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Seven Hills

Boston-area exploration, travel notes, crafty things, and other Somervillainy.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Shopping with the Stars

When I go to New York I always look up a few places I've been meaning to visit, stores or restaurants I've read about, stuff like that. This time I spent an afternoon in Soho checking out the knitting shop Purl, and also Global Table, a kitchen and tableware shop that seems to be referenced in every issue of every home design magazine I've ever read.

Both turned out to be small, appealing, packed with carefully selected goods ... and a little disappointing. Perhaps a bit like seeing a beloved celebrity in person and discovering them to be a lot smaller and normal-looking than they appeared on the silver screen. Each of these places is name-dropped so often by the style cognoscenti, my expectations had been built up for something more.

True, the Purl storefront glowed like a happy rainbow on the gloomy, rain-spattered afternoon that I stopped by, and the fibers filling its cubby-lined walls were brilliantly colored and exquisitely textured to the last skein, but I can think of three or four other knitting shops off the top of my head that offer an equally scrumptious selection of yarn, with more to choose from, more inspiring books and gadgets, and a more comfortable setting. There was nothing wrong with Purl, but I don't know that it deserves all the special attention it gets.

As for Global Table, while it does bring a lot of interesting items together in one place, it felt kind of cluttered and messy, and didn't have much that I hadn't already seen elsewhere. Though it's possible it was just spoiled for me from having seen all the goods before in those endless "what we want NOW" magazine spreads.

I think the bottom line is that the people who work for these magazines mostly live in New York, and they've got to dredge up ideas for their stories the same as any journalist. At the end of the day, it's easiest to scout for merchandise within walking distance. And while these two stores (along with the rest of the editorial darlings) may be perfectly good, or even great, it's always going to be difficult to live up to the hype created by all that shiny editorial language. You know, kind of like when you read that a store "glowed like a happy rainbow."

Of course, knowing it's all marketing and spin won't stop me from hunting down the little hot-list boutiques, any more than it will prevent me from keeping my eyes peeled for famous folk, however small or ordinary they may appear in the flesh. It seems that as long as you pay attention, and particularly if you visit one of the trendier neighborhoods, you're sure to see somebody, though there's no guarantee it will be someone you care about. I enjoy how random this is - unlike a movie, where you know going in whether it will be peopled with stars from the A, B, or D list, the New York streets are not delineated by velvet ropes ... at least not yet. Everyone's just out there milling around and doing their thing, just like you or me (but with more money).

I suppose I should try to be blase about it, but I can't help it: I'm totally star-struck. I haven't run up to talk to anyone (so far), but I do tend to sidle around looking out of the corners of my eyes in a really obvious way, trying to take in the presence of the mythical celebrity beast in my own humdrum reality.

My cousin and I saw Anna Paquin shopping in Nolita last fall, and this summer Daniel and I passed Jimmy Fallon walking along with his head down and a "please don't notice me" expression on his face, but my most random and amusing "star" sighting was this last visit, and was the best because it was such a non-event: I noticed Ken Burns at the J. Crew in Soho, into which I had ducked to get out of the rain. Now, I am aware of the work of Ken Burns, respect what he does, and even watched a good bit of "The Civil War" many years ago, but I am by no means a devoted fan, so mainly I just found it funny that I recognized him at all, much less instantly. Also, because as he walked through the menswear department he gazed at the chinos and sweaters with the same slightly creepy, wide-eyed intensity you see when he appears on PBS, and pointed out various articles of clothing to the people he was with as though they were researching a documentary on the history of preppy clothiers in America. And who knows, perhaps that is his next project.

It's unfortunate that there isn't some way to sign up in advance for celebrity sightings, perhaps via Gawker Stalker, so the person glimpsing the celeb fully appreciates the experience. (No offense, Jimmy Fallon, but while I was excited to recognize you, you were otherwise wasted on me.) Maybe we could somehow barter them, à la craigslist ... let's see, on the day I saw Ken Burns, I could have swapped him for a Kristin Davis or a Jennifer Garner (with Violet) sighting. Though the mere fact that I consider Ken Burns a "celebrity" probably indicates I was the right person for the job.

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