I’d never been to an H&M store until last week, when I took my college freshman daughter to the one in the Time Warner Center in New York City. The giant Swedish retailer is on a roll these days, after Helen Hunt wore a navy satin strapless dress bought from H&M at the recent Academy Awards ceremony.
Lili was born in China, and she seems to have the “waste not, want not” philosophy built into her DNA. When she and I went to the “Waste Not” installation at MoMA a few years ago, we agreed it was brilliant. Chinese artist Song Dong displayed over 10,000 ordinary domestic objects such as toothpaste tubes not quite squeezed empty, owned by his late mother, who suffered poverty in the Cultural Revolution and refused to throw anything away. Think “Hoarders: Buried Alive.” The display managed to reflect not just one woman’s life, but the modern history of China.
“Lili,” I said, pointing at a rack of blouses that cost just $12, “You should get several of these! The same shirts at J Crew cost $50!”
“Why?” she responded. “Mother, you think just because something is cheap, you should buy it. I already have a lot of shirts like these.”
“True that,” I said, using a phrase she uses that I don’t really understand.
Oh, how much I have to learn! I thought LOL meant “LOTS OF LOVE.” How wrong I was. It means “LAUGHING OUT LOUD,” and sometimes could be taken as an insult if you were not trying to be funny.
Lili is majoring in IMC — Integrated Marketing Communications, for the uninitiated. She wants to work in digital media strategy, which she will do next summer at Boston University’s Summer Program as an intern. For this, she needs appropriate work attire. I can offer no advice since it has been over a decade since I left my job in communications at American Express. And in 2002, every day was dress-down day.
“Hey, Lil,” I said to her at H&M. “Did you know that when I started my first job in New York City at the Madison Avenue ad agency Doyle Dane Bernbach in 1982, I wore a tie?”
“What do you mean, a tie?” she asked. At least this got her attention.
“A necktie, kind of like the ones men used to wear, but smaller, and tied in a bow,” I said.
“Disgusting,” she said, finished with this topic.
A careful shopper with quite a good eye, she purchased a cropped grey wool jacket for $35.
“Lili,” I pointed out, “look at those real buttonholes! In my day, you had to buy Armani to get those. How does H&M do it, at such a low cost?”
“By using child labor in China, Mother,” was her response.
After an hour at H&M, I had to return to our apartment a few blocks away for a nap. This would be my last trip there, I told myself.
Not true. Just yesterday I was back, this time with Zahra, a teenager from Afghanistan who is studying at a prestigious New England boarding school through SOLA — the School of Leadership Afghanistan. She is tiny but tough, with the deepest, most beautiful dark eyes and the smoothest skin I have ever seen. She is wearing the hijab, or headscarf, and it conceals her beautiful lustrous hair. It is her choice, she told me, and even though it has led to profiling at airports, she has stood her ground.
I volunteer for SOLA, mentoring young Afghan women and hosting them while they are in the U.S.
Zahra could not believe H & M. It was her first time, and she was like a skittish rabbit, going from rack to rack, unsure what to select.
Like my Lili, she was a careful shopper with a budding fashion sense. She wore black jeans, a grey sweater, and a grey checked hajib. She also had on sandals, even though it had snowed earlier that day.