Monday, August 25, 2008

The Downtown Aristocrat Years

My apartment doesn’t have cable, but as I’ve spent the better part of the past month at my parent’s, where the digital cable flows freely, I’ve been able to reconnect with my good friend Stacey London. Nothing says a hot Friday night in my provocative life then a “What Not to Wear” marathon.

Whilst reconnecting and judging (sequined Hammer pants?) along with my besties Stacey and Clinton, I came across a commercial for the Discover Credit Card, wherein the announcer declares that, “We are a country of consumers; but that’s ok. The difficulty is choosing what to buy.” This is an ok motto, unless you’re one of the thousands of Americans who are living off of credit card debt and whose mortgages are precariously close to default. But sure – spend away. Get some Discover Points and pay really high interest rates on crap from target. That’s the American way.

There is, however, a modicum of truth in the Discover Card commercial (truth in advertising, egads!). Consumer consumption is a major economic driver and one of the definitive characteristics of our fun capitalist society. Consumer confidence, in the crapper of late, due to high oil prices, and mortgage foreclosures (what one economist called a perfect storm), drives a significant portion of our service economy. The enclosed shopping centre, that purely American invention, perfected for the cold Canadian climate, (Yorkdale Mall in Toronto is one of the top grossing malls in the continent by square foot), are odes to our society’s plethora of choice. You don’t like the 100% t-shirts at the Gap, well American Apparel is right next door, and if not there, then Club Monaco probably has some sassy v-necks in muted hue’s.

One of the most pervasive trends in shopping these days is lifestyle retail. No longer are we buying simply a couch, or a t-shirt. We’re buying a story. Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie Corp, perfected lifestyle retail model by revamping Abercrombie and Fitch into what it is today – some sort of sexed up least Coast Ivy league orgy. That polo shirt isn’t just a polo shirt – by committing to the Moose you’re saying that you too could play a game of pick-up football with shirtless tight ends. Hollister, Abercrombie’s sister chain, isn’t just selling board shorts and polo shirts – its selling the southern California beach lifestyle. Lifestyle retailing has become so pervasive, in a perhaps pathetic admittance of guilt that even I tend to live my life vicariously through retail establishments. Witness my two-month love affair with J. Crew model Kelly Rippy (there’s a photo of us just lying in bed together, spooning). I don’t feel the need to get married anymore – I’ve already relived my wedding through the monthly J. Crew wedding spread.

So imagine my pleasant surprise when I got a recent email from Club Monaco announcing the arrival of their fall collection, conveniently entitled “Downtown Aristocrat”. The tag line: the downtown aristocrat is chic and cultured classic and urban. They give uptown refinement a downtown edge.

Like a beacon of light the geniuses at Club Monaco instantaneously enlightened my bleak life. Truth-be-told I had been feeling a little bit glum of late. I was no longer a resident of Faux Hill, my till now defining claim to fame, and my boho-chic annex apartment, was just that: boho chic, with an empathis on chic, not on bohemian. The pretty Restoration Hardware throw pillows on my couch say faux-hemian. Admittedly the whole look is miles away from my undergraduate apartment, a loft, which was conveniently located above an Indian marketplace and had a darling view of Montreal’s needle exchange bus.

So what was this new, twentysomething lifestyle I had acquired for myself? It had, up until recently, been nameless. There was no genre to my annex-lite lifestyle. Aromatic? After the hours I’ve spent willing away time sipping mint tea at Aroma espresso bar? Over extended? Or how about “The Waugh Years”, as I had taken to signing letters with the name “Daddy Waugh”, as Rick Waugh, CEO of scotiabank, and his lovely student line of credit was funding my lifestyle. And then with one statement the head honcho’s of Club Monaco had distilled my life, and the lifestyle of most of my friends, into one clear statement. We were Downtown Aristocrats! I felt so much better about having an identity again. Praise you Club Monaco. Praise you indeed.

And then I thought to myself that of course Club Monaco, owned by the arbiter of re-invention himself: Ralph Lauren (real name: Ralph Lifshitz), he who had moved downtown from the Bronx and re-tooled himself as a downtown aristocrat for the polo set, would be able to successfully rebrand my lifestyle succinctly.

Thanks Lipshitz. Here’s one mint-green Aroma tea to our Downtown Aristocrat years.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

So This is Twentysomething?

