My Technicolor Dreamcoat

by

12/31/2006

109 Thompson St, NY, NY 10012

Neighborhood: SoHo

When you buy a secondhand coat, you never really know what you’re getting into. The lining was a little ripped but something about this vintage coat spoke to me, though I couldn’t tell you what. This coat, with its uncelebrated designer, I found at Legacy on Thompson Street in SoHo. It is fitted on top, cinched at the waist, before curtsying into a bouncy, Anna Karenina bustle-like flair and features a double row of large shiny golden buttons. The fabric is a fuzzy wool and mohair with an oversized hound’s-tooth pattern of ivory laced with Naples yellow, ochre and chestnut and its silk label says “Couture, Ltd.” and true, its hand-sewn lining looks very couture indeed. But that is not why I call this my “Technicolor” dreamcoat. Like the coat of Joseph in the Biblical tale, it inspires strong reactions, but instead of making people jealous, it does something else. The first I day wore it, three men on the street paused and said,

“Nice Coat.”

I would expect a reaction like this, with say, a wrap of scarlet or shocking pink or a low-cut number. I would expect to stop men in their tracks with some jungle-cat animal print. But I have a leopard print coat and even with its showy and iconic allure, it inspires virtually no reaction. My new find, however, with its demure charm, I realized on its first outing, turns heads. As the blustery days wore on, men of all sizes, races and ages admired it. Hair up or down, Manolo Blahnik’s or Minnetonka moccasins, the coat worked its magic on all of them. This masculine admiration, it should be noted, was not of the unwelcome, lascivious sort, epitomized by the Ruth Orkin photo of the young American girl walking down the street in Italy while men ogle, leer and make cat calls with their eyes. This admiration is understated, complicit and above all respectful, as if these men were maybe complimenting an elegant ’67 Jaguar or Citroën DS 21 M Cabriolet.

I stopped by Legacy and told Rita, the owner, about the coat’s power. “I know,” she said. “It’s vintage. Vintage coats do that. It’s like magic.” She had a point. They don’t make coats like this anymore.

Empowered by my vintage ammunition, I marched on to Kate’s Paperie to buy wrapping paper. My color scheme involved silver, gold and copper but I spied the last roll of silver in the shopping basket of a chiseled, well-groomed man. He appeared to be staring at me. I found him near me where ever I wandered. I mused, could my coat get me that silver paper?

I ended up in line behind him. He stepped out of line and approached me.

“That is an amazing coat.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“The maitre d’ of my restaurant would love this coat.” PAUSE. “She loves clothing like this.” PAUSE (This was my cue to say, Oh, which restaurant? Oh, stop by for dinner? I’d love to…But I was staring at the silver wrapping paper.) “Are you a designer?” he continued.

My chance for the paper had never been better but I decided not to use the coat’s power for such lowly material gain, to wait for something bigger. Whatever that might be.

Walking west on Prince Street I paused by a jewelry table. Heather Graham, or someone who looked like her, was perusing the earrings, her tall imposing escort in tow. I saw something on the table I liked. I was asking the price when the imposing escort sidled up to me. “That’s a nice coat,” he said. I looked up. Way up. It was a guy in a Peruvian knit cap and sunglasses. Michael Richards, you know, Kramer, from Seinfeld. The day before my husband had been too shy to ask Bill Clinton in Barneys to autograph a copy of Secret Lives of the U.S. Presidents. I would not be shy. I would get Michael’s autograph for my husband…but on what? An organic chocolate candy bar I’d just gotten for him at Dean & Deluca. He’d approached me after all. I held out the bar.

“Oh, I can’t autograph that,” he said. “Then he won’t be able to eat it. Here, get him one of these.” He pointed to the script table, right next to the jewelry table. He had autographed several Seinfeld scripts and the vendor proudly held them up and declared he’d get $75 to $100.

“I only have $20,” I said.

“Oh, he’ll sell it to you for $20,” said Michael. He loomed over the guy.

“Won’t you.”

“I guess so,” said the script vendor.

“Which one?” I asked.

Michael looked through them all with a serious expression. “They’re all good. But I’d get “The Yada Yada.” And don’t look across the street at the paparazzi.”

I did look. There were paparazzi. Would the coat appear in some tabloid? The Star? The National Enquirer? The Weekly World News?

Good-bye lovely chalcedony earrings, hello “YadaYada.”

But not a speck of ink was given to this cute, generous, gentle moment with Michael Richards, the actor who stumbled charmingly into Seinfeld’s apartment over the years, who strutted down the street in the Technicolor pimp coat episode. (My coat encounter occurred before his off-the-deep-end fiasco.) If only I could run into him again on Prince Street, and ask him just what it was about the coat that so charmed him. I decided I would ask the next man who complimented the coat. I would ask why and I soon had my chance at 57th and Seventh.

My cabdriver, Jean-Luc Kabre, veered toward me before I’d even lifted my hand.

“I like that coat.”

“Why? Why do you like it?”

He squinted in the rear view mirror. “It looks like a lion.”

“A lion?”

“The colors.”

“Just the colors?”

“And it is fuzzy.”

“Where are you from?” I asked.

“West Africa.”

Was an elegant, ladylike coat in a sea of utilitarian parkas like a majestic, endangered species? I felt like a rarity. Lions in West Africa, I’d recently read, number fewer that 1,500.

Jean-Luc dropped me off at Your Neighborhood Office in the West Village and I soon had a chance to do more “market research.” No sooner had the compliment been uttered by Jason, the mail guy, when I asked, “Why?”

“I love those buttons,” he said. He leaned in closer. “They’re so big and shiny. I can see myself in them.”

Is that it? Maybe men are like crows, attracted to shiny objects. Or do men simply project and see what they want to?

Over lunch at Petite Abeille I told my friend Jennifer Belle about the coat’s power to engage men.

“Where did you get it? Can I get one?” she said. “What does it look like?” I described it. She looked thoughtful.

“Maybe it’s not just the coat. Maybe it’s only activated when you put it on.”

“I think,” I said, “that the coat activates men’s fantasies.”

But when I got home I called Rita at Legacy. “What is it with this coat. Why are men so attracted it to it?”

“It’s one of-a-kind,” said Rita. Then, as if she was having an epiphany, she confided, “And I know what it is. A vintage coat like this reminds men of their mothers.”

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