Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Gift box? How dare you!

Since the Los Angeles Times saw fit to ask about the possible demise of hipper-than-thou Kitson, I thought I might share this Kitson Holiday Tale. (12/31: The L.A. Times just updated their blog, and removed mention of Kitson as possible retail casualty. Hmmm.)

For those of you not acquainted with the Kitson empire, it began on this little street called Robertson. Back then, Robertson had fallen out of favor as a shopping drag, although celebs still frequented places like The Ivy, where they could pretend to eat, and Les Habitudes, where they could pick up a dress for their fourth wedding. There were other haute hangouts, but the street itself was not the happenin' ave. of recent years.

Then Kitson opened. At first it seemed a pleasant enough place where you could pick up Fresh cosmetics, Creed perfumes, Antoni+Allison tees, Burning Torch cashmere and loads of naughty novelties. It didn't have much in the way of clothes in those days; it was more about accessories and beauty products. It was fun and didn't take itself too seriously.

Their first holiday season (this was 2000 or so) I decided to pop in for some last minute gifts and stocking stuffers. The place was fairly packed, and I found myself stepping over small dogs and stacks of pricey merch in equal measure. I grabbed a Blue Marlin hoodie for a very picky guy I needed to buy for, and made my way to the Paul Frank table where women were scooping up ugly monkey pajamas for their nearest and dearest. Despite the crowd, we were all playing nice.

Then, above the din, came an etremely agitated voice from the back of the store.

"Hey, all I did was ask for gift wrapping! You didn't have to throw it at me!"

The store became silent, and all eyes were on the line of people at the register where the woman at the front of the line was going at it with the man behind the counter.

"I didn't throw it at you!" he yelled.

"Excuse me, all I did was ask for gift wrapping! I spend thousands of dollars a month in this store! This is no way to treat customers!" she countered.

Nobody dared move a muscle. This was not your run-of-the-mill retail contretemps: this was a defining moment.

The woman then turned to the other shoppers, pleading her case. "I have all these gifts for people, and all I did was ask for them to wrap them and he throws this box at me and says do it yourself."

"That's it," yelled the owner "get out of my store!" The customer picked up her bags and her Paul Frank poster and swept through the store, horrified, humilated. And then, in a commercial climax, the owner shouted after her, at the top of his lungs "You are BANNED FROM THE STORE! Do you hear me? Banned! " He turned to his sales associates. "Did you see her? Remember her---she is banned from the store!" The associates nodded meekly and resumed ringing up huge profits.

Not long after this happened, Kitson was on all the hot lists. It was a Robertson Renaissance. Coincidence? I think not.

Sure, much is made about the fact that the owner of Kitson is a marketing whiz. He is. He pretty much started the whole paparazzi chronicling celebrity shopping sprees. He'd call the tabs and the mags and let them know who was in his store. The photogs would show up and snap away as A to D Listers exited the boutique with bags full of Kitson booty. Suddenly, The Ivy wasn't the only place to snap celebs. It wasn't long before other shops followed suit and had stalkerazzi on speed dial.

But really, I believe it was that December afternoon when Kitson became an A Lister in its own right. No longer was it this cute little store---it was now an exclusive boutique. You had to know the rules to shop there: it didn't matter how much you spent; it's how you spent it. The rest of us, for our part, stood there wondering how exactly one gets "banned from the store." Was it the unmitigated gall of wrapping paper? What if you wanted a bow? If you committed any of these crimes, did they post your photo in the store window, announcing to the world that you were on their Least Wanted List? How long before former child stars, hoping to revive their careers, showed up and asked for gift tags just for the notoreity?

I admit, when it was my turn to pay, I was pretty nervous. By this time the owner was in the back storeroom, still in a huff. I could feel the eyes of other shoppers on me when the associate rang up my Blue Marlin and asked "is this a gift?" The pressure was on. Big time. I didn't know what to say. I froze. "Is it a gift?" she asked again. "Can it be?" I asked. "Sure," she answered "I can give you a gift box." I flinched, squeezing my eyes shut and hoping one of those sharp corners didn't hit me in the face. Nothing. When I opened my eyes she had politely placed a gift box and bow in my bag. No flinging. No screaming. Just a concerned sales associate, hoping that I had my neuroleptics with me.

Merry Kitson to all...

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