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Strange Bedfellows: A-List Designers Slum it for Kohl’s, Target, H&M, and Payless

“Where’s the shopping mall?” I ask the nearest likely stranger, trapped as I am in a glass-towered office park on the other side of the Hudson—I’m in a whole different state! I have taken the PATH train (like the subway, but cheaper! Different!) to a stop called Pavonia/ Newport—is there even such a place?—to visit the nearest Kohl’s, a discounter with stores every place from Jonesboro, Arkansas, to Nampa, Idaho, to Owasso, Oklahoma, but none, alas, in Manhattan.

I’m on the trail of Kohl’s because I want to examine the Simply Vera line by Vera Wang. Wang is only one of a crop of A-list designers slumming in the cheap stores this season—the esoteric Englishwoman Alice Temperley has a deal with Target; the Italian roué Roberto Cavalli, he of the bejeweled tiger-striped caftans, has an arrangement with H&M; and every day the mail brings news of still more unlikely bedfellows. Erin Fetherston, a very sweet young woman (full disclosure: I like her! She likes me!) is set to debut her poufy confections— you look like an ice-cream sundae with legs, but in a good way—at Target later this season.

But it isn’t until I receive an invite to a party for Patricia Field for Payless that I feel this whole business has hit critical mass. Patricia Field, with the radioactive purple hair and the legendary boutiques staffed by drag queens, and Payless, whose former spokesperson is the wildly unhip once-bodacious-but-now-shrunken Star Jones?

If Pat can go to Payless, I can go to Jersey. So I embark on a series of mysterious elevators, travel down a concourse lined with places with names like Maggie Moo’s Ice Cream and Treatery, and arrive at Kohl’s, where I finally locate a lone employee who looks at me as if I’m a talking fish when I ask her where the Simply Vera stuff is. “Downstairs,” she snaps. Oh, am I upstairs?

But I finally find it, and suddenly the creepy hollow charmlessness of Kohl’s disappears and I am in a fantasyland where I buy simply everything—the trademark Vera bubble skirt, the ruffled cardigan, the bejeweled cotton shell, the smocked coat. It’s not readily apparent how much all this costs, since Kohl’s has a penchant for discounting prices by odd amounts—33 percent off, 55 percent off—and posting some but not all of the computations over the clothes. So a brocade coat, which looks exactly like the one Dries Van Noten has in his line at Barneys this season for around $2,000, is either $128 or 20 percent off that amount . . . but who cares? I pile my arms high and head for the deserted fitting rooms—no limit on the number of things you can try on because no one works here! I love it!

Though it is my original intention to buy everything, I end up purchasing nothing because (a) it all fits a little funny—though plenty of really expensive things fit funny too; and (b) if I change my mind—and I am a notorious shopping bulimic, buying and returning at a feverish pace—the inevitable returning will necessitate a trip to another state.

Still, I am strangely buoyed as I return to Manhattan and ready myself for my next adventure, a trip to Target in Brooklyn. “You’re not really even in Brooklyn!” a friend chides me when I arrive at Target on Atlantic Avenue, a destination that does not necessitate actually going out onto the street. “It’s like changing planes in O’Hare and saying you’ve been to Chicago.”

I am frankly very disappointed in this Target. There are no winsome Alice Temperley ensembles on display, though her designs are available on the Target website. In fact, the only designer whose wares I find, after a detour through the frozen-food department, is the stalwart Isaac Mizrahi, who found an unlikely home at Target after his own business tanked in 1998.

For better or worse, the Target-Isaac items evince the same hallmarks as the original Isaac line—double-knit jersey orange shift dresses, pink corduroy jackets, car coats straight out of Love Story—the whole collection an homage to American fashion design in the pre-hippie 1960s, an era that Mizrahi has always been inordinately fond of.

The truth is, he likes this era far more than I do. So I head back to my beloved Manhattan and straight to H&M, where I have over the years purchased more than a few items, including two identical chiffon flapper dresses from the Karl Lagerfeld for H&M collection, the collaboration that started it all. (I never wore either of them.)

