Sunday, May 18, 2014

Paw Manhattan Visits Saks Fifth Avenue

This weekend, Maw and Paw Manhattan have come to visit from sunny Florida. The first day of their trip involved a torrential downpour, but also a visit to legendary department store Saks Fifth Avenue.

In the 1970s, Paw Manhattan worked at Saks Fifth Avenue, at 611 5th Avenue in Manhattan, selling men's shirts. He received a 30% discount on all merchandise and, he says, was thereby quite well dressed at the time. Today he is no different, in his classic uniform of button-down shirt tucked into dark jeans with a brown belt and matching loafers. Wisps of grey float by his ears and his bluish/greenish eyes swirl about the first floor of Saks, passing over colognes and lipsticks and handbags that weren't there before. Men and women behind the counters chat furiously with each other, some offer him spritzes of cologne he doesn't want. We're walking toward the elevator and he whispers to me, "I don't understand these haircuts on the men."

Paw Manhattan smokes cigar,
wears same shirt as Prince William
Save for the brief time period in the 1970s when Paw had a perm, he has never been much for trends, hairstyle or otherwise. In pictures from 25 years ago when he is holding moi as a baby Miss Manhattan, his haircut is the same as it is today when we are walking past the cosmetics counters. "What is that, a mohawk?" he asks, confused. "What's with all the hair on the top and none on the sides?" The visual conversation gap is understandable: the men working at Saks are, of course, of a rather trendy, outré variety--they wear skinny, knit ties and shiny, sheen-y suits--and Paw prefers to wear the same shirts as Prince William, he jokes. Paw is a traditionalist, a classic dresser. He has never seen the need to pay $300 for a t-shirt, like the ones they sell in the Dolce & Gabbana section upstairs, or have a brand name embedded on a wallet, of all things. "Why would I need to tell people it's Ferragamo?" he asks, looking at the leather goods in the men's accessories department on the 6th Floor. The wallet he is replacing today is the one he got on his honeymoon in Caracas, Venezuela with Maw Manhattan, a brown leather fold that's lasted him nearly 28 years.

There only used to be one floor for men's furnishings, he says, with a small department of men's shirts and shoes on the first floor. Now there are two floors, floors 6 and 7. The 7th has designer boutiques--Michael Kors, the aforementioned D&G, Ralph Lauren, etc. The 6th floor features those shirts Paw used to sell--walls of them, across from the wallets and jewelry, next to the ties. There's a man with graying temples helping Paw, and I wonder if Paw still worked here if that's what he would look like--suit, nametag, shiny shoes. I don't know if I have ever seen Paw in a suit. But instead of staying at Saks, Paw went to live in Israel for a while and worked on a kibbutz. He thought about becoming a dual citizen and joining the Israeli Defense Force. Eventually he came back to the states and started working in finance. He has always had good taste in shirts.

Eventually Paw finds a wallet he likes. It's black, not brown like he originally wanted, and is devoid of visible branding. A perfect Paw wallet. He wants to switch wallets right there in the store but Maw says he should wait, so he does. Back on the first floor, we head toward the exit, but Paw pulls me aside. "Come here," he says. "I want to show you where men's shirts is." He says it more as if he wants to show me where he came from, his old neighborhood, where he grew up. In many ways, this is exactly what he is doing.

We walk toward the first floor Chanel boutique. Women in black stand behind the counter while women in not black peruse their wares. There are bags in a variety of oranges and pinks and reds for spring. Bright white fluorescent lights beam onto grey carpeting and I see a few of those legendary gold double Cs out of the corner of my eye. "This was men's shirts," he says, pointing at one section of the boutique. "And this was men's shoes," he says, pointing at the other. I think of the shoe department I saw upstairs that was almost exploding with oxfords and wingtips and loafers, an entire room to this singular wall. I see Paw thinking how times have changed since he worked here. "We used to have a lot of celebrities come here," he said. When I ask who, he names Howard Cosell, the famed sportscaster--which is fitting because Paw has always been a big football fan--but doesn't remember anyone else's name. "You know, famous people," he says. "Actors, politicans." He stares thoughtfully at the space for a few moments. I wonder if he's just had a vision rush of perms and polyester and wide-lapel collars or if he's proud of how far he's come or both. Eventually he turns to me. "Ready to go?" And we walk out.