By Ted Kruckel Posted January 19, 2009, 2:38 PM EST
With balls, balls, balls popping up everywhere in the D.C. area—there’s even a ball for homeless people paid for by Virginia businessman Earl W. Stafford—gown and black-tie vendors are emerging in hotel lobbies with temporary shops. I took a tour of a few this weekend and tried—albeit unsuccessfully—to find those plastic things that keep your collar from curling up, which I always seem to forget.
In the rotunda lobby of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel stood a Ralph Lauren tableau vivant featuring two blonde tartan-clad sales ladies and a bow-tie butler to tie your tie or help you push your cufflinks through the holes. The girls couldn’t have been more chatty and charming, while the bow-tie butler was a natty young chap who fidgeted with his phone and paced nervously, like a racehorse chomping at the bit. On a Saturday morning, his services not yet called for, he was all dressed up with no bow-ties to butler.
But this stuff was not for sale, just for display. Not to worry, Tartanette No. 1 escorted me down the escalator to a massive underground hallway that lead to a surprisingly compact but fully stocked Ralph Lauren shop.
Immediately, I was impressed. Despite the opulent surroundings, the Polo folks opted to bring three lines of menswear, Ralph Lauren Purple Label, Ralph, and Polo by Ralph Lauren, to service the hotel’s clientele. If a $195 tie is too rich for your blood, there is a perfectly acceptable version for less than half that. I regretted later not buying a $45 pair of gloves; my kidskin set shredded in the cold the first day.
There were staffers everywhere, including an imported general manager of the Polo flagship store in Chevy Chase, Maryland, which apparently measures 25,000 square feet. The mind reels.
The velvet dresses came in red and black from the Purple Label holiday collection, and only the black wool capelets were moving. There were velvet hunt jackets in scarlet with contrasting black collars for $465. But if you preferred something more low key, they also had them with red collars on black. Gray men’s dress pants were a reasonable $125, and they had every single size and are restocking daily, so I haven’t ruled out a return.
They did not sell collar stays. Darn.
May I take a picture? I asked. No I may not. Not without calling upstairs to a marketing person, who emerged quickly and efficiently to announce that she couldn’t authorize a picture either. She needed to call corporate. I was losing interest. Finally we agreed that I could take a picture of the vignette in the lobby. After all it is a public space, is it not?
So there I was, focusing clumsily with my Canon, when up comes bow-tie butler to tell me, “You can’t take a picture here.” We needed to find this boy something to do. While he busily called downstairs to the marketing lady to confirm my negotiations, I looked out the window at the Jefferson Memorial and thought, Where is everybody? The hotel lobby was not hopping and there was only a handful of guests in the restaurant.
I got my shot and left the Mandarin, hoping business would pick up soon for the sake of the bow-tie butler’s mental health.