Unfortunately, exhaustive searching does not turn up even one designer label. Disconsolate, I search H&M’s website, where I find out that I am just a little too early—on November 8, the Roberto Cavalli line is set to debut, an event heralded on HM.com with a short black-and-white film so sophisticated it could have been directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. (H&M knows it rules the world. It even has its own magazine, which this season focuses on Rome, and is confident enough to recommend other stores, among them Fendi— reasoning, quite rightly, that today’s shopper, no matter how much money she has, goes to both H&M and Fendi.)

You might argue that Kate Moss is, strictly speaking, not a designer, but because her personal style is so famous and because she has lent her name to a line issued by London’s Top Shop composed of clothes theoretically copied from Kate’s own closet—couture mixed with thrift-shop finds—I decide to go up to Barneys and take a look.

A funny thing happens when you’re in Barneys: So casually are four-figure price tags attached to T-shirts and ballet flats that after a half hour anything less than $1,000 seems cheap. Just as $128 feels pricey at Kohl’s, where under-$50 is the law of the land, the $380 Moss–Top Shop motorcycle jacket seems like a throwaway. The Moss items have an undeniable cool quotient—apparently Moss’s problems with narcotics only served to enhance her allure—even if she does ask $102 for a short-sleeved cardigan whose only arresting feature is its multicolored heart-shaped buttons.

Thankfully, no such daunting tags affix themselves to the Patricia Field for Payless shoes. At the launch party, held in Pat’s Bowery boutique, the usual suspects have been rounded up: guys in dresses, high-hatted dandies, sloe-eyed mini-skirted damsels swinging faux chain-handled Chanel bags. All of them are shoving their feet into the Payless shoes—even the men, one of whom, a big guy, claims that women’s size 11 fits him with room to spare. The style getting the most attention is a $55 platform boot, which features a high stacked heel covered in faux metallic snakeskin; they’re way too high for me, but I’m vaguely tempted by the matching $25 clutch purse lined in ersatz leopard.

I find Field chatting in a corner, beaming. She tells me that actually she’s been styling Payless’s advertising campaigns for years—who knew?—and that they’re such nice people, “they’re like from Kansas or something.”

So are these styles just for the Bowery, or will her platforms platform at the Payless in Wichita? She looks uncertain. “I guess so. Why not?”

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Trapped in the Closet

DAY ONE

6:11 Fashion Week is finally here! Though the official start isn’t until tomorrow, lots of designers are jumping the gun, including Form, which has set up an installation in the courtyard of the Soho Grand Hotel featuring mannequins wearing floating frocks and shoes made of cracked mirrors. “It’s modular constructivism! The infinite patterns of geometric shapes—limitlessness!” the designer explains with little prompting.

8:12 Receive an e-mail telling me the Mao
Magazine party has been postponed until Saturday. Start to wonder why so many fashion businesses are named after left-wing movements. What twisted notions of irony have given rise not just to Mao PR, but People’s Revolution PR, and the highly trendy Socialista club on West Street, where the launch party for Nina Garcia’s Little Black Book of Style is being held tomorrow night?

8:50 Am fashionably late to the Van Cleef & Arpels party at the Manhattan Center—too fashionably late, it turns out. The whole building is bathed in lavender light, laser renderings of $100,000 brooches are projected over the Quiznos across 34th Street, and the FDNY insists that no one else is getting in. It turns out this isn’t strictly the case: Though there are thousands of us clamoring at the gates—such is the chaos that the two PR girls in charge throw up their hands, throw out their lists, and simply walk away—Mischa Barton, dripping in Van Cleef jewels, is swept in, fire department or no fire department. Why Mischa and not Lynnie? I am livid. I spot a colleague who tells me that even if I do get in, I’ve missed the show—”Dancing girls! Bare titties! Models with dogs!” When I finally gain entrance, I chat with a Van Cleef guy who is wearing a big diamond pin on his lapel and says wistfully that he’s hoping it will start a trend. I stay for the performance of a prepubescent Parisian punk band called the Plasticines and trip over a broken champagne glass. “Ashley Olsen left,” I hear an employee say dolefully into her earpiece.

