Many years ago, someone very dear to me made their first trip to Paris to visit me. They were so excited about being in Paris and in awe of all of the sights they were seeing in person after a lifetime of seeing them in pictures, movies and books. At the same time, they were a little stunned that I was so matter-of-fact about it all. It was during that visit that I was tagged with the nickname “The Marquis de Blase”. Of course, I appreciate all that Paris has to offer: the history, architecture, the culture. However, after spending a good deal of my life in that spectacular city, I don’t share that excitement of discovery, of seeing something for the first time.
In fact, “The Marquis de Blase” is a nickname that fits me quite well. I’ve been around the block a few times and admittedly am a bit jaded. So, while I have a great appreciation for all of the places and experiences I come across in my life, it really takes a lot to fill me with true excitement and childlike awe. In traveling and searching out new shopping and dining venues, I find many places that I find interesting, intriguing and fun. But there are few places that feed my imagination enough to invoke that sense of awe.
Quite by accident, I stumbled upon one of those rare places just recently. I had to attend a meeting at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, a store that I had not been in for so long that it had been completely forgotten. After the valet took my car, I entered into the store and immediately found myself in an atmosphere of beauty, sophistication and luxury. This was the real deal, a department store that conjures up all of the glamour that old Hollywood was. Designed by architecht Paul R. Williams (a feat even more admirable since Mr. Williams was an African-American architect who was very successful despite the era of segregation. He also designed the Jetson’s style restaurant at LAX) for the stores opening in 1938, the store’s decor is true art-deco. My meeting was next door in the Men’s Store, but I was mesmerized. I found myself wandering through the store, up the escalators, marveling at the interiors. But it wasn’t only the interiors. The store has merchandise representative of all of the major designers and displays it beautifully. As much as I wanted to explore more, I knew that I had better head off to the Men’s Store for my meeting.
Darting across the street to the separate building that houses the Men’s Store, I was again taken aback by the beauty of the architecture. Housed in the former I. Magnin Beverly Hills store (sold to Saks in 1994), this is truly a monument to the art-deco era. Designed by architect Timothy Pflueger in 1939 (designer of the San Francisco I. Magnin, The Castro and El Rey Theaters as well), the store captures the era beautifully. You almost expect to see Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing through the aisles. The fashion show scene in the 1939 movie “The Women” was actually shot on the 2nd Floor of this store. The word elegance only begins to describe this store. As for the shopping, I was in love mode as well. Like the women’s store next door, the merchandise is beautifully showcased and displayed and calls out to you to dive in and explore. Also like the women’s store, all of the major designer lines are represented and each line shows the best representation of their lines.
In contrast, I recently went to a competitor’s store opening. Although the store was very nicely done (in a fairly generic version of their branding), the merchandise for men was so generic, that it left me cold. I literally had a hard time finding items that intrigued me or even made me consider whipping out my plastic. What that store lacked is exactly what the Saks Men’s Store in Beverly Hills delivers on, an intangible quality that I refer to as the YUM factor: merchandise that not only appeals to my aesthetics, but is so beautiful it elicits a total YUM emotion from me and I just have to have it. It’s the factor that cause credit cards to smoke and sometimes even burst into flames. As I strolled through the store, the “I want, I want, I want” went through my head like a mantra. Even Saks own Men’s Collection is beautifully styled and the attention to quality is evident.
Okay, I know some will scoff at this store as being, as I have read in some reviews, “ridiculously expensive”, but you have to weigh all of the variables. Saks has beautiful, quality merchandise in an atmosphere that is almost unparalleled. This is not your trip to the local discount store, it is almost a religious experience. It is shopping therapy at its best. In addition, Saks was originally started as a luxury store and it still delivers on that promise. And while I normally prefer to shop in boutiques and one-of-a-kind stores, there are a scant few department stores that manage to have qualities that make them irresistible. Saks Beverly Hills is one of those few. I for one want the whole beautiful, enticing, mind altering experience that Saks Beverly Hills has to offer. And what member of the Ladies Who Lunch (both male and female) would not consider it to be an obvious destination point.