Ahhh. The serenity of a mountain stream. The quiet of a Zen retreat. Worlds and worlds away from The Horror at Tysons Corner Center -- yet simply across the street -- the cobblestone courtyard of Fairfax Square was washed by the rain, then treated to sunlight.
A breeze was blowing.
An arm was hanging out of the window of a black Cadillac Fleetwood with a cellular-phone antenna. The arm looked calm. The arm was wearing a gold Rolex. It had a cigarette in its hand. This was being smoked by Eddie Fritts of North Arlington. He wore a red V-neck sweater with a club insignia. He gestured toward the front of Tiffany & Co.
"I've got two women in there," he said placidly. "They've both got black belts in shopping. We've just done some early Christmas shopping."
He looked sheepishly in his rearview mirror, perhaps at Tysons, where the cars hemorrhaged onto Leesburg Pike like blood from a chest wound. Car after car after car. Hunters and gatherers. Going in. Going out. Going in.
Fritts was waiting patiently for his wife, Martha Dale, and daughter Kimberly to finish up. He said that whatever recession there is hadn't changed his Christmas budget. This was their first stop -- and they'd been inside Tiffany for an hour. "We're going out of town and needed to get some things in the mail," he said. "Maybe they're picking up a few trinkets for themselves," he added dispassionately. "I guess I'll get the verdict when they come out."
The parking was easy. The cars were all clean and found places right in front. Fairfax Square was an oasis of order yesterday, and unstained carpets. Leather wallets were glorified in cases by pinpoint overhead lights. Key chains glistened. Loafers lounged. Watches ticked. Silk scarves dangled like laundry on the line. There were no faces tight with tension. There were no strollers, babies, litter, lines. There was no popcorn.
"I don't even think we can say this is a mall," said Deborah Bruzzo at Fendi. "It's more a square. It's where you can come and shop leisurely, and then have a nice lunch."
Gucci-Hermes-Fendi-Tiffany blended into one solid site of pink granite where virtually nothing was on sale. People come here not to find bargains, but to avoid them. Store managers were confident, manicured. They would stand in the middle of their stores -- next to the loafers and wallets, saddles and snaffle bits, silk scarves and ties.
Inside Tiffany, a Christmas tree stood in the foyer with many, many blue boxes under it -- perhaps approximating the Fritts family tree to come. A guard paced around it. Rooms led off to china on the left, handbags straight ahead, jewelry in a dark wood-paneled room to the right. It looked like a pirate's cave. There were eight customers. Robert Baumgardner, the vice president of Tiffany, approached with careful, even steps and a chalk-stripe suit.
"There are five different key rings we've already run out of," he said. "But as far as foot traffic goes -- this is not our busiest day."
The day after Thanksgiving is "more of a big shopping day for department stores and general stores," he said without disdain, "but fine jewelry, no."
Baumgardner, who looks like Arch Campbell on a good day, has been "in jewelry" for 20 years, and with Tiffany for four. This particular store is setting first-year-in-business sales records for the company, which has, according to Baumgardner, "a good three-pronged strategy for growth."
Tiffany was the first store to commit to leasing space at Fairfax Square. The company agreed to locate there, according to Baumgardner, under the condition that two or three other stores that met with the company's approval also committed. Tiffany supplied the developer, Metropolitan Partnership, with a list of six pre-approved stores, including Gucci and Hermes, both of which committed to the shopping center soon after Tiffany.
Gucci-Hermes-Fendi-Tiffany. Wallets. China. Silver pens. Silk Scarves. Handbags. Conspiracy?
"I know," said Roya Kingdom, store manager of Gucci, when asked if she'd noticed that all four stores carry similar items. "But our scarves are different from an Hermes scarf, and our china is different from theirs. It's like paintings -- you choose whichever ones you like."
There were five people browsing unbothered around the Gucci shop, sweeping across the Italian marble and polished burled-wood cases. Backpacks and boots were reduced in price. It was hard to tell the Gucci key chains from the ones at Tiffany.
"We are taking the GGs off everything," said Kingdom about the revamped Gucci lines. "We're selling quality now, not names."
Inside Fendi, nothing was on sale. There were saddles and bridles, though, to compete with the ones at Hermes. (A Fendi saddle for $3,045. An Hermes saddle for $3,100. A Fendi bridle for $420. An Hermes bridle for $1,400.) "We offer customers something the other malls don't," said store manager Bonnie McClellan earlier in the week. Fendi key chains start at $20, ties are $70, scarves are $250 to $400. The leather handbags go for $300 and up. There are furs for $6,000 to $138,000. They sold the wild mink.
A woman inside Hermes was spritzing Bel Ami into the air. We've forgotten to talk about fragrance, one of the quick-selling, lower-priced items -- a bottle can start at $30 -- that all these boutiques offer. Yesterday, you could smell the Bel Ami all the way over by the lounge chair for $10,000, the horse's muzzle brush for $50, the hoof picks for $125 and the horse's grooming basket for $495.
The famous Hermes scarves sell for $195 now. There's one scarf named Pierre d'Orient that has sold out in several colors already, according to store manager Stacey Whittier.
The biggest crowd of people at Hermes -- not exactly a jam-up, mind you -- gathered on the limestone floor by the assortment of men's ties. The louder and bolder patterns, said a saleswoman, sell the best. They go for $95 each. And contrary to everything you may have heard, most men buy their own.
Louis Vuitton is coming next month, Dunhill next year. La Cicogna -- "the stork" in Italian -- will open in a few weeks. It's a European store for infant, children's and maternity items. Italian bistro Primi Piatti will open in January. Morton's of Chicago has opened already.
The street signage is understated. People have said it's hard to find Fairfax Square. Driving out of Tysons Corner Center on Leesburg Pike, it looks like an empty pink granite office building.
Is this part of the Gucci-Hermes-Fendi-Tiffany plan?
"We never thought we'd be attracting the masses," said Baumgardner, "like the mall across the street."