Our intrepid heroine braves the jungles of NYC, and emerges
triumphant with some trophies and scars.
Part II - Sephora and H&M
The next morning, I saw in the mirror the aftereffects of my quest for T.
LeClerc face powder. The hours of walking in the sun were about to turn my hair
into Ginger Spice's, circa 1997! I watched in horror the red-highlighted strands
in front already turning brassy. There was only one thing to do: an emergency
trip to Sephora. More precisely, Sephora
at Rockefeller Center, the three-story, 20,000 square foot global flagship store,
conveniently located within walking distance of the hotel, and, as it turns
out, right across the street from H&M's
first U.S. store.
First, what's Sephora? Second, what's H&M?
Sephora is where makeup junkies who have been really, really good, go after
they die. Sephora is also where really, really bad makeup junkies go to while
alive. H&M is where you go shopping for clothes after maxing out your plastic
at Sephora. H&M is the place to shop if are planning to go clubbing in Ibiza
with a suitcase full of clothing which can be forgotten at the beach without
undue trauma to one's finances (I am sure Ann Landers can deal with the other
Sephora started out in France in 1993. Given the stereotypes of snooty French
salespersons, perhaps it makes sense that a self-service, high-end cosmetics
store would originate there. The concept soon spread and currently it is the
leading chain store in France, with 143 stores. It was acquired by luxury goods
conglomerate LVMH in 1997, and arrived in the U.S. in mid-1998 with the opening
of stores in New York City and Miami. One of the fabulous Miller sisters, Pia
Miller Getty, was tapped to be "Creative Ambassador" for Sephora in
the U.S., adding socialite cachet to the brand.
Sephora has expanded in the U.S. to the extent of now there being Sephora stores
in most major shopping malls. Thus my initial exposure to Sephora was through
my local mall, and while the store was interesting to visit, I did not consider
it anything too special. The usually teenaged staff could not provide much help
regarding the profusion of products on sale. For actual purchases, I continued
to traipse over to Nordstrom and my favorite Prescriptives sales associate,
who was always knowledgeable and helpful regarding various cosmetics lines.
But what's a girl to do when she is in an unfamiliar city with no favorite
sales associates in sight? Check out Sephora, of course.
When I walked into Sephora, I had a clear goal: to purchase sunscreen that
would protect the fresh highlights and transparent red coloring in my hair done
only a week ago. When I walked out, my bag contained:
- Too Faced lipstick in Drop Dead Red
- Too Faced lip liner in Drag Queen
- BeneFit Lemon Aid
- BeneFit Lip Plump
- BeneFit Dr. Feelgood
- Sephora Artist All Over Color #81
- J. F. Lazartigue Protective Hair Cream SPF 10
Sadly, they were out of the Vincent Longo Lip Stain in Terra, a sheer red lipstick
I craved desperately, which I would have otherwise purchased.
So why did I buy at this Sephora store, when I had not at my local one, nor
even the Sephora in Times Square? Two words: customer service. The Rockefeller
Center Sephora had attentive sales associates at hand to help me find the perfect
pastel blue eyeshadow, or select several different red lipsticks and demonstrate
their color differences. The displays were well-kept, with the testers in good
condition. This was in marked contrast to the Sephora in Times Square, which
was absolute chaos. One reason for the profusion of people was that a fair number
were dropping in to get their faces done using the testers and leaving without
purchasing anything. Of course this meant the displays and testers were a mess,
with some of the items for sale already opened and used.
Later I checked sephora.com but the Vincent
Longo was sold out, and I consoled myself with Givenchy Laque Miroir lip gloss
and Transparent Miroir lipstick. Which brings me to a peeve about Sephora, although
admittedly some consider it one of its charms: the variation in selection in
stores and the website. For example, my local store did not carry any Givenchy
items in the Miroir line, hence I had to order from their website. The website
has an extensive selection, offers free shipping for orders of $40 or above,
and my order came beautifully packaged. A definite plus was that a pre-paid,
pre-addressed return label was included. In my opinion sephora.com
will be even more perfect when it starts carrying Yves Saint Laurent products
other than perfume.
Once upon a time, in a small town in Sweden called Västerås, there lived a
gentleman by the name of Erling Persson. Impressed by the consumer culture in
the U.S., in 1947 he opened a womenswear store called Hennes (Swedish for 'hers').
The business did pretty well, and he decided to expand into Stockholm by acquiring
a hunting and gun store called Mauritz Widforss. It turned out some menswear
came with the other stuff, so he renamed his company Hennes & Mauritz, and
kept the menswear line but got rid of the hunting gear and firearms.
The business grew and grew. Erling's son Stefan joined the company, and pretty
soon they had over 600 stores in 14 countries, mostly in Northern Europe. One
bright day, March 31, 2000, to be exact, they opened a store on Fifth Avenue.
The rest is a stampede.
I confess to being puzzled at the madhouse that is the H&M on Fifth Avenue,
the long lines for dressing rooms, the long lines at the cash register, the
throngs of people waiting for the store to open. This is in marked contrast
to the almost empty Gap store down the block. While on business trips to Europe,
and especially Scandinavia, although constantly assaulted by ubiquituous H&M
billboards and bus stop ads, I was not especially tempted to visit the stores.
The reason was that the clothes did not do much for me then, and they still
don't. At the New York City store, caught up in the moment, I did purchase a
camisole top and a knee-length jersey skirt at H&M. I returned both items
the next day.
H&M has been described as the "Ikea of clothing," an unsurprising
comparison, given their common Swedish origins and commitment to cheap chic.
H&M clothes are certainly of the moment, and affordable, but are they a
good value? My answer is no. The reasons for my answer are that I am not a young
urban hipster, nor do I have the body of a Swedish teenager. I am short and
curvy, of an age where clubbing is no longer one of my regular pursuits, and
in a profession where a bright orange mesh shirt and a python print miniskirt
are not considered appropriate office attire.
H&M does carry more staid items, but again, I do not consider these a good
value. I can do much better shopping the sales at Banana
Republic or J. Crew, where I can obtain items
that will last beyond one season, and one washing.
"Freedom, Beauty, and Pleasure"
"Fashion and Quality at the Best Price"