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Still, from the outside, Cartier has nothing to complain about: Mexx's windows are a quiet study in black. Inside, salespeople actually stop and say, "May I help you," a custom nearly extinct even at places like Saks. Alas, the downside of all this relative refinement is that a lot of the clothes are exceedingly dull. The sad fact is, without all the bells and whistles of expensive fabric and clever sewing, it's hard for basic black to be anything but basic.
Still, Mexx, whose prices are higher than those at H&M but far lower than practically anyplace else on Fifth, is hardly a lost cause: After a few minutes, we manage to locate a perfectly pleasant, even sexy, sheer black peasant blouse (we spoke too soon in recent columns regarding the demise of this style) that has pink smocking on the sleeves ($39). Further hunting turns up an item quirky enough to pass for high fashion: a $59 man-tailored shirt hopelessly if deliberately wrinkled in the style of Issey Miyake, which comes with directions about how to preserve its unkempt, unpressed status.
If the clothes downstairs at Mexx are intended for the workplace, upstairs it's all about play, assuming by play you mean an overreliance on chinoiserie and a willingness to ignore the faint aroma of racism and colonialism that invariably clings to such garments. In any case, there are $34 T-shirts that have been appliquéd with bright red Chinese characters, others that feature a painted-on dragon, and still others with the slogan Glamour Forever rendered in the kind of print usually found on Chinese takeout boxes.
No such cross-cultural flirtations surface in the men's department, where a well-made pea coat in gabardine could pass in dim light for a Calvin Klein (but then again, it's $199). A $49 ribbed V-neck pullover in heavy cotton offers the extra inducement of a highly visible Mexx tag on its torso: Whether this will in time prove a status symbol is anyone's guess, but stranger things have happened in the world of fashion.
Because we're on the block, we can't resist dipping into H&M, and as ever we're helplessly seduced. (This only happens to us at the Fifth Avenue store; the messy, crowded Soho H&M never makes us want to buy anything.) Mexx may have dignified black in its windows, but H&M puts a polka-dot handkerchief-hemmed skirt out front, and it's only $15. Though we previously recommended that you eschew those Marc Jacobs mod redux clothes and buy whatever you feel you need, mod-wise, at Zara, we take that backget it at H&M, where a bright red micro mini of what appears to be fake vinyl (can there be such a thing?) is $25.
Curious about what kind of clothes are being marketed by the rapper Eve under the ill-conceived name Fetish, we gear up our courage and visit Macy's, a place that is usually staggeringly depressing despite valiant attempts by the management to convince shoppers that the store is in fact hip and groovy. Huge portraits of Eve sporting a blond marcel wave decorate the 34th Street windows, along with mannequins wearing tees cut low enough to show off a paw-print tattoo. To make things perfectly clear, a definition of fetish is printed on the shirts: "Anything to which one is irrationally devoted."
To find out whether anything up Eve's sleeve is capable of producing such ardor, we take the escalator to the fourth floor, where Eve's stuff is displayed adjacent to J.Lo's offerings. Though both lines rely heavily on Juicy Couture-ish sweatsuits, Eve's clothes are cuteror maybe they just seem better to us because we're annoyed by a shirt we encounter in the J.Lo department that says, "Glamour queen, Saveur de Bronx, Genuine J.Lo." Genuine J.Lo, indeed. (At least glamour queen hasn't been rendered in Chinese letters.)
Anyway, for $78 Eve offers a dress in the kind of mesh fabric used for sports jerseys, only here it's a tight mini trisected by two long lines of lacings from neck to hem. Shiny track suit jackets, cut super-snug to dispel any notion that they are meant for athletic pursuits, are available in a number of colors; though we are partial to the pink with orange piping, a young blonde woman with an Eastern European accent appears very excited about the black version. It may not exactly constitute a fetish, but it is not a bad way to spend $99.