My friend Patricia is a clothes horse with a problem. She's got plenty of money and loves to shop. But she's not Kate Moss's size. And she's tired of getting the brush-off from emaciated saleswomen when she asks if they have anything in a 14. I joined her one recent, cold February day on a trip down Madison Avenue. It was a bit chilly inside, too. The saleswomen were respectful, but it's impossible not to feel intimidated when perusing racks of diminutive outfits under the gaze of teeny salespeople.
Which made me wonder: Where do affluent women who aren't Social X-rays shop? That's the question Patricia frequently asks, whether she's shopping on Madison Avenue or on Worth Avenue near her home in West Palm Beach.
The answer, it turns out, is shopping centers, especially fashionable malls with big anchors where real women can find what they need.
At Patricia's favorite, The Gardens of the Palm Beaches she heads for Bloomingdale's and Macy's. She says she can always find a variety of clothes in her size and, another plus, she can get full refunds. (Those fashionista boutiques force her to take a store credit on returns, which she looks upon as extortion.) “I know the malls can fulfill my needs without wasting my time.”
The Gardens, developed by the The Forbes Co. which also owns The Mall at Millenia in Orlando, is huge, with 1.35 million square feet and 160 stores. “It's beautiful,” she says. “And it's welcoming and really clean.”
Patricia also frequents Macy's at CityPlace, aredevelopment by The Related Cos. with 700,000-square-foot of retail. While the project has not lived up to expectations (see Shopping Center World, February 2002), Pat likes the ambience of an Italian village.
While she's out shopping she also stops at the luxe PGA Commons for gifts and art. She likes the open space and courtyards, which let her take full advantage of the tropical sun. The center, developed by brothers Joel and Jon Channing, is expnding.
Patricia, who feels comfortable at these lcoations. has always been a full-figured woman — and proud of it. She's five-feet, nine inches and curvaceous.
Her beauty and wealth mean little on Madison Avenue, however — and it bugs her. “This is who I am, and I don't understand why I should be written off as a customer,” she says. “They make me feel obese and I'm not. I'm big.” Size 14 is the top womens size before the Plus sizes and it's ignored, she says. Rarely do designer shops even stock 12s.
The couturiers' loss is a gain for Bloomies, Saks and other retailers that recognize that there is a powerful demographic in the Patricias of the world — mature women with the money to buy what stick-figure twenty-somethings can only look at in magazines. Pat is boycotting the boutiques on what she calls “Size 2 Worth Avenue.” And, she says, she's boycotting the brands represented there as well. “If they don't sell my size, I'm not going to buy their shoes or handbags either,” Patricia says.
There's a lesson in this for all retailers: Know your customer. If she's like Patricia, she wants respect, she wants choice and she wants convenience. “I'm going for ease and simplicity; alsowho respect me as a customer,” she says. She's going to the mall.