Runway: Don Ashby; Illustration: BrunoYou flew all the way down here from New York just to come to this place?” says the guy behind the counter at the Marni outlet in Orlando, Fla., incredulous that two women of seemingly reasonable intelligence — this would be me and my friend Laura — would travel a thousand miles to chase a bargain on a saggy sack dress or a cashmere sweater with elbow patches.
But hey, did anyone question Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady when they crossed the country in search of hot chicks and enlightenment? They may have trekked in service of the dharma, but Laura and I — and thousands of other women just like us — are members of another powerful cult, one that worships the oddly charming Italian clothes, sort of a cross between Raggedy Ann on a bender and Sophia Loren in “Two Women,” that bear the Marni label.
I’ve never been to Orlando before, but I like what I see as soon as I alight from the plane: lots of people are wearing mouse ears, which (1) are kind of cute and (2) suggest that the wearers are in most cases not in Orlando planning to spend $900 on a muslin Marni blouse.
By the time we rent a car at the airport (Orlando has many good points — the glorious weather and the Marni outlet, to name two — but a comprehensive public transportation system is not among them), check into our rooms at the Marriott (four times as big as the hugest rooms in Europe, but no room service) and cross the four-lane highway to the mall, it is 2 p.m. and we are quivering with anticipation. Not for us the humongous Dressbarn. No time for the kiosks selling twirling metal things called wind spinners. (Don’t get me one for my birthday, O.K.?) Finally, in the distance, we spy the pristine sign bearing the five little letters we are seeking.
Who would believe that nine hours and thousands of dollars could evaporate so quickly? By 11 p.m., when Marni shuts its doors, we have between us accumulated two vast pleated smock dresses, a coat that looks as if its sleeves were chopped off in a horrible accident, a cashmere sweater thick enough for Wasilla (maybe not the most useful item for Orlando), a green leather jacket with a gray lining borrowed from a sweatshirt, a yellow skirt with a curious flared back and, well, some other stuff, all at least 50 percent off the list price. (So what if fancy New York department stores offer Marni at similar end-of-season discounts? Does Bergdorf’s have a food court? Can you get a wind spinner at Barneys?)
The next morning, over a repast of croissants and Tater Tots — two basic food groups! — in the Marriott breakfast room, Laura and I both experience that hideous affliction known as buyer’s remorse. To paraphrase Sandra Bullock when she takes the football kid shopping in “The Blind Side,” “You will never like something as much as you like it in the store.” (Yes, I saw it. It was Thanksgiving night. Don’t give me a hard time.)
Seems that Laura and I were both up at 4 a.m. in our respective rooms, trying on our new clothes and thinking that perhaps a little judicious editing, a soupçon of restraint, might have been in order. But wait, what’s this? Another reason to love Orlando! I happen to glance at my rather extensive receipt and note this magical message on the bottom: “Seven days. Exchanges only.” Suddenly the idea of swapping a marigold skirt for a purse that looks as if it’s made from porch-furniture upholstery is glowing as brightly as the tip of Neal Cassady’s reefer.
The staff at the still-empty Marni shop greets us like long-lost relatives, and five minutes later we’re half-naked in the familiar dressing rooms. Desperately confused and with time running short — my plane leaves in six hours — I cast around for guidance. Should I add a few thousand more and buy a fur jacket that looks as if it had been stitched together by a second grader in a sewing class run by Tracey Emin?
In the end, I pretty much stick with my original stash: after a certain point — say, 14 hours of unrelieved shopping — all faux-naïf embroidered sweaters begin to look alike. Which is not to say I’m unhappy with my purchases. So why is it that, cramming my huge white Marni shopping bags in the overhead compartment on the flight home,
I am momentarily jealous of my fellow travelers, light as air and with only a pair of mouse ears and a wind spinner to remind them of their sojourn south?