It’s not exactly midnight–far from it, actually–but the sun is long gone, and Paris settles into its nighttime routine, buildings aglow from the front, grandiose and sculptural, flood lights exaggerating their every crevice and nook and cranny.
The Vietnamese quenches our hunger, especially after the pre-meal walk by of the Grand Palais and Hôtel des Invalides across the river, and now, we are six deep–Marek, Mauro, Sara, and their Portuguese friends, Marianna and Fabio, kinesiologists working their butts off to build a nest egg in Paris to bring back to Lisbon, where the euro goes a hell of a lot farther there than here.
Now, we are back on the Champs Élysées, a commercialized mess of trendy stores, a far cry from the glamorous boulevard of yesteryear, save for the oh-so-beautiful macaroon store Ladurée, which we, unfortunately, snuff, because €1.50 macaroons are just a tad pricey, ‘specially when you’re looking for a dozen to bring back to the folks.
We strut our stuff into the Mercedes exhibit, a sweet collection of oldies, and upon exiting, Marianna tells us about a new concept store. Just as she starts to paint the picture of topless male models, I get a sniff of something familiar, a cologne I know I’ve smelled a thousand times over.
My nostrils curl up in faint distaste before my brain puts two and two together, Marianna going on about how this concept store is almost like a discotheque, and as we round the corner past two stern looking bodyguards into the store’s courtyard for an exclusive rear-entry proposition, this new-to-Paris concept store suddenly feels really old to me.
What’s taking Paris by storm is Abercrombie and Fitch, and I can’t believe this shit-for-merchandise store still manages to fraud itself into the hearts of the masses, now the French masses, and here we go, for now, almost a decade after my last foray with the brand and with a new pair of perspectives, it is exactly like going into a club and I, therefore, understand the European fascination with this place where modelesque nudes welcome you into a perfumed store, lights dim, music pumping.
The thought of returning to this shopping experience sends Psycho shrieks in my brain, for now, I’m back at Flatirons Mall where for almost a year, I co-managed the big kid store while my friend Jean-Marc managed the little kid store, and while I looked on in horror as some of my co-managers plucked under age girls to work in their store so that they could stare at the sixteen year old beauties with barely restrained sexual appetite, eating them up with the mature lust of well-into-their-twenties men, wholly inappropriate, read, borderline criminal.
Oh, the flashbacks are horrible and come tumbling down like the Hitchcock original, me remembering how for months and months and months, I dreamt in Abercrombie soundtrack, the songs fracturing my reverie, singeing my brain like a hot iron.
And, how, after my first day on the job, I bussed it back to Boulder in tears, for this supposed management experience was really more a return to a vicious high school, valley girl style, for I was not in the company of adults but, rather, under the direction of evergreen post-pubescence, which, unfortunately, still goes by big time names like sexual discrimination, racial discrimination, forged time entries and the like, resulting in a civil suit against the company for a slew of ill wills, giving me a fairly interesting pay-out for damages accrued while employed by the supposedly hottest thing to hit the mall.
So, now, here in Paris, I do as Bear does and just shake it off, casting aside the dark side of retail management while recognizing the lessons learned in things like internal shrinkage and group management and surviving Black Friday, and I have a sliver of hope that for the Frenchies, they, too, will see beyond the smoke and mirrors.
How funny, too, that what we in the US call a marketing gimmick–getting barely-dressed hotties to attract shoppers into the store–parades around as a concept here, clearly the evolution of pervasive advertising, a clever spin.
And, just like that, the A&F perfume permeates my nose hairs, and despite being clear on the other side of town, I swear I still smell the stench of their cologne all the way to my futon bed in the 1er.