Glamour in the Age of Macy’s

About seventy-five people who had not won the lottery waited outside the Department Store Formerly Known as Dayton’s at Rosedale Center. The manager of the store talked into a microphone that rendered his voice unintelligible, then some instigators tried to incite the crowd with a rousing countdown. After a lackluster “ … two, one,” the manager cut a ribbon, a deejay summoned upbeat music, and consumers shuffled into Macy’s North, clutching complimentary ten-dollar gift cards that, I discovered two weeks later, expired on opening day, September 9.

I’m not sure what I was expecting—maybe orange-haired, Brooklyn-accented salespeople—but everything was as before: wool skirts and matching sweaters, Nine West shoes, crystal, Ralph Lauren bedding, ties, gifts-with-purchase. The Oval Room was looking very White Plains/Hamptons, with Michael Kors up to there. Evening gowns were overwhelmingly long and black. I drifted through departments with disconcerting names like Better Sportswear, touching things, until I was drawn into the juniors department by something pretty and inappropriate for my age. As I flipped through the sale rack—thick with droopy modal tunics, chunky sleeveless turtleneck sweaters, and size-zero pants—a red Asian-inspired top jumped out. What had we here? Heavy silk that didn’t slither off the hanger, a unified design statement, and the dignity of a tired refugee washed up on some benighted shore. The tags read Prada, a line once harbored in the exclusive Oval Room but jettisoned when the store became Macy’s North.

A few weeks later, there was a much larger and very much giddier crowd skittering across the red carpet outside the Orpheum Theatre turned out for the fourteenth annual Glamorama, née Fash Bash (ouch). Sponsored by whomever is currently residing at 700 Nicollet Mall, this fashion show-cum-pop music extravaganza is one of the Twin Cities’ few opportunities to dress up for the sake of dressing up—top down, no-holds-barred, well-shut-my-mouth glamour. So where—in this day of Target whores, ateliers.com, vintage on celebs, revolving-door department stores—does one find the perfect outfit for such an occasion? I asked around in Macy’s downtown Minneapolis store for the specially created Glamorama Shop and was sent, serially, to third floor, the Oval Room, Cosmetics, Handbags, and “by the loud music on first floor,” only to learn from a floor manager wearing a headset that glamorous pieces are endemic to Macy’s, like chipmunks in Minnesota. They’re everywhere.

Obviously, the 2,100 style mavens at Glamorama had spent considerable time and money exploring the glamour question as well, and it appeared that many of the sisters had got themselves down to Fiftieth and France, in Edina, to snag something fluttery, with smocking or pleats and a fetching finish. Certainly, there was a whiff of A. B. S. by Allen Schwartz and BCBG, and some prom-like dresses, sparkly and low-cut, that might have been of Macy’s origin, but the feeling was that shopping at Macy’s for a Macy’s-sponsored event was a bit too formulaic. Glamour calls for risk, creativity, and provocative spirit—none of which has ever been stocked by department stores.

Considerable cleavage, bare backs and legs—all staples of glamour—held their own without a lot of props. Manicure? Si, si. Hair professionally constructed? I don’t think so. Accessories were limited to a delicate necklace and a man. A Profound Geo-Fashion Thought occurs: Maybe stepping out in the middle of the country is a lot like a tectonic meeting of the coasts: West Coast sexy (without the ballistic breasts ’n’ baubles) merges with East Coast sophistication (minus the Upper East Side snarl). Oh, on with the show!

The gilded lobby fairly bubbled with air kisses, shiny faces, and camera flashes as a photographer captured somebodies at their botoxed best. Thumping house music gave way to a bilingual announcement that we were about to enter the Glamosphere, where the official languages were Beauty and Spanish. Since Beyoncé—the philosophical, musical, and stylistic muse of Glamorama—could not be present, she delivered her fundraising message that fashion rocks, and so does children’s cancer research, via video. Fast-flashing international images, including a sweat-slicked torso and a bare international bum, got us in the right frame of mind and, bing bang, the magic began. Cavalli, who has gotten a lot of good ideas from Keith Richards over the years, put an obi over a gothic shirt and some thigh-high boots and, herro, Kyoto-infused business casual. The designers behind Tuleh found it elementary, my dear Watson, that formfitting tweed solves the case of the missing ass. In a design coup, Badgley Mischka transformed a chenille bedspread into the most stunning flamenco evening gown. A hot Latin beat ran through that collection like pink-eye through a kindergarten class. YMCA: Moschino sent out a sexy cowboy, a sexy priest, a sexy conductor, a sexy boxer … and just in time for Halloween.

On and on; it only got sexier with a brief interlude for hideous by Marc Jacobs. Wrapping things up, House of Deréon kind of took advantage of its connections (founder Tina Knowles is Beyoncé’s mom, for heaven’s sake) to show a whole compound’s worth of curvaceous clothes: House of Excitement, House of Hotness, House of Mild Interest (housecoats, pants liners, compression socks, and that ilk).

As the lights blinked on, those 2,100 surprisingly nimble fashionistas sprinted the three blocks to Macy’s for more sensual pleasures at the after-party. But little did the partygoers know that the hot-blooded, Rio-flavored frocks from the runway would not be hanging in the Oval Room and, in fact, can be ordered only through Macy’s personal shopping service. At the click of a mouse, however, they could be in Temperley’s ateliers. Or they can always pop over to Neiman Marcus or Stephanie’s, in Highland Park, to try on that drop-dead gown. They can shop Bluefly or Girlshop or any of a myriad online boutiques for that upwardly, utterly flare-out-to-there-wardly, sell-my-clothes-I’m-going-to-heaven incarnation of glamour. Macy’s may have whetted the appetite for glamour, yet I wondered, can it deliver the whole feast?