"How's the TIGERS?"
This yarn takes place on a cold winter's evening. It was late January, a day after the first snow storm and the holidays were a long distant memory. We were in the retail “death zone”, a period when nobody is really buying anything.
I was sitting at the main desk in the middle of the store waiting for closing time, when the doorbell rang. Our entrance hall was quite long, about 30 ft, and without my glasses on, anyone entering was ever-so-slightly blurred.
I always tried to make our arrivals feel welcome with a warm greeting, and ever the consummate professional, I made it my goal to recognize regulars, or even previous visitors. People love to be recognized.
On this particular occasion, despite the blur, I felt like I recognized the two gentlemen making what can only be described as a theatrical entrance. But when I say “recognized”, I knew I had seen them before, but couldn’t quite place who they were.
I realized quickly the reason I recognized them: I was in the company of fame.
In contrast to the dark winter's night, our famed guests were both draped from head to toe in in ivory, beige and light tan. A sure tell-tale sign that these gentlemen were not New Yorkers, who only ever wear dark colors in winter.
Long flowing coats of sumptuous cashmere and silk seemed to carry them down the hall as if they were floating.
Placed atop the cream creations were the quaffed, bouffant heads of two senior gentlemen with suntans that looked not only out of place in January, but of the current decade. They made George Hamilton look positively anemic.
They were accompanied by another familiar face, although this was a guy I’d met a couple of times in the neighborhood. He was very good looking and apparently was a model. By contrast, he wore dark Manhattan-appropriate clothing. Despite his youthful good looks, he almost disappeared in their presence.
My model acquaintance, with an air of casual familiarity, told me he was showing his friends around town. It was now clear to me that they were indeed famous, but the combination of my professionalism and lack of popular culture references was were beginning to frustrate me. Then it clicked.
The more tanned (if that were humanly possible) of the two was none other than fashion legend Valentino. The other gentleman was his longtime partner and business manager, Giancarlo Giammetti.
Trying not to show my excitement, I excused myself for a moment and went to get Betty from the back office. Having studied fashion at London’s Central Saint Martins College, Betty had always admired Valentino’s work and I knew that she’d love to meet him.
I stuck my head into the back office and instead of calmly telling her who was in the store, I was now “panic-miming”. Even though I knew who they were, my brain had gone into “mush-mode” and I simply could not remember Valentino’s name.
We had only recently watched the film “The Last Emperor”, a fly-on-the-wall documentary about Valentino’s final fashion show, and so in my frenetic half-mime, half-village idiot babble, all I managed to blurt out was “The Emperor, fashion guy, you know, pug dogs??? Video last week! He’s here!!! Come out!”
Fortunately after many years of marriage, Betty deciphered every word I was attempting to say and asked “Valentino?”.
She calmly left her desk and entered the store. “Hello, my name is Betty, it’s an honor to meet you Sir, welcome to Lord Willy’s.” she announced as she confidently walked up to The Emperor with her hand outstretched. They shook hands and the atmosphere immediately resumed its normal service of elegant gentleman’s haberdashery.
Both Valentino and Giancarlo began looking at our offerings in a manner that you’d expect from such industry veterans. The word “bellissimo” could be heard coming from Valentino’s mouth on several occasions, which filled us both with great pride.
The clothes had so impressed our guests that Giancarlo now decided that he would like to try on one of our blazers. They mentioned they were hosting an Oscar party and that he needed something new.
Not one, but two blazers seemed to be in the running, a pale beige (of course) and a classic navy, both with our signature grosgrain trim. After a short discussion between the two of them, and with a few more “bellisimo’s”, Giancarlo simply said, “We’ll take these two”.
What an honor!
Alterations were going to be required and so Betty and Giancarlo began fitting the pieces, while Valentino chose to make himself comfortable and sat down.
Shortly after doing so, our shop dog, Bailey, a high-energy, slightly-nutty Jack Russell, presented The Emperor with a smelly old dog toy that she insisted he entertain her with.
Having seen in the documentary that Valentino loves dogs (he has 6 pugs), I felt relaxed about Bailey’s insistent demand for a game of “tug-of-war” and it made it easier to make small talk with him.
He was pretty much how you might imagine. A man who had spent his life surrounded by beautiful things and adored by many. He carried himself with all the majesty of a man who had absolutely nothing to prove to anyone.
I can’t really remember what we discussed, but in between Bailey growling and badgering him to grab the now soggy dog toy, somehow the discussion of skiing came up.
Their guide, the model, was standing nearby, he was wearing a black Moncler, puffer-type, jacket. Valentino looked at him, and tutted.
“I do not understand Moncler, why is everything black?” he said, “When I ski, I wear red! I wear yellow!” He exclaimed. Of course you do I thought as images of 1970’s St. Moritz ran through my mind.
Fitting complete, the jackets were purchased and an address, where they wanted the items to be delivered (within 24 hours), was provided. Courteous handshakes proceeded, I think I might have even bowed. And then, as magically as they had arrived, they floated out of the store and into the darkness of night.
It was only after they had left that I told Betty of the near disastrous blunder I had nearly made when our esteemed guests had first arrived.
The truth was when I first saw the two of them, I was so “blurry-eyed” and keen to address their fame, I genuinely thought they were “Siegfried and Roy”.
Worse still, in an attempt to break the ice, I was all set to make an incredibly lame joke and ask “How’s the tigers?”, a greeting I’m pretty sure would not have elicited many “bellisimo’s!”, let alone any purchases.
Having not learned my lesson, a similar blunder was only just avoided a couple of years later when an another gentleman came in. He also looked equally out of place in New York City, but with no grandeur this time.
He was dressed more like a “bike-less” Hells Angel and talked loudly with a Southern, raspy drawl. “You make tails?” he almost bellowed. Before I could even address his seemingly bizarre request, he dropped to the floor and began playing excitedly with Bailey, who yet again had decided that a game of “tuggy” was well overdue.
All interest in his initial request vanished as he continued playing as manically as Bailey. Loud growls and a lot over-excitability (not just from Bailey this time) were beginning to disrupt the elegant ambiance of the store. It crossed my mind that it might be best to ask him, politely of course, to leave; then I realized he was Don Johnson.
I really need to get new glasses.