DAY TWO

1:10 Here is who is sitting at my table for the luncheon honoring Lanvin’s Alber Elbaz at the Rainbow Room: me, Paper magazine editor Kim Hastreiter, Iris Apfel, the octogenarian legend whose wild way of putting clothes together garnered her a one-woman exhibit at the Met’s Costume Institute, and three women who look like they haven’t taken a bite since 1956. Elbaz is clearly in the camp with Kim, Iris, and me—he makes a speech in which he declares that he hates sports, loves eating, and wants to make sure everyone has noticed his funny gold shoes. After his talk, a guest comes up to me and thanks me profusely for all the pleasure my work has given her—turns out she thinks I’m Zandra Rhodes. This is an improvement over last night, where a breathless young girl insisted I was Isabel Blow, which is very flattering except that she is dead.

2:35 A model is sporting wrist restraints at the Alexandre Herchcovitch show.

3:41 A model kicks off an excruciating high heel at the Erin Fetherston show and completes her runway walk with one shoe only.

5:22 The LCD ticker in the Bryant Park tent reads “Plastic skin—it has a little reflection so it’s not dewy but it’s not matte either,” a sentiment offered by the designer for the fashion line Grey Ant.

9:02 Stop by at a party for a magazine held in a private home in the West Village which I have not, strictly speaking, been invited to. There’s a lily pond permanently embedded in the parlor floor.

9:46 Drag up to Tommy Hilfiger’s party at MOMA. Stay five minutes.

DAY THREE

2:58 They’re serving beers on silver trays at the Preen show—Budweiser is a sponsor. When I suggest sourly that the parade of dull beige we’ve seen thus far this week (jumpsuits! drawstrings!) is a reflection of the fact that we’re at war, the editor next to me—a big deal at a big-deal magazine—responds, “Yes, and the planet’s falling apart.”

4:28 At Yeohlee, my seatmate, who is affecting a denim-and-diamonds look, whispers, “Are you a cape person?”

5:31 Jenni Kayne lines her models up tableau vivant style, a revival of a 19th-century technique that allowed our Victorian forefathers to gawk at ladies in flesh-colored leotards in re-creations of paintings like Rape of the Sabine Women. Kayne’s ladies, all of whom sport stick-straight hair, have been standing like animals at the zoo for almost two hours; a few seem about to burst into tears.

9:12 At her after-show dinner, Erin Fetherston confirms my unerring knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. “So how much did that MOMA party suck?” I ask her. “Oh no,” she replies, “right after you left, Debbie Harry did an acoustic set for like an hour.”

DAY FOUR

10:35 The program at the Vera Wang show says her collection continues “to explore the vibrancy and seduction of ancient Rome.” I actually have a Wang skirt, which I rarely wear and which was inspired by the fact that it was on triple markdown. Luckily, Vera Wang has just designed a line for Kohl’s that will necessitate a field trip not to classical Italy, but to the nearest Kohl’s, which is in Secaucus—something to do when Fashion Week is over!

4:17 Crawling down West 37th Street in the taxi after the J Mendel show, I look out the window and see a perfect, lovely-looking red-and-white dress in the window of a place called Ziani Couture for $10.

6:12 “You need to get in line! Nobody’s getting in unless you get in line!” the security guy screams at the Baby Phat show. Nevertheless, I see Ivana Trump and her escort, who is wearing a heavily encrusted diamond watch, sail right in. Then, suddenly, over a sea of bobbing heads, the big guy points at me—and I am swept inside. I feel like Mischa Barton, minus the Van Cleef jewelry.

DAY FIVE

3:22 “This is the only Rodarte I’ll ever own,” says the woman sitting next to me, who works for the museum at FIT, fingering the white shirt the Rodarte sisters made for the Gap last summer. It’s 2,000 degrees in the Chelsea loft where Rodarte is showing, my hair gel is running down my face—so elegant!—and I’m craning my neck to see if I can spot the model I overheard on the 23rd Street crosstown bus on the way over: “I got seven shows,” she lamented to a photographer. “I already walked in five of them—all shitty.”

5:45 I am desperate to take a gander at His Royal Highness Prince Sultan Abdulaziz D’Na, whose lengthy moniker adorns a front-row seat at the ThreeAsFour show, but either he is a no-show or the guy in shorts and none-too-fresh-looking tee, chewing gum and slurping from a water bottle, is a genuine prince.

