Slumming with Karl at H&M; The Pottery Barn Rule


There’s been so much fuss about those Karl Lagerfeld clothes at H&M that we are sure that there will be nary a thread when we visit the store a week after their debut, but in fact the racks are brimming. “I hope you will like your choice as much as I did when I designed it,” reads the tag, in five languages, and there’s even a sketch of the anorectic Karl, presumably to put to rest any doubts you may have about your new garment’s provenance.

You might well ask yourself whether these clothes, with another name attached to them, would smell at sweet, but then of course you’d be opening the Pandora’s box of designer cachet: How much is the label itself worth? Would a Prada minus the metal triangle equally thrill the wearer if it didn’t actually read “Prada”? How much of the joy of owning Gucci is knowing it’s Gucci?

We leave these questions to the philosophers. As far as Karl’s clothes are concerned, they compare well with the Mizrahis at Target, though Isaac’s are cheaper. These are more ambitious, design-wise, but many sport three-digit price tags, which is perilously close to Zara territory. The pleasant palette is mostly black and flesh-pink; for our money, the best of the bunch is the tiered chiffon party frock, though simpler tastes might prefer the pegged pants. Strictly for a future eBay auction is the T-shirt with a portrait of a sunglasses-wearing Karl.

The departure of Colin Powell from the second Bush administration has us thinking about his succinct and chilling warning of the fate that has, in fact, awaited U.S. forces in Iraq and has come to be known as the Pottery Barn rule: “You break it, you own it.” This got us thinking—is there anything we’d really like to have, shattered or whole, for sale at PB? Despite its hideous name and its squeaky-clean-young-marrieds-go-shopping ambiance, we have actually bought a few things at PB over the years that we loved: a tufted satin coverlet that could have hailed from a Maine attic, except that it was made in China; and a wonderful, old-fashioned reproduction telephone that we had to return since you couldn’t hear through the earpiece. (No one accused us of breaking it; we got our money back right away.)

A recent visit to PB finds the usual comforting leather club chairs and velvet pillows, though we are more drawn to the seasonal offerings, which include candles shaped liked Thanksgiving turkeys, fir trees, acorns, and little buildings that look suspiciously like churches minus the steeples. (Is this a special version for blue states?) Whenever we light a candle we’re sure we’ll burn the apartment down, but assumedly other adults have managed to conquer this fear.

Lastly, we are thrilled to see that rat finks Abercrombie & Fitch have to cough up 50 million dollars because they persistently discriminated against minority workers, forcing them into back-room jobs so they could have a lily-white sales staff out front. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could organize boycotts, or flying pickets, or leafletting bombs, when retailers behave abominably? Just a thought.