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If the legions of faces frozen with Botox could betray any emotion, would they crumple in sorrow at the departure of Tom Ford from Gucci? Or would they break into joyous grins, start humming “Ding dong, the witch is dead,” and throw their corset-dresses out the window?
Ford may have been a genius at resuscitating the moribund house of Gucci, but when it comes to his actual vision, he leaves a sordid legacy—deeply unforgiving outfits that worship only the most youthful bodies, along with killer high-heeled shoes, all adding up to a subliminal message that says: You’ll never be thin enough or sexy enough to look really good in my clothes, but keep trying! His ideal client, or so it always seemed to us, is someone who rarely lifts heinie from treadmill and would sooner eat strychnine than a Chicken McNugget.
Oh well. A distorted, offensive philosophy Tom may have promulgated, but no one can say he wasn’t successful. By that immutable measure of achievement—the fake factor—he is a giant, second only to Vuitton in the Canal Street real estate his ersatz products occupy. A recent walk down that street of dreams turned up a superb array of phony Gucci and—surprise—a lot of it was far more fun and a lot more adventurous, design-wise, than the real thing.
There’s an aura of naughtiness about shopping on Canal that a friend—a fashionista with a wild past—says reminds him of buying heroin in the ’80s. And indeed, the scurrying, the ferreting of merch from garbage bags, the sidelong watch for the police, combine to lend transactions an air of mischief usually absent from fashion shopping. On this particular Sunday the cops must have something better to do, because merchandise is displayed freely: At 323 Canal, along with the expected wallets and handbags, there are Gucci umbrellas in a jaunty black-and-white design as yet unseen at the real Gucci, for $10; at 303 Canal, a pair of running shoes feature the classic beige and brown double-g print along with decorative leather trim and even a trademark red-and-green Gucci stripe ($45). And of course, unlike at the Gucci boutique on Fifth Avenue, prices on Canal are always in a delightful state of flux: A double-g pullover (OK, so it’s not real wool) comes with a matching stocking cap and is priced at $30 until a potential customer betrays a flicker of interest, at which point the price tumbles to $25.
Though we love the repros, we think that it might be fun to have something from the actual house of Gucci—just to keep as a souvenir of Tom’s glory days—so we head down to Century 21, where authentic Gucci, albeit a year or two old, has been known to show up at very encouraging prices. Unfortunately, there is no women’s Gucci in the house (“We didn’t get any this season,” a Century employee confirms), but there are a number of Guccis in the men’s department, ignominiously squeezed next to a surfeit of Helmut Lang. A very elegant gray wool overcoat, for a guy who works on Wall Street but thinks he’s hot, is still $699.97 (though according to the tag, it used to cost $1,800). On the other hand, we do find a gold T-shirt of a transcendently silky cotton knit (no one can argue that Gucci’s quality isn’t uniformly exquisite) for a mere $49.97.
In other news, reports that the highly respected Kurt Andersen—former editor in chief of New York magazine, bestselling novelist, host of a popular show on NPR—has accepted a position as editorial director of Colors, the Benetton magazine, certainly give us pause, since we don’t really consider a magazine put out by Benetton a magazine at all, but rather just an advertising vehicle for a sweater company. But then we got to thinking: If Visionaire, that pinnacle of downtown hipness, can court a single sponsor for each issue (in the past there’s been a Vuitton Visionaire, a Gap Visionaire, and even an issue guest-edited by Mr. Ford), can the advent of mass-market magazines that erase the advertising-editorial barrier be far behind?
To celebrate Kurt’s new job, we visit the Astor Place Benetton, and are immediately taken with that winter staple, the snowflake cardigan, in black with glittery gold flakes, which, despite the lack of even a flurry thus far this year, has already been marked down from $78 to $59.99. If you pair it with a tartan mini ($48) and top the whole ensemble off with the ersatz-Marc Jacobs herringbone coat ($248), you’ll look sufficiently chic to blend in at the next Visionaire party.