8:37 At the Warhol Factory X Levi’s X Damien Hirst show at the Gagosian gallery, a journalist asks brightly what I think Hirst should do next. “Diamond dildos!” says the guy next to me, not missing a beat. “Chanel suits made of Play-Doh?” I finally offer weakly. This tribe of reporters and bloggers trolling the crowd asking questions on the order of “Can you rank the upcoming trends on a scale of 1 to 10?” and “What’s your favorite thing so far this week?” makes me feel like Edward R. Murrow.

DAY SIX

5:41 “Big girls, you are beautiful—you take a girl, multiply by four, now a lot of woman needs a whole lot more,” booms Mika while the requisite giraffes and gazelles amble down the runway at Diane Von Furstenberg. Which leads me to wonder: Does DVF make plus-sized garments?

6:52 “The journey that we all partake from moment to moment. From day to day, from person to person, from space to place. With each step, we gradually work our way into an experience,” reads the program notes at the Philip Lim show. Huh? Oh well, maybe these steps will lead me to a better seat at Marc Jacobs tomorrow night. I mean, what with Jane magazine folding, shouldn’t I move up at least one row?

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The Senators and Mr. Vague

After all those hours of senatorial grilling, how has Judge Samuel Alito done? It depends on whom you ask. The Republicans are impressed with the Supreme Court nominee. The Democrats are frustrated. And most high school sophomores are somewhere between delighted and confused because they probably could have ridden most of Alito‚Äôs vague answers to an easy A in civics class. But then again, they surely couldn’t use the concept of stare decisis as a stiff arm as confidently as Alito. Here’s a sampling of Alito’s more mind-boggling ambiguities.

1. Alito, in response to Senator Arlen Specter’s questions about a woman’s right to choose an abortion and the right to privacy in the Constitution:

I do agree that the Constitution protects a right to privacy. And it protects the right to privacy in a number of ways. The Fourth Amendment certainly speaks to the right of privacy. People have a right to privacy in their homes and in their papers and in their persons. And the standard for whether something is a search is whether there’s an invasion of a right to privacy, a legitimate expectation of privacy.

2. Alito, in response to the Specter’s asking about the significance of reliance on abortion (as stated in Casey v. Planned Parenthood):

I think the doctrine of stare decisis is a very important doctrine. It’s a fundamental part of our legal system. And it’s the principle that courts in general should follow their past precedents. And it’s important for a variety of reasons. It’s important because it limits the power of the judiciary. It’s important because it protects reliance interests. And it’s important because it reflects the view that courts should respect the judgments and the wisdom that are embodied in prior judicial decisions. It’s not an exorable command, but it is a general presumption that courts are going to follow prior precedents.

Well, reliance is, as you mentioned, Mr. Chairman, one of the important foundations of the doctrine of stare decisis. It is intended to protect reliance interests.

And people can rely on judicial decisions in a variety of ways. There can be concrete economic reliance. Government institutions can be built up in reliance on prior decisions. Practices of agencies and government officials can be molded based on reliance. People can rely on decisions in a variety of ways.

3. Alito, in response to yet another Specter question connecting former Chief Justice Rehnquist’s opinion on the Miranda case to Roe v. Wade, for both are “embedded in the culture of our society”:

I think he getting at — he was right in saying that reliance can take many forms. It can take a very specific and concrete form, and there can be reliance in the sense that he was talking about there.

I think what [Rehnquist’s] talking about is that a great many people — and, in that instance, police departments around the country over a long period of time — had adapted to the Miranda rule, had internalized it. I think that all the branches of government had become familiar with it and comfortable with it and had come to regard it as a good way, after a considerable breaking in period, a good way of dealing with a difficult problem, and the problem was how to deal with interrogations leading to confessions. . . .

4. Alito, in response to Specter’s question concerning Alito’s 1986 statement that “since the president’s approval is just as important as that of the House or Senate, it seems to follow that the president’s understanding of the bill should be just as important as that of Congress”:

I think the most important part of the memo that you’re referring to is a fairly big section that discusses theoretical problems. And it consists of a list of questions. And many of the questions are the questions that you just raised.

And in that memo, I said, “This is an unexplored area, and here are the theoretical questions that” — and, of course, they are of more than theoretical importance — “that arise in this area.”

