Call me a liar. But deception was the only way to evaluate the personalized shopping services touted by New York's Four Seasons and Tribeca Grand hotels. They are just two of the many high-end hotels that have started offering personal shopping services to their time-constrained and retail-obsessed guests. I sent emissaries from both on a wild-goose chase for hard-to-obtain items, just to see if they could come up with the goods. Here's my shopping list: a studded Marni handbag that practically sold out before exiting the runway in Milan; an out-of-print edition of photographer Slim Aarons's Wonderful Time: An Intimate Portrait of the Good Life; a bottle of 1998 Pinot Noir from WillaKenzie Estate Coleman Vineyard (available in New York exclusively at Restaurant Daniel); and gift suggestions for a hostess who has everything. I also told some whoppers about an urgent makeover for a black-tie charity event and the opening of a velvet-rope after-hours club to test how each consultant would handle her specialty: one high fashion, the other designer clubwear.
Why would anyone, especially a veteran haggler like me, employ a personal shopper?The reasons are as basic as a little black dress: insider access and time management. Department stores keep personal shoppers on commission to flog their stock and field special requests from big spenders. I can poke through the racks at Saks or Bergdorf Goodman without someone cooing over my shoulder, thank you very much. But what if I covet an outfit or objet that isn't available in every retail chain and don't have time to hunt it down?That's where Marina Crispo comes in. A former general manager at the Barneys, Gucci, and Hermès stores in Manhattan, she now guides Four Seasons guests on shopping expeditions around town for $125 an hour. The hotel's concierge desk books Crispo; a charge for her time appears on your bill at checkout.
Dressed head-to-toe in Hermès, Crispo met me in the hotel lobby and we went hunting for a cocktail dress. On the phone the week before, I'd told her I had a black-tie fund-raiser coming up in Washington, D.C. (true), hosted by a power political couple (false), and that I needed a killer outfit pronto (true again). She'd booked an appointment with designer John Anthony, whose private clients include Kate Spade and Julia Roberts. At his town-house atelier on East 61st Street, I fell for a pink satin ensemble with a sable collar (price tag, $30,000) that he claimed Julia had considered for the Oscars; Anthony committed to customizing the ensemble within the allotted 10 days. Next we headed to Mish New York, an exclusive Upper East Side town-house boutique, popular with the likes of Susan Sarandon and Demi Moore, to select jewerly to match. On the way uptown we had stopped by Barneys New York, where Crispo introduced me to the accessories manager, who promised to locate the Marni handbag if I would bring in a picture. (Penalty points: wasted time.) Prior to our appointment, Crispo had paid a visit to Restaurant Daniel's chief sommelier, Jean-Luc Le Dû, to get the name of the WillaKenzie distributor (which she then passed on to me). Gold star. Overall, despite Crispo's very uptown disregard for price tags, I was impressed with her resources and eager to see what her downtown counterpart would offer.