It’s always a bit awkward to throw yourself a goodbye party, especially when you’re only leaving town for three weeks. But between frantically finding Hungarian Forents and writing your corporations annual report little time is left for socializing. And surely there’s no better place then the Park Hyatt Rooftop Bar to wile away a summer evening, right? As one friend said half jokingly: “I do like you, but really any excuse for a drink at the Park Hyatt.”

And so there we sat on a Monday night, a mélange of my Toronto friends: 1 law student, 1 almost PhD, 1 advertising executive, 1 lawyer, 1 almost lawyer, 2 politico’s, 1 almost MBA and 1 international human rights worker.

On the other side of the bar a gaggle of youngish girls, celebrating a birthdays, sat sipping on champagne and fidgeting with the hems of their dresses; bony asses awkwardly poised on the leather couch’s. The birthday girl’s bubbie and mummy, having driven the girls down from Forest Hill, sat at an adjacent table waiting to present the birthday girl with a bauble in a robins egg blue box and pick up the slowly climbing tab.

“What do you think the percentage of their dresses came from Holts?” my friend Krista, the human rights worker asked, before answering her own query, “I’d say 90% and the remainder from BCBG.”

“What’s BCBG?” Her boyfriend asked.

Soon KB came back from the bathroom breathless. “They’re turning 19!” She exclaimed. “They asked me to take their picture.” Ah… the days when girls still went to powder their nose en masse.

“Tell them life is going to be ok.” I deadpanned, remembering my own awkward years as a 19-year old.

When by friend Brandon, a medical school student, came to visit Toronto a couple of months ago for a medical elective. I would receive a daily text around 9:30 pm. “Booze.” Fifteen minutes later the two of us would find our way to a quiet neighbourhood pub, where we would grab a quick glass of scotch ruminating over our lives. “A family friend told me that these were going to be the best years of my life.” He yawned. We were at a two-drink maximum. At the time, we were both single, “He said I’d be fucking girls left, right and centre. Not true. I haven’t been laid in months.” I empathized, calculating the last time I’d been laid.

At a friends 24th birthday party, a couple of years ago, I ended up walking home with my friend Sarah. “Is this where you thought you would be at twenty five?” She asked. “I guess not.” I answered. At the time we lived at home and it had been a fall of ennui - to quote a much loved phrase of my friend Mr. G and Maglet. But a year later, where exactly were we? In a shockingly frightening way… life was beginning to present itself, significant others were becoming more significant. Careers were becoming more finite. Some of us had joined professional associations, cementing our precarious place in yuppie-dom.

Quickly the three weeks of vacation passed and I was back from my solo-trip through Eastern Europe. I ended up shopping with my younger cousin, Cuz, who herself, was bridging that gap between undergrad and contributing member of society. We found oursleves in American Apparel lining up to purchase some cotton, sweatshop free, t-shirts. It was if, in my absence, Toronto had been taken over by 18 year-olds.

“So you can just walk into a store and buy anything?” My cousin, who has yet to earn a steady income, queried.

“Well… not anything. Anything within reason.” I questioned in $23.00 was reasonable for a t-shirt…

“That must be nice,” she admitted before she became distracted by the girls in front of us. “So what res. are you?” The girl in front of me asked her friend in between chomping on her gum.

“McConnell with Jordana Bluestein. Oh my god… are you so excited for Dal?” The Cuz, a Dalhousie graduate herself, snickered. 4 years is a long time.

But back to the Park Hyatt, where the vested waiter was wondering if we were ready for another round. My Blackberry read: 11:30pm.

“I have a presentation tomorrow morning,” the advertising executive said. She was busy completing a re-brand for a major Canadian company. “I have an 8:30 meeting.” Another friend said. “Still have some work to do tonight.” A friend admitted. I personally preferred to have a teary goodbye with the guy I was seeing, rather then knocking back another gin martini.

Across the bar, the birthday girl, having been presented with a new silver bangle, and an uneaten carrot cake, was rallying her troops for the rest of their night. Bubbie swiped her Visa and the mother slipped the girl some cash for a cab ride home.

“Was that ever us?” Someone wondered. The question was left unanswered, in truth, whether that was ever us or not didn’t matter. It wasn’t us now. And so the group threw down our gold cards, pilled into the elevator and headed back to our rented apartments in the Annex. This? This is Twentysomething.