I’ll Drink to That: A Life in Fashion, Straight, No Chaser
Penguin Press HC September 4th 2014
Eighty-six-year-old Betty Halbreich is a true original. A tough broad who could have stepped straight out of Stephen Sondheim’s repertoire, she has spent nearly forty years as the legendary personal shopper at Bergdorf Goodman, where she works with socialites, stars, and ordinary women off the street. She has helped many find their true selves through clothes, frank advice, and her own brand of wisdom. She is trusted by the most discriminating persons—including Hollywood’s top stylists—to tell them what looks best. But Halbreich’s personal transformation from a cosseted young girl to a fearless truth teller is the greatest makeover of her career.
A Chicago native, Halbreich moved to Manhattan at twenty after marrying the dashing Sonny Halbreich, a true character right out of Damon Runyon who liked the nightlife of New York in the fifties. On the surface, they were a great match, but looks can be deceiving; an unfaithful Sonny was emotionally distant while Halbreich became increasingly anguished. After two decades, the fraying marriage finally came undone. Bereft without Sonny and her identity as his wife, she attempted suicide.
After she began the frightening process of reclaiming herself and started therapy, Halbreich was offered a lifeline in the form of a job at the legendary luxury store Bergdorf Goodman. Soon, she was asked to run the store’s first personal shopping service. It was a perfect fit.
Meticulous, impeccable, hardworking, elegant, and—most of all—delightfully funny, Halbreich has never been afraid to tell it to her clients straight. She won’t sell something just to sell it. If an outfit or shoe or purse is too expensive, she’ll dissuade you from buying it. As Halbreich says, “There are two things nobody wants to face: their closet and their mirror.” She helps women do both, every day.
“I had always marched to my own drummer when it came to dressing-turning my cardigan sweaters backward when I was a teenage because I didn’t want to look like everyone else, or pairing brown shoes with a navy skirt in a combination that most people assumed was mismatched but looked well on.”
I am an admitted fashionista, next to books fashion and all it encompasses is my passion. When I stumbled upon Betty Halbreich’s memoir I jumped at the opportunity. Any person enthralled with fashion knows Betty Halbriech. This elegant, poised grand dame is an artist. No she doesn’t work with the accoutrements your average artist manages, rather her canvas is the female form and all its glory. Despite her humble and modest pleading NOT to be referred as a legend, this woman deserves the title along with icon, diva, and queen. Halbriech has been guiding and educating women in the fine art of dressing for decades. Her list of clients is extensive and impressive. Ranging from celebrities, to the average woman seeking a knock out party gown, Betty Halbriech is THE trusted woman up for the challenge. Her natural given gift allows her to showcase her craft. Not only does she dress, she bandages, listens, advises and anything else her clients require. She’s skillful and a healer with her sixth sense to fill the emotional, physical et al void clients can’t quite express.
“With each of my long-standing clients, I had first entered the dressing room a stranger. But after years of putting on and taking clothes off women’s bodies-as they bigger with children, aged, lost weight after divorces, or were ravaged my illness-I became a confidant and sometimes like family.
In the simple act of disrobing, a woman bares her soul, and I am there as a witness. Stripped of her clothes, she is very exposed. It is my job to make her comfortable with me and ultimately herself.”
Halbriech is candid and open in sharing her memoir. Telling of her childhood, upbringing, making a point of citing her ‘flaws’ all the way through to her erratic marriage to the love of her life, her attempted suicide and much much more. She’s upfront regarding her job demonstrating the demands, victories and at times thanklessness.
“So that’s how you do it, I thought while exiting my little office. You bet on with life by facing it.”
A woman of quiet strength, she has evolved not only with fashion changes but with her own personal shifts life presented her. She’s risen above dark times with sheer elegance, aplomb a woman of wisdom can only demonstrate.
“I had always been taken care of. Always. That was a lot of growing up to do for a woman in her forties. But I had finally found a person who believed in my potential.”
I respect the woman and her story, she is as fascinating as she is talented. Her memoir allows not only admirers of the fashion industry privy into Betty Halbriech’s life but a wonderful opportunity for other’s to hear the story of a woman that has set the bar for others to follow both personally and professionally. She is a star in her field, anyone NOT wanting to spend time with this legend, grand mistress of fashion must be wearing their clothes too tight. Here’s to you Betty, thank you for your time and telling me your story…I’ll drink to that!
“Rather I honor it by being a good listener, which I consider the most important attribute I bring to my work.”
“I hope to make an experience called shopping a bit more than just trying on clothes. When I’ve helped a person like what she see sees in the mirror, I’m fulfilled.”