Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Beauty heaven...at Walgreen's

One day during lunch hour last week, I was making a made dash down Powell Street after hunting and gathering some fall basics on Union Square and my attention was caught by the "W" sign. I instantly recognized it as Walgreen's but the minimal quality of it signaled that this was something new. I looked in the door and saw a floor of rather fancy looking food counters, so I stepped in to explore. Then I remembered reading that Walgreen's was placing some upmarket stores in various cities with beauty departments carrying European products. The escalator before me beckoned, so I rode up and on the second floor I found a beauty heaven.

The first counter I saw was Boots No. 7, the UK line of cosmetics. I found a wide choice of colors, products and even Poppy King lipsticks. Most things priced around $6-$10. And that day it was buy one get the second for half-price, so I scooped up a few items.

I realize I'm a little late to the game. This "Look Boutique" beauty department opened in May. Walgreen's acquired the NYC Duane Reade chain and decided to try their style of sellling cosmetics.  The space is so open and airy, it was a pleasure to roam around trying this and that. One of my favorite things to do traveling in Europe is to go to a pharmacy to discover elegant and affordale beauty products. Shopping here was a similar experience.

After an hour of deciphering some french labels, testing colors and sniffing beauty potions, I glanced at my watch and realized I was going to be late for my next meeting if I didn't hoof it back South of Market tout suite. I plan to return soon, there are still more rows of products to explore!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Satiating the senses at Bergdorf's

Night before last on PBS, they showed Secrets of Selfridges, an hour-long history of the department store and the man who created it. This was right after Masterpiece Classic: The Paradise, taken from Emile Zola's The Ladies Paradise. Zola's book is the best of all and I highly recommend it. It seems like the historical significance of department stores is suddenly a popular topic.

It's fascinating to learn all the retail and marketing innovations that Harry Gordon Selfridge dreamed up and are still in practice to today. Such as it's fine to "just look", customer service comes first, placing cosmetics by the front door, having a toilet (before Selfridges, women who had to go while shopping, had to go home!) and having annual sales.

Watching both shows last night put me in mind of my first visit to Bergdorf Goodman, which was just a couple months ago. I've always heard and read about its elegance, its service and the highly curated selection of designer clothes. And I enjoyed the documentary, Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's. And my Aunt Mary Ellen says that when she goes to New York, she always goes to the "three B's: Bergdorf's, Barneys and Bendels. My visit to the store exceeded all expectations. It was at the end of a long work day when a friend and I entered the beautiful doors to the richly decorated ground floor full of cases of beautiful jewelry. Trying to take it all in, I found myself in front of a display of two Verdura cuff bracelets, with Maltese crosses similar to the ones Duke Fulco Verdura designed for Chanel in the Thirties.

I was entranced, having seen photos and read the history, but never having seen one in person. I heard a voice behind me, "Care to test drive these today?" I was startled out of my sparkly reverie and laughed and before I knew it, the darling Joseph Riccio, Verdura Specialist (as he introduced himself) placed one of the cuffs on my wrist. I caught a glimpse of the price tag--$38,000! And then I tried on the other one, $50,000! I told Joseph it was a dream for me to try these on. He looked at me seriously and said, "That's what we do a Bergdorf's, we make dreams come true." And standing there in my jeans and T shirt wearing a bejewelled bracelet, I believed him.

But I had barely entered the store! I went from department to department, circling every floor finding the latest of the latest and the most gorgeous of the gorgeous. And everywhere the Bergdorf people could not have been nicer.

They were having a small show of original drawings by the terrific fashion illustrator Tony Viramontes. In the 80's, Tony's fierce, graphic style defined the times. Unfortunately he died much too young.

The store was celebrating the publication of a new book of his work, Bold, Beautiful and Damned. Which of course I happily purchased, and the salesman graciously shipped it to me so I wouldn't have to carry it. All the famous Bergdorf windows were decorated with Tony's art.

Joseph, my Verdura Specialist, recommended that we go to the 7th floor to have a drink at the BG Restaurant and bar. We found the perfect table for two poised right in front of a window with a view of Central Park. My friend and I ordered the Warm Crab Dip to share and a glass of bubbly. The waiter also brought us a dish of BG Bar Nuts. It was all so delicious and rich that I asked the waiter for the recipes. He took my email address and said they would get back to me. The next day I had an email from Julieta Benavides, the restaurant manager. She was delighted that I enjoyed my visit to Bergdorfs and attached the recipes. She even said I should look her up next time I'm there!

Here are the recipes:

BG Warm Crab Dip

  • Make a b├ęchamel: Melt 8 oz. butter, Add 16 oz. all-purpose flour, Whisk in 4 cups milk until thick and creamy. (note: doesn't that seem like too much flour?)
  • Add jumbo lump crabmeat and salt and pepper to taste.
  • Top with panko breadcrumbs and bake in oven.
  • Garnish with chives and serve with toast points. 
BG Bar Nuts
  • Mixed nuts (no peanuts), 3 large cans
  • Rosemary, chopped, 1 bunch
  • Butter, 1/2 lb. 
  • Cayenne pepper, 1 tsp. 
  • Kosher salt, 1 cup
  • Spanish paprika, 1/2 cup
  • Sugar, 1/2 cup
Place nuts on a sheet tray and bake in oven for 5 minutes at 350. Transfer nuts to large bowl and combine with rest of ingredients until fully incorporated. Spread on cool sheet tray and let set. 

At Bergdorf Goodman, from the first floor to the seventh floor, all the senses are satiated!