Category Archives: Fashion

Adopting my first Choos

Behold my first pair of designer shoes. Kevin gave them to me on our second Christmas together, and I proudly proclaimed them my first pair of “Choos”. People were amazed that he could pick them out for me, but I was a loyal fan of “Sex and the City” at the time, and must have done some casual label-dropping. I just didn’t realize that he was paying close attention. The fact that he also picked up on my preference for Mary Janes just made the gift that much more impressive. I felt like an animal-lover who had stumbled upon the opportunity to adopt a full-bred, fancy dog. I was not and am not a snob about shoes (or dogs); I just found myself face-to-face with magnificent beauty and couldn’t resist.

I certainly never expected to own a pair of shoes like this, much less have them purchased on my behalf. Unwrapping them was overwhelming: they were swaddled in a Jimmy Choo velvet bag, which was nestled into a pristine Jimmy Choo box, which was packed with care into a fancy Neiman Marcus box, which was gift-wrapped and adorned with an elegant keychain. The packaging alone made me feel like a princess.

I will go ahead and admit that I went online the next day and figured out how much Kevin spent on the shoes. I will not be rude enough to post the amount here. If you know shoes, you know how much. If you don’t know shoes and are curious enough, you can look it up on your own. Suffice it to say that I was humbled and almost embarrassed, feeling unworthy of the magnaminous gesture.

You may think that shoes of this caliber would remain safety enshrined in the aforementioned bag/box/box packaging, until an occasion of some merit arose during which I could justify wearing them. You would be wrong: I was happy to wear them to work on a regular basis. The first time I wore them, I thought about the price with every step, keeping a keen eye out for stray puddles which would mar the flawless finish. On subsequent wearings, I still thought about the price and the puddles, just not as often. I was most often acutely aware of the shoes while traipsing through the shop, walking underneath cars being repaired on a lift. I knew it was wrong to be wearing them to a car dealership, but trying to keep them at home in a box proved very difficult.

So on a regular basis, (although not daily), I continued to wear the Choos. What started as simple rationalization (I have to wear them today since I just got them, or I have to wear them today since I have an important meeting) eventually became the mentality of the masterpiece art owner who insists on displaying the coveted work in their home instead of locking it up in a safer place: “the shoes were made to be worn and enjoyed!”

Finally the sad day arrived when I realized I may have rationalized one too many times. They were starting to show their wear; the tip of the heel was almost gone. (Yes, even the tips of the pricey shoes work down to nubs.) The problem with this situation is the lack of high-end shoe repair places. I couldn’t imagine taking them to Hakky shoe repair in the mall. I had once been reticent to trust them with my $100 pumps; how was I going to trust them with my precious Choos? With my $100 pumps, they had insisted that I leave them in the basket on the counter and return “in about an hour”. I told them I prefered to watch and wait. They argued that there were many shoes in line ahead of mine. I reluctantly left, feeling like I had just allowed a stranger to pet-sit for me. I sadly strolled through the Mall with visions of returning to the Hakky counter, where they would force me to take someone’s Payless shoes and insist that they were the same ones I brought in. It didn’t happen – my shoes were fine –  but until I can find a way to entrust my Choos to a reputable Choo-repair establishment, they will remain on temporary hiatus in their fancy velvet pouch.

I have received other designer shoes from Kevin since then, including a pair of the “urban shoe myth”, a reference only SATC fans will recognize. While I realize that this likely qualifies me as officially spoiled, I try to remain in humble awe of any designer shoes, recognizing them for the works of art that they are, and appreciating all of the shoes that I own, regardless of their pedigree.

The Former Clinique Consultant

I have a recurring dream that I am selling cosmetics and it is going horribly. There is chaos: too many customers, the products are in disarray and I cannot find what I need. I am unsure what to do and I scramble through the drawers trying to find a lipstick, or a cleansing cream. My hair is a mess and my make-up is faded. My co-workers are unwilling to help me, and my frustration builds until I wake up.

I don’t know how to analyze dreams, but I suspect that this one does not have an underlying meaning that relates to my career. It has been almost 20 years since I left the cosmetics business, so it is not a part of my daily thought process. When I have the dream, it is probably more a reflection of what I ate that day, or the temperature in the room. Still, I cannot help but think that I harbor some subconscious connection to the days when I wore the white lab coat with the silver “C” pinned on it.

Back then, in my 20’s, working for Clinique was a dream job. I had been promoted to cosmetics from the men’s department, and immediately took a liking to it. While not a superstar sales consultant by any means, I did well overall because I worked hard and offered good customer service. I liked staying busy, organizing everything and studying the new products. I quickly learned that everything in the famous light-green box with silver C emblem was a high-quality product: Clinique, after all, is the number one prestige skin-care line in the world.

