Saturday, June 2, 2007

Missoni and Me..and a Torah

It was my mother, with her keen eye and appreciation for quality, who first brought Missoni, the Italian knitwear company, to my attention. Missoni's products are characterized by bold - often zig zag - patterns, bright colors, exquisite workmanship, and eye popping prices. For many years I have been intrigued by their designs, whose wild exuberance both attracts and repels me.

At a department store in Florence I noticed some of the Missoni spring scarf collection on sale, the average price of one being $140 at current exchange rates, or more than double what I would normally spend on fabric neck decor. Would I spring for one, I wondered, after having this fascination with their brand for so long?

A few days later I visited the Jewish Museum at the Florentine synagogue, which housed a collection of older ritual objects. Towards the rear of the exhibit I noticed a Torah scroll covered in a woolen fabric with the unmistakable colorful zig zag pattern that characterizes many a Missoni item. I asked a Museum staffer about the resemblance, and was told that the zig zag is an old Tuscan pattern, which Missoni has adapted if not appropriated.

Returning to the department store on my final day in Florence, I carefully examined the scarves. To buy, or not to buy? Not, as it turned out. I didn't love any of them.

During my final hour in Florence, I hurried up a street I had not been on before. There were many knitwear shops with scarves galore. My time in Italy was coming to an end and I didn't have the luxury of deliberating. I picked up a few at a boutique whose owner seemed indifferent to my presence. Advancing another few blocks, I spotted a sign that said "Missoni Winter Scarves 50% off". Entering the shop, I asked the clerk to see the scarves. She showed me the full priced spring scarves.

"And isn't there a sale on winter scarves?" I asked, a bit sheepishly.

"Yes, they are downstairs. I'll accompany you," she said, turning on the basement light. They had a few scarves left, two of which were potential candidates. While deliberating, I spotted a multicolored item folded on a shelf of a wall cabinet.

"Is that a design for men?" I asked, half hoping it would be so that I would not be tempted.

"No, it's for women. It's a sweater," the clerk said, laying it out on the counter. It had two of my favorite colors - olive green and shades of red orange, along with brown, blue and white. It appeared to be my size, and I was smitten. It was the Missoni for me.

Dare I look at the price tag?

With 30 minutes to go before I had to collect my luggage and head to the train station, I had no choice but to take a peek. The euro total was solidly in the three digits, and still was after the 50% discount. Then came the lousy exchange rate.

"It will last you a lifetime," said the voice in my head.

A few moments passed. The sweater was long, tunic style, and I asked the clerk if she could show me how it looked with a belt. Quite fine, actually.

I pondered.

"I will just get the sweater," I told the clerk.

"But the scarf looks so nice on you," she said, draping it across the sweater, which I was still wearing. Damn, she was good.

"If I buy both," I asked, Israeli style, "can I get a further discount?"

"Well, I suppose we can ask the owner. Why not?" she suggested.

We went upstairs. The owner raised his eyebrows at the proposal - wasn't 50% off enough? - but genially shaved a few euros from the price. He also reminded me that, as a non EU resident and given the purchase amount, I was eligible for the VAT refund, which he could grant on the spot. Punching in a few numbers on the calculator, he showed me the new total.

It was now a number I could swallow.

I signed the receipt and, running several minutes behind schedule, hurried to my bed & breakfast and was still packing my bags when the taxi arrived to take me to the station. What the zig zag clad Torah has to say about all this, I have no idea.

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