That memo is labeled a rough first effort at stating the position of the administration. I was writing there on behalf of a working group that was looking into the question of implementing a decision that had already been made by the attorney general to issue signing statements for the purpose of weighing in on the meaning of statutes.

And in this memo, as I said, it was a rough first effort, and the biggest part of it, to my mind, was the statement: “There are difficult theoretical interpretive questions here, and here they are.” And had I followed up on it — and I don’t believe I had the opportunity to pursue this issue further during my time in the Justice Department — it would have been necessary to explore all those questions.

5. Alito in response to Senator Patrick Leahy’s concerns about Alito’s membership in the anti-coeducation Concerned Alumni of Princeton, day two:

Well, Senator, I have wracked my memory about this issue, and I really have no specific recollection of that organization.

But since I put it down on that statement, then I certainly must have been a member at that time.

But if I had been actively involved in the organization in any way, if I had attended meetings, or been actively involved in any way, I would certainly remember that, and I don’t.

And I have tried to think of what might have caused me to sign up for membership. And if I did, it must have been around that time.

And the issue that had rankled me about Princeton for some time was the issue of ROTC. I was in ROTC when I was at Princeton, and the unit was expelled from the campus, and I thought that was very wrong. I had a lot of friends who were against the war in Vietnam, and I respected their opinions, but I didn’t think that it was right to oppose the military for that reason.

And the issue — although the Army unit was eventually brought back, the Navy and the Air Force units did not come back, and the issue kept coming up. And there were people who were strongly opposed to having any unit on campus.
And the attitude seemed to be that the military was the bad institution, and that Princeton was too good for the military, and that Princeton would somehow be sullied if people in uniform were walking around the campus, that the courses didn’t merit getting credit, that the instructors shouldn’t be viewed as part of the faculty.

And that was the issue that bothered me about that.

Well, Senator, as you said, from what I now know about the group, it seemed to be dedicated to the idea of bringing back the Princeton that existed at a prior point in time. And as you said, somebody from my background would not have been comfortable in an institution like that, and that certainly was not any part of my thinking in whatever I did in relation to this group.

6. Alito again on Concerned Alumni of Princeton, day three, with Senator Richard J. Durbin:

I’ve said what I can say about what I can recall about this group, Senator, which is virtually nothing.

I put it down on the ’85 form as a group in which I was a member. I didn’t say I was anything more than a member. And since I put it down, I’m sure that I was a member at the time.

But I’m also sure — and I have wracked my memory on this, that if I had participated in the group in any active way, if I had attended meetings or done anything else substantial in connection with this group, I would remember it.
And if I had repeated — if I had renewed my membership, for example, over a period of years, I’m sure I would remember that.

So that’s the best I can reconstruct as to what happened with this group.

I mentioned in wracking my memory about this, I said, “What would it have been, what could it have been about the administration of Princeton that would have caused me to sign up to be a member of this group around the time of this application?” And I don’t have a specific recollection, but I do know that the issue of ROTC has bothered me for a long period of time. The expulsion during the time of the units, at the time when I was a student there, struck me as a very bad thing for Princeton to do.

I did not join this group, I’m quite confident, because of any attitude toward women or minorities.

What has bothered me about — what bothered me about the Princeton administration over a period of time was the treatment of ROTC. And after the unit was brought back, I know there’s been a continuing controversy over a period of years about whether it would be kept on campus, whether in any way this was demeaning to the university to have an ROTC unit on campus, whether students who were enrolled in ROTC could receive credit for the courses, whether the ROTC instructors could be considered in any way a part of the faculty.

All of this bothered me, and it is my recollection that it continued over a period of time.

7. Alito, in response to Senator Orrin Hatch’s query about Alito’s “judicial philosophy”:

I think that my philosophy of the way I approached issues is to try to make sure that I get right what I decide. And that counsels in favor of not trying to do too much, not trying to decide questions that are too broad, not trying to decide questions that don’t have to be decided, and not going to broader grounds for a decision when a narrower ground is available.

8. Alito, in response to Senator Herbert Kohl’s question about the ideal judicial view of the law and of the Constitution:

I think that the Constitution contains both some very specific provisions, and there the job of understanding what the provision means and applying it to new factual situations that come up is relatively easy.

