Cliche of the Week: Only in New York

Friends who live outside of New York often ask why I live in the city. For one, it’s expensive. For another, it’s a big honking hassle:  you find out mid-commute your subway is no longer going where you thought it was going; you have to stop at four different supermarkets to find the three ingredients you want for dinner.

But every once in awhile I have one of those “only in New York” shopping experiences that’s so good it keeps me going until the next time I find myself in line behind 10 people at a cafe with only one surly hipster manning the espresso machine.

One Tuesday night in early November I had just such an experience.

It was at a sample sale for the clothing label Lilla P. which makes elegant cotton basics, the kind of pieces I always say “if I could spend $100 on one long-sleeved t-shirt, it would be that one.” In fact, the first piece of clothing I purchased last summer once my lost shopping appetite returned, was a Lilla P. dress. It was a basict grey tank dress and I spent more on it than I would have liked to, but some pieces fit so well they’re worth the splurge.

I arrived at the Lilla P. sample sale a bit late, but the nice woman running the sale let me in anyway, with a smile, no less. She seemed so knowlegable about her stock that I wondered:

Was this Lilla P. herself?

She explained that she was indeed the company’s founder and owner, though her name is actually Pauline; Lilla was her grandmother.

I soon realized I was the only person still shopping, and apologized. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I have to clean up anyway.” She even called her husband to put him on childcare duty.

As I was browsing the racks, Miss Lilla herself picked through the racks and bins for me, finding pieces she thought I would like, stopping her work each time I asked her opinion.

As the “definitely taking” pile grew larger and the “no’s” pile remained scanty, I realized I was having an “only in New York” experience: having items handpicked by the designer who also happens to live in the same building as her workspace. Outside of New York, I’ve realized with dismay, almost no one knows what a sample sale is.

When I finally picked my goodies, I realized I’d made a classic sample sale mistake. I didn’t have eough cash; sample sales are notorious for taking only cash. God, you’d think I was an amateur.

That turned out to be a boon, since it meant I got to accompany Pauline to her showroom and catch a glimpse of next season’s offerings while she set her alarm for the night, then I got a few more minutes of QT with this awesome designer while we walked to the nearest ATM.

My haul for the evening: a shawl-collar layering top with ruching at the wrists — so perfect I bought one in aubergine and one in an olive. A swingy black jacket. A blousey greyish tan top, perfect for casual Fridays. And, the best find of all, a crisp black cardigan for $10; it has become a wardrobe staple I wear at least twice a week. For all five pieces I paid $100.

The only downside– I’m now totally spoiled. I only want to shop at sample sales and have the designers themselves hand-pick my purchases.

Well then, despite everything, I guess I’m in the right place.

What can I say? Only in New York.

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