A year ago, I was buying a $4,000 jacket. The entire transaction took 30 minutes, but seemed like much longer, and the whole time I couldn’t feel my face. It was surreal. I walked into the store, tried on two things, looked at myself in the mirror, and handed over my credit card with the lowest APR and a conciliatory cash-back policy. The Asian girl who helped me had blunt bangs and heavily lined eyes and wore a distressed denim duster. Her name was Shelley. It was all super casual in the store.
Outside, on the blustery Tribeca street, I couldn’t breathe. My face was really, really hot.
I had to sit down. I slid into a nearby café. I’d just quit my job to become a freelance writer, so it was extra-batshit that I’d bought two MacBook Airs’ worth of lightweight coat. I also knew, with conviction, that I’d sooner eat a pound of hair than suffer the humiliation of returning it.
When the juice I ordered cost $12, I laughed. It was the dry hiccup of my brain breaking. Things cost what they cost in a nightmare. If the rapture had cracked a fissure in the sky, I would have been like, Would you look at that? Those Caucasians in bad pants were right.
I’m not one of those people who shops compulsively, feels feelings, and then shoves all that dread in a drawer and backs away. Trying to be a writer in New York is a big-enough crazy that you get just the one before somebody puts a foot down. Even I know that. To make up for my dubious profession, I don’t loll around ordering garbage off the internet, nor do I sashay into boutiques, cooing and air-kissing salespeople who refer to me as their “client.” I don’t do “baller” things on Instagram. I have never purchased anything Kanye West has ever yelled about.
Which is why the day’s events were so loaded.
I have no idea what possessed me to walk into the Rick Owens store. To call this flagship a store is hysterical. It’s a miniature fortress of solitude constrained by New York proportions that shrewdly offsets the stark, jagged cave-witch clothes inside. To the uninitiated, it’s uninviting and faintly hospital-ish. Entering is akin to arriving at the cafeteria of a new high school, where said high school is populated entirely by clones of Rihanna. It’s terrifying. You worry you might wet yourself a little.
The mystique of the store has mostly to do with the designer. Rick Owens is a tall, sinewy man with a thin nose, Old World teeth, and fantastic hair. He resembles an Egon Schiele subject and lives in a five-story Parisian mansion with his muse and business partner, Michèle Lamy. (Lamy doubles as Owens’s much older, pygmy-size, polyamorous goth wife.) Together they make $800 shirts that look like lice-infested shrouds worn by medieval serfs.
Their coats appear rough-hewn, essentially untreated hides cut into fascinating shapes of seemingly extraterrestrial origin. The moment you throw one on, however, the weight falls into a mysterious, life-affirming silhouette. The black suede, fur-lined Rick Owens motorcycle jacket I selected made me feel thinner, taller, and infinitely more interesting. I looked as if I were in on a secret. The coat was the distillation of everything I’ve ever found seductive about not only living in New York but the prospect of belonging there, too. (As opposed to the Hollywood red-carpet gown that makes tourists of us all by mandating a need for full-body makeup and a “flesh”-hued Spanx tourniquet to the knees.)
I dared myself to buy that coat and then dared that coat to rebuke me. I wanted to prove that I could visit the apex of cool-rich-people New York (as opposed to the tacky, evil, overwrought rich-people New York*), buy a souvenir, and not turn into a hobo. I know native New Yorkers complain all the time about how anesthetized the City is now. Still, I’ve always found living in New York deeply scary. Without a trust fund or famous parent (and even then, sometimes you need both), the odds of success are ludicrous. It’s not just the fact that you don’t have any money. It’s that money no longer makes sense. This is the part that took me forever to figure out.
Of course, the jacket has since been ripped off by countless less-expensive brands. And when women stop me in the street to tell me they have the exact same one, I don’t correct them. It’s like tithing. On some days, it’s the nicest thing I’ll do. They really should thank me.
*I don’t actually know that there’s a significant difference.
Excerpted from Oh, Never Mind, which is now available on Amazon.