asser. I washed my hands some pearly white soap that was dispensed from a fancy looking bottle. They even had lotion, if one were so inclined. Before leaving the restroom I combed my hair, which had been mussed and fussed with by the wind.
I left the store with only a $35 pair of wool socks. My experienceatTurnbull & Asser was entirely disappointing and underwhelming. The lack of service reminded me why I much preferred a small place like Michael Andrews Bespoke: personal service. Even if the studio was busy, the folks there would find time to help me order a new shirt and to answer any questions I might have. At Turnbull & Asser, the employees lacked presence.
I looked at my watch and determined that it was far too early to retire to my home, so I instead wandered around a little bit. I walked down Fifth Avenue and eventually made my way to Madison Avenue. This is when I saw the thick, large white letters of Mont Blanc. I needed a better writing instrument: my Cross ballpoint pen, as shiny as it was in its silver glory, was not cutting it. I desired a more flowing writing experience.
I approached the doors and a tallish black gentleman in a long coat opened the door for me, welcoming me to Mont Blanc. I felt uneasy about it and felt that I was more than capable of opening the door for myself: all I was holding was a the little bag from Turnbull & Asser. I got out of the light drizzle of rain sprinkling down onto the streets and entered the boutique. The glossy black cases and clean off-white counters gave off a luxurious feel. It was different than the warmth of Turnbull & Asser. Mont Blanc, with its hard tile floors and contrasting blacks and whites, brought a certain crispness of image.
I was introduced to a rotund woman who appeared to be of Southeast Asian descent. We walked through the various pens. As is consistent with my very picky nature, only two types of pens really appealed to me. I was trying to decide between a fountain pen (which I wanted very much) and a rollerball pen. As much as the style and aesthetic of the fountain pen appealed to me (I really liked the retractable nib), function dictates that I get the rollerball. The ink of the fountain pen takes too long to dry and would smudge in my cahier notebook. No, the rollerball would serve my needs much better.
The lady who helped me with the pens was knowledgeable about her products, that much was sure. However, she didn’t really seem to be much of a salesperson. There were many moments during my buying process that, should I have been in her shoes as a salesperson, I would’ve gone in and closed the sale. It was also a funny thing though to hear the sales lady deflect my question on a discounted price should I decide to purchase a set of the pens. She spun some line about how their products do not depreciate in value.
She did do one thing right though: she showed me a leather briefcase that wasn’t actually on display. I fell in love with it right away: it was small, light, and elegant. It was a far better suit for me than the larger Prada case I had home. As a light traveler, I normally bring nothing more than a couple of papers, a book, and my MacBook Air with me. This briefcase would fit all of that, and nothing more.
Finally, I would also add a leather card case to my purchases at Mont Blanc. I had walked in there expecting to buy only a pen bit ended up with two additional leather goods along with a Mont Blanc Meisterstuck Platinum Line Classique.
I left the Mont Blanc boutique with a rather large and unwieldy shopping bag. I made my way to the Allen Edmonds store to see if they had a casual yet dressy pair of shoes I liked. I didn’t, and the saleswoman there was very much a bullshitter. I asked her about some unsightly impresssions in the leather on the toe of the Delrays she showed me. She replied that it would not be visible on the black ones, and I didn’t believe her at all. In sly tones colored by an accent I couldn’t quite place, she subtly insisted that it was a very good shoe that was perfect for my needs. I estimated that this short curvy woman with a tannish-olive complexion was possibly from North Africa, possibly Moroccan. For some very odd reason, despite the fact that I was not consciously attracted to her, an odd though popped into my mind: I imagined that she was the type of woman who liked to be on top. No, images of copulation or her naked skin did not rouse from my imagination; only that one single notion, unattached with any personal lascivious interest.
I left the store without making a purchase, but I did take her business card. And according to her last name (which I only just now searched for it) it would appear that my guess was accurate. Without any hope of a decent casual shoe, I moved on next door to a different shoe store. I looked inside. The light yellow maple panels laid into the floor were reminiscent of a basketball court. The bright lights looked like they belonged in a gym. Puffy lime green couches surrounded the blue support columns. The place was decidedly much more casual than the other stores I had been to that day. Yet it would also be one of my most pleasant experiences.
I was greeted upon entering, and I nodded and smiled politely. On the left were the men’s shoes. In a very short amount of time, I was asked by an employee if I needed any help. I turned to him and saw that he was a tall fellow with an athletic build, a handsome black fellow with a light complexion. He had a great smile. I told him that I was looking for a casual shoe as my eye was drawn toward a dark brown pair. The shoes had two lines of stitching running along each side. Picking up the shoe, I showed him that I was looking for something like it, but in black.
He asked me what size shoe I wear, but segued smoothly into how they “do things differently around here”. He had me take my shoes off and stand on some type of technological doohickey. It consisted of a metal casing that divided a black mat into two, forming two boxes. I placed each foot into the separate zones and stood there for a while. In less than a minute, the results of my standing test were displayed on the flatscreen monitor mounted above me on the column. It was a pressure graph of my feet.
The salesman explained in great detail all of the things wrong with my feet, from my supination to the severity of the red spots of unusually high pressure. He told that I had a collapsed arch and laughed that it sounded much worse than it really was. I examined his words closely and judged that he was thoroughly knowledgeable, a real professional salesperson if I ever saw one.
After this little analysis of my feet, we were able to get me a proper pair of orthotics to correct my poor walking form. And after all of the many shoes he brought out for me, I ended up going with the cognac Ecco Miamis that I first grabbed. An attentive salesman, he offered me a couple of free plastic shoe horns as a “promotional item” because he saw that I used them every time I put my shoes on. He was incredibly friendly and adaptive to my needs. He was an outstanding salesperson and I deeply appreciated his efforts and abilities.
I went home that day with a lot of new merchandise. Perhaps it’s a little sexist to say, but I felt like a woman, with new shoes and a new leather bag to show for my hours of shopping. The average man probably wouldn’t enjoy shopping for accessories and shoes, but I did, and very much so. I spent four hours experiencing a little bit of the higher end of consumerism on Fifth Avenue.