The Constitution sets age limits, for example, for people who want to hold various federal offices and there can’t be much debate about what that means or how it applies.

But it also contains some broad principles: no unreasonable search and seizures, the guarantee that nobody will be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, equal protection of the laws. And in those instances, it is the job of the judiciary to try to understand the principle and apply it to the new situations that come before the judiciary.

I think the judiciary has to do that in a neutral fashion. I think judges have to be wary about substituting their own preferences, their own policy judgments for those that are in the Constitution.

They have to identify the principle that is to be applied under these broader provisions of the Constitution and apply it, but I don’t see that as being the same thing as the judges injecting his or her policy views or preferences or ideas about the direction in which the society should be moving into the decision-making process.

9. Alito, in response to Senator Kohl’s query about Alito’s statement that he believed “very strongly” in one element of the conservative philosophy, the “legitimacy of a government role in protecting traditional values,” and Kohl’s request that he define traditional values:

I’m trying to remember what I thought about that 20 years ago, and I’m trying to reconstruct it.

I think a traditional value that I probably had in mind was the ability to live in peace and safety in your neighborhood. And that was a big issue during the time of the Warren court. And it was still a big issue in 1985 when I wrote that statement, because that was a time of very high crime rates. I think that’s a traditional value.

I think the ability of people to raise a family and raise their children in accordance with their own beliefs is a traditional value. I think the ability to raise children in a way that they’re not only subjected to — they’re spared physical threats, but also psychological threats that can come from elements in the atmosphere, is a traditional value. I think that the ability to practice your own conscience is a traditional value.

That’s the best I can reconstruct it now, thinking back to 1985.

10. Alito, in response to Senator Michael DeWine’s question about the role of the judiciary in reviewing congressional fact-finding:

I think that the judiciary should have great respect for findings of fact that are made by Congress. And in the Rybar decision that I was discussing earlier, although it is controversial and it involved an application of the Lopez decision, I state that that decision would have been very different — that case would have been very different for me if Congress had made findings.

And that’s because of two things. I am fully aware of the fact that the members of the judiciary are not the officers in the United States who take an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. The members of Congress take an oath to support the Constitution and officers of the executive branch take an oath to support the Constitution. And I presume that they go about their work in good faith.

The second point, and this goes directly to the issue of findings, is that the judiciary is not equipped at all to make findings about what’s going on in the real world, not just sort of legislative findings. And Congress, of course, is in the best position to do that. You have constituents. Members of Congress hear from their constituents. Congress can have hearings and examine complex social issues, receive statistical data, hear testimony from experts, analyze that and synthesize that and reduce that to findings.

And when Congress makes findings on questions that have a bearing on the constitutionality of legislation, I think they are entitled to great respect.

11. In response to Senator Sam Brownback’s query about how Alito views and interprets the Constitution:

I think the Constitution means something. And I don’t think it means whatever I might want it to mean or whatever any other member of the judiciary might want it to mean.

It has its own meaning. And it is the job of a judge, the job of a Supreme Court justice, to interpret the Constitution, not distort the Constitution, not add to the Constitution or subtract from the Constitution.

In interpreting the Constitution, I think we should proceed in the way we proceed in interpreting other important legal authorities; in interpreting statutes, for example. I think we should look to the text of the Constitution, and we should look to the meaning that someone would have taken from the text of the Constitution at the time of its adoption.

But I think we have to recognize that the Constitution is very different from statutes in some important respects.

Statutes are often very detailed, and they generally don’t exist without revision for very long periods of time.

The Constitution was adopted to endure throughout the history of our country. And considering how long our country has existed, it’s been amended relatively few times.

And the magic of that, I think, is that it sets out a basic structure for our government and protects fundamental rights. But on a number of very important issues, I think the framers recognized that times would change, new questions would come up. And so they didn’t purport to adopt a detailed code, for example, governing searches and seizures. That was the example I gave yesterday, and I’ll come back to it.

They could have set out a detailed code of search and seizure; they didn’t do that. They said that the people are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures, and they left it for the courts — and, of course, the legislative body can supplement this — to apply that principle to the new situations that come up.

Now, when that is done, that doesn’t amount to an amendment of the Constitution or a changing of the Constitution. It involves the application of a constitutional principle to the situation at hand.