I actually don’t know if I had ever been to a Bloomingdale’s before I started doing trunk shows in one.
Not sure what this says about me, but this exposure and experience has given me a crash course in consumerism and a perspective I desperately needed.
This is how it works: I arrive at the Chestnut Hill Mall (another place I had never been) and haul in a mishmash of cloth and wicker baskets filled with my jewelry. It doesn't appear particularly professional, but I am assuming no one is watching.
When I arrive there are a few people walking the mall -- like in the old days when mall walking was a sport—but everything is closed except for a slight horizontal gate opening to Bloomingdale’s. I hunch down and shuffle underneath and pass an army of well-dressed mannequins and make my way to the accessories area where I am to set up.
Every time I take this behind-the-scenes journey, I think of the movie Mannequin with Kim Cattrall and Andrew McCarthy. I always loved the idea of being in a mall alone and trying on all the hats and dresses and then taking whatever looks good, like in that other fantastical movie, “Night of The Comet.” Clearly I like 80s movies that feature malls.
I set up my pieces on the grey faux suede neck displays and arrange all I have made from all of those places that couldn’t be farther away. The lights go on, there is a store rally for their sales people, and I wait.
I am amazed that shoppers appear almost miraculously from the depth of this frustratingly long winter.
Some people breeze by, some ask for the bathroom, most people ask for the Alex and Ani Bangle Bar, stationed right behind me. I listen to their sales woman talk about how all of the bangles are blessed by a shaman. I wonder if there is something to it, as most the sales in the department are made by this Rhode Island-based juggernaut. I would feel jealous if their success wasn’t so damn good for Rhode Island. Instead I Google “shamanism” and wonder if it would be cheaper just to get certified myself.
I smile and wait.
I try to catch someone’s eye by looking in their direction as if I know them, making them stop out of sheer confusion. I hope that someone spots one of my lace pieces, various Buddha or candy-colored Raw rings and stops to hear what has become volumes of product explanation. I wonder if what I do is too heady and message heavy. I realize that it’s too late now.
When passersby do pause at my station, I don’t launch into my discourse right away. I know -- and sense-- that there are some people who really just want to be left alone, as I often fall into that bucket. I try to respect the invisible force field and give them their space.
When a customer seems interested I offer my explanation: "These are all things I find in markets and bazaars around the world and re-work into jewelry.” By the fifth hour I become outrageously irritated by the sound of my own voice and truncate it to something like, “I found the original piece in Thailand.” To that I always get, “What? Did you find it on the ground?” So, I try not to be lazy and to be clear from the beginning.
This gets tiring and when I am there alone I can’t leave for lunch. This dillema has me squatting down, reaching underneath the grey tablecloth to snack on the nuts I have smuggled in. It’s always funny when someone catches me.
Even though my feet are on fire after hours of standing, it’s an amazing feeling when (sometimes several) very cool people, who probably just wanted a pair of sunglasses and not a lace cuff, take a card or take a chance on someone they have never heard of. People are generally genuinely interested and kind, which is not what I had been expecting.
Nor did I ever think I would experience this very niche slice-of-life positioned somewhere between Chanel Sunglasses and Roberto Coin jewelry.
I have two more shows at The Chestnut Hill Bloomingdale’s on April 3-7 and May 10-12. Come by and bring your dog, as it is a pet friendly store!