Bergdorf's meets 'Girls': An unlikely fashion duo
By Jocelyn Noveck
Published: Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013, 5:49 p.m.
Betty Halbreich had something to share over brunch the other morning.
“I'm wearing a panty girdle,” allowed the 85-year-old personal shopping guru at the legendarily tony Bergdorf Goodman on New York City's Fifth Avenue — not a shocking revelation for a woman of a certain age who's spent her life impeccably attired.
“I've never worn a panty girdle,” replied her brunch companion and co-panelist, Lena Dunham, the 27-year-old creator and star of HBO's “Girls.”
“I know!” replied Halbreich.
Big laugh from the crowd.
Opposites may attract, but still, at first blush, it's a little hard to imagine what would unite Halbreich, the no-nonsense Bergdorf's doyenne who's been catering to her well-heeled clientele for nearly four decades, and Dunham, whose oft-scrutinized fashion choices — or, choices to wear little of anything at all on her show — seem as far from Halbreich's world as conceivably possible.
But in a potentially delicious convergence of two radically different orbits, Dunham and Halbreich, 58 years her senior, are coming together for a project based on Halbreich's life. Dunham and co-writer Jenni Konner (also of “Girls”) are slated to write a comedy series, currently in development at HBO.
Whenever that might happen, it's a proposition that raises lots of tantalizing style questions, as was clearly demonstrated at a Sunday brunch at Bergdorf's BG restaurant, an event put on by the New Yorker Festival and moderated by fashion writer Judith Thurman.
For example: Jeans.
Betty: “I have to tell you, I've never worn a pair of blue jeans in my life. I've tried them on. Behind closed doors. They're very uncomfortable!”
Lena: “True. You need jeggings. Like these. Highly stretchable.”
Or eye shadow.
Betty: “I told you, that blue eye shadow at the Emmys made your eyes tear.”
Lena: “I know. The Emmys weren't my finest hour.”
Betty: “You realize that most people have never seen the back of themselves. They've never used a double mirror.”
Lena: “Maybe they don't want to know.”
Or Dunham's controversial taste in fashion.
Lena: “I've been told I have terrible taste.”
Betty: “Who told you?”
Lena: “US Weekly.”
The Sunday crowd was a refreshing mix of Upper East Side — undoubtedly clients of Halbreich — and younger fashion types closer to Dunham's age. Refreshing because each cultural subgroup seemed to appreciate the other.
“There's a pragmatic principle behind the way Betty dresses people,” Dunham said. “It's very inclusive. There's room for everyone in her process.” She also noted how Halbreich “is able to be in the fashion world, but also take it down a peg at the same time.”
In her ninth decade, the engaging, blunt-spoken Halbreich is enjoying a rash of publicity; earlier this year she was highlighted in the documentary “Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's.”
She likes to tell how her adventures in personal shopping began. Working initially at the second-floor Geoffrey Beene boutique, the store's head came to her after a year and asked her why there was no record of any of her sales.
Turned out, she said Sunday, she was letting others register her sales, because “I didn't want to use the cash register.” Even today, she notes, “My hands have never touched a computer.”
She asked the boss to set her up as a personal shopper, and the rest was history.
Of course, Halbreich doesn't dress Dunham, and she didn't say much about her clothes, though she did seem to like Dunham's stylish red pointy boots. And they bonded over their nightgown collections — though Halbreich implied hers were private, whereas Dunham said she liked to share hers on Instagram.
And, as for “Girls,” the show that has made Dunham one of the best-known young personalities on TV?
“I've never seen it,” Halbreich said, without a trace of self-consciousness.
Jocelyn Noveck is a staff writer for the Associated Press.
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