The Austin Chronicle

After a Fashion

By Stephen MacMillan Moser, December 3, 1999, Columns

AS LONG AS WE HAVE OUR GLOVES OFF Prescriptives will produce the new Kate Spade make-up collection -- parent company Estee Lauder also owns rights to produce Donna Karan and Tommy Hilfiger cosmetics... Old guard designer Bill Blass retires and sells his company... Oscar de la Renta denies he's been asked to make Camilla Parker-Bowles' wedding gown, but she did appear to do a lot of shopping for special-occasion clothes on her recent trip to Manhattan... Alexander McQueen's new London showroom features clear glass changing rooms that fog up when a customer enters....

SEEN BUT NOT BELIEVED The new neckwear collection from Christopher Reeve. Am I the only one who thinks this is weird?

SALE AWAY Isn't it weird how everything's on sale these days? You'd never dream paying full price for something anymore. Stores open with 30% off sales, and even purchase merchandise that is never intended to be sold at full price. The clearance racks are brimming with new merchandise, discounters flourish, and trips to the outlet malls become full-scale operations requiring not only plenty of cash, but an RV as well. It's a far cry from the days when a sale was truly a special event, engendering brutish behavior from the hoards of discount-hungry shoppers, clawing and biting to get the best selection. Now it's hard to get worked up about a sale -- if you miss this one, there'll be another one someone else pretty soon. Yet, when we find ourselves in the midst of a sale, the primitive forces of nature take over and suddenly "25% off" starts making even cheesy merchandise look attractive.

And 25% off of what? The "Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price?" MSRP? What the hell is that? The absolute highest price possible that you can sucker someone into paying? And as long as the manufacturer is getting paid his asking price, who cares what the retailer charges? It is ultimately you, the consumer, who lets the retailer know that he's charging too much by not purchasing the item. The mall is a good place to see this phenomenon. At our fictional department store, CJ Follard's, their merchandise is priced at quite a bit below the manufacturer's "suggested" retail price all the time. They rarely do sales events, and when they mark down merchandise, it's because the item is being phased out. Across the mall, rival fictional store, Dilley's, does exactly as the manufacturer suggests and prices the item at full markup. But they are constantly having large sales events (mysteriously named after fruit). But Dilley's deeply discounted sale price is always one penny less than CJ Follard's regular price. And yet, the public flocks to Dilley's because they're having a sale.

SECRET SHOPPER Burlington Coat Factory, which insists that you know it's not affiliated with Burlington Industries (or maybe it's Burlington Industries doing the insisting), has little to do with coats, and nothing to do with factories. When you're at this store, disregard my former advice about demanding good customer service. You'll be sorely disappointed, you won't receive any satisfaction, and it will vex your spirit. But do go for the prices. With a discriminating eye, you can find great prices on very nice clothes. But you will have to find them yourself. For the entire 25 minutes I was in the men's department, the teenage salesclerk hid from me behind a pillar, always moving to opposite sides, so I couldn't see him talk to his girlfriend on the phone. God forbid he'd have to talk to me about the $300 Fendi suit I was trying on, but at $300 for a Fendi suit, I'd eat gravel and pay money for it. Braving the checkout line can also be a nightmare -- I've seldom seen more than one cashier, or two at the most, even during the busiest times. As the lines of huffy customers snake around the store, Cashier No. 1, a trainee working her very first shift, is muddling through a fairly cut-and-dried layaway procedure. Cashier No. 2 is on break. Forty-five minutes later, your own arduous checkout process begins, and woe to you if you complicate things by trying to purchase a suit and a shirt.

The Style Avatar is pleased have received a report, though unconfirmed, of excellent customer service at Sandy's Shoes on Anderson at Burnet. Reader C. B. writes that customers sign in on a clipboard, are served in order, and get undivided attention. Such a primitive concept, and yet so forward. Bravo to Sandy's. It's nice to hear reports about these good-service insurgents.

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