At the entrance of Bergdorf, a rain-soaked doorman, who slightly resembles Chris Farley, swung the revolving door for me to enter. “How are you doing?” he warmly greeted. Unlike the suited-and-booted look Murphy’s, Lawrence’s and Grier’s characters sported, I was dressed to the nines in baggy camo pants, a hoodie, a fitted baseball cap and duck boots. However, while roaming the Designer Collections floor—where you too can buy gold Maison Martin Margiela sneakers for $940 or a $315 Archer Adams umbrella—not a single salesperson on the floor approached me. I wasn’t shadowed or told about the lack of a layaway plan.
Deciding to take my nickels north to the Upper East Side, I hit Madison Avenue’s Ralph Lauren location––about 10 blocks from Barneys. Marble floors; mahogany walls adorned with various paintings of distinguished jockeys, prized racehorses and debutantes. Tony Bennett’s Snowfall added light hues to the air of pretentiousness. This place felt more like a private club that I happened to crash than a designer fashion staple. Except, nobody rushed over to shoo me out the door. While the store’s handful of patrons were being tended to from oversize plush chairs, I walked alone in empty rooms that housed $3,000 pea coats and suits fitting for Daniel Craig’s next Bond movie. Essentially, I was a ghost for more than 15 minutes. So I escorted myself out the backdoor just as I entered the front, unnoticed.
Walking through the Big Apple’s soggy jungle, I had too many questions from too large of a gamut: Why are these luxe institutions still resistant to us as consumers? We’ve proven our market power to the effect of having our culture emulated for repackaging. It’s 2014! But then my judging shifted to us. Why do we put ourselves through the strain of scrutiny and passive-aggressive racism, just to buy Gucci loafers that will hurt our pockets?
While it’s too easy to oversimplify why a race that’s used to having less overextends itself to acquire excess, there’s no denying that hip-hop has played a major role in glorifying the practice of popping tags. It was Harlem rapper Juelz Santana who Christian first saw rocking the Ferragamo belt that ultimately lead to his seizure. Unhealthy messaging arrives when rap artists like A$AP Rocky (“And Versace, got a lot, but she may never wear it/But she save it so our babies will be flyer than their parents”) and 2 Chainz (“When I die, bury me inside the Gucci store”) push champagne living to a fan base dealing with Ramen Noodle realities. The result is a society of young African-Americans who’ve adopted a mantra of “fresh to death/head to toe until the day I rest.”
Ironic that the author of the aforementioned rap bar is Jay Z, who came under fire for not severing his partnership with Barneys New York to exclusively sell his own collection of high-priced clothing and accessories. Despite conceding 100 percent of the collaboration sales to his Shawn Carter Scholarship Foundation (after the profiling accusations), which helps low-income students pay for college, and acquiring a seat on Barneys’ board, Jay still faced an outcry in the black community.
Conducting their own investigation last November, Barneys absolved themselves of any wrongdoing in the incidents involving Christian and Phillips and placed the racial profiling blame on the NYPD.
“If this report is to be believed, it raises more questions than it answers,” Reverend Al Sharpton told New York’s Daily News. “If they’ve given the NYPD the right to do what they want, and they’re racial profiling, then you have turned a blind eye to racial profiling.”
In December, Sharpton and executives from luxury department stores such as Saks and Barneys created a “Bill of Rights” in order to protect shoppers from discrimination. The document states: Employees who violate the company’s prohibition on profiling will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment. Sadly, weeks later, yet another lawsuit was filed against Macy’s. Halim Sharif, 37, sought litigation for an incident in April where he was stopped after the $2,400 Louis Vuitton bag he purchased set off the alarm upon exiting. While stopped and questioned, he claims white customers left the Herald Square location also activating the alarm without being obstructed. Sharif recorded the entire development on his cell phone.
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