When Clinique began in 1968, they were pioneers. It was un-heard of at that time to talk about exfoliation, sunscreen, and facial soap at the fancy department store make-up counters. Even today, the strength of the brand is that it is always unique and innovative. I was proud to be affiliated with that. Despite standing on my feet all day, and working through holidays and weekends, there wasn’t much I didn’t love about the gig. I especially loved the product and the customers.

The best thing about my job, however, was the training. This company was impeccable in their consultant education. They had Account Coordinators to visit stores and share product knowledge, and a Training Manager to facilitate comprehensive, hands-on classes. My training with Clinique is some of the best I have had in my career- and that is saying something, considering that I have worked for some impressive companies, including Hilton Hotels and Lexus. I still recall Melanie and Nancy, the trainers during my 7-year tenure in the industry. I admired their sharp presentation, their confidence in the product, and their dedication to the company.

The lessons I learned from my Clinique training would stay with me forever. I once had an Account Coordinator (LeeAnn) tell me that she bled green-that is how much she loved the company. At the Macy’s store in Athens, I can still remember how she responded when we made a comment about a new eye-shadow color. The shade was Yellow Moon, but it should have been called Obnoxiously Bright Lemon, because that is what it looked like. It was color #50 and I can picture it to this day. We were concerned about our ability to sell this color, and she told us, with complete conviction, that “everything Clinique makes is wonderful”, and that we would grow to love Yellow Moon as much as Bronze Satin or Silver Peony or any of the other top sellers. Now, you need to understand that Leeann wasn’t selling us a story, and the lesson wasn’t even about Yellow Moon as a color. The lesson was that we should ALWAYS be positive about EVERYTHING. If Clinique does something, it is awesome. Period. I realized then that if you tell yourself that something is great enough times, you will eventually believe it. This was a lesson in “The Secret”, decades before any of us would hear anything about the power of positive thinking. I would never, from that point on, say anything less than enthusiastic about a Clinique product.

I rarely said anything less than enthusiastic while away from the Clinique counter, either. It became a mind-set. That concept of keeping things positive would eventually bleed into the rest of my life, and years later, when people would comment about my proclivity to see the glass half-full, I would tell them my Yellow Moon story. I wish I could find Leeann today to thank her for the heart-felt company passion, and for her faith in a color that should have really been reserved for ice cream or wall paint. Color #50 was, of course, discontinued within a year, but it certainly was not from a lack of Leeann’s attempts to save it.

Another concept I picked up from Clinique was the power of the open-ended question. Clinique knew that the secret of successful selling was a healthy dialogue with the customer, and the way to do that was to ask them a question to which they could not give just a short “yes” or “no” answer. We all came up with open-ended questions designed to keep the conversation going. “What do you like about this Balanced foundation?” “How long have you been using this Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion?” and “Tell me more about your skin care goals” were some of my favorites. When I began selling cars in my 30’s, I would use this skill again, and later came to realize that healthy conversations and open-ended questions are at the core of all productive relationships. The key is to show a genuine interest in people, let them talk, and care about what they say. This is not a selling technique, it is a life technique.

For Clinique, though, the technique was a rule, along with the positive outlook axiom. I like to think that their rules were a large part of Clinique’s success. The rules all seemed like common sense, but they were good habits for us, and we were held accountable to them: always look polished, no earrings larger than a dime, long hair pulled into a ponytail, always use full product names, always capture customer information on a file-card, always offer your customer a sit-down consultation and always skin-type your customer on the Clinique Computer. Successful companies set expectations of their employees, and this clear structure worked well for Clinique.

I say “worked” because I really have no idea if any of these rules still exist. I tend to think that they do not, because I have been purchasing the products for the last 20 years and rarely have anyone offer to put me on a card file, or skin-type me, or sit me down for a consultation. That’s not a bad thing, cultures change, and maybe those strategies don’t apply to today’s busy consumer. But in my heart I know what the person in the white coat should do when I ask to purchase some Balanced Make-up, and I’m disappointed when they don’t ask me what I like about it. I’m dying for someone to get to know me like I knew my customers, remembering their names and their favorite colors, and where they worked, and what their skin-care goals were. It makes me think that if I could do the job again, knowing what I know now after growing up, and working for places like Hilton Hotels and Lexus dealerships, that I would completely rock it. I fantasize that I would rise to the top as a Sales Consultant superstar, following all the rules and breaking all the sales records. And just when I start to become convinced of my enormous potential, I have this recurring dream…..