Once upon a time, Mahatma Gandhi decided to
buy a mink coat.
He came to this decision very suddenly as the sat at the airport in New
Delhi, waiting for the plane to Bombay where he was to give an important
speech. A magazine from America blew out of the hands of a visiting
Pakistani dignitary and the periodical tumbled on the floor of the
waiting area, right below Gandhi’s knees. The magazine fell open to a
photograph of Aretha Franklin resplendent in a voluminous black mink.
“What becomes a legend most?” Gandhi read. Why, I’m a legend, he
“Enough of this talk about pacifism,” he told his startled assistant. “I
want a mink already.”
The assistant hustled to change the airline tickets, and promptly,
Gandhi was sitting — for the first time ever — in first class on PANAM
flight 0000 to JFK.
Gandhi arrived in New York right on schedule, whisked through customs
(Mahatma Gandhi is here!), booked a very nice suite at the Plaza Hotel
and before you could say shanti shanti, he was charging down Fifth
Avenue, much to the delight of the passersby. His first stop was Brooks
Brothers, so he could change out of the white thing he always wore.
“I have such skinny legs,” he told the pleasant young sales assistant at
Brooks, and the legs were immediately placed into a salt and pepper
“Very Wall Street, very nice,” said the salesman. But when Gandhi told
him “put the suit on my account,” the young man balked. He tiptoed over
to the floor manager, and whispered in the older man’s ear:
“See the elderly skinny bald gentleman from India? — He doesn’t HAVE an
account with Brooks.”
“For God’s sake,” said the floor manager, who was a man of the world.
“Can’t you see that is GANDHI? And besides, my good fellow, can’t we
just for once in our lives support this man, this hero, who is finally
at his advanced age, making this decision, this commitment I dare say to
be well-dressed, comme il faut?”
“Well,” said the young man. “OK.”
Forty-five minutes later, Gandhi strolled back to the Plaza, all
gabardine and sandals, gazed upon himself in the lobby mirrors —
verifying that he was truly ready to become a legend in the fullest
sense of the word.
It was time for Bloomingdale’s.
Gandhi walked over to the corner of 59th and 5th. His personal
assistant, an anxious young lady with a fresh degree from Oxford, who
had sat all twisted up on one of those PANAM coach seats, followed him
out the hotel’s revolving doors and down the steps; she wanted to go to
Bloomie’s too. But Gandhi shook his head, and then peered over his
shoulder up 59th Street, where he waited — as many well-dressed
Manhattanites do — for the cross-town bus.
The #4 bus was packed. Talented youngsters from Julliard clutched
trombone cases, and cymbals, and sheet music for contraltos and tenors
while they chattered and sang. Ladies were traveling back east from the
concerts and ballets at Lincoln Center or from the dramas and musicals
on 42nd Street with an array of well-behaved nieces and nephews, or
loquacious grand- and godchildren. These sophisticated persons were all
murmuring about motivation, presence, and method versus continental
acting behind lace collars and jackets with the crests of Connecticut
schools on breast pockets, their necks rising up from strings of fine
pearls, club ties, and silk scarves, their heads covered in all manner
of stylish hats.
When Gandhi boarded there was an immediate, welled reaction within. Why,
isn’t that? No, it couldn’t be. But, yes it is, and who knew he had such
a sense of style? Well, I could have told you. Why, how marvelous!
“Please,” said Gandhi to the bus driver — he had given his seat to an
elderly lady holding a Playbill — and now stood near the front so he
could more easily address the driver. “Please tell me when we get to
There was a hush and even more murmuring as everyone nodded approvingly:
Such a nice store, and so much variety. Yes, a little lower-scale than
Saks but those prices! Best was best ha ha don’t you think, but
Bloomingdale’s certainly, Bloomingdale’s, yes.
Bloomie’s rose — black and silver with flags fluttering onto Lexington —
a shrine onto itself. Past the perfumes, the chocolates, the entry to
the subway, the watches, hosiery, and up pas Juniors, Designers, and
even Children and Housewares.
To the Fur Salon. Why, Mr. Gandhi yes, Blackglama, do you really…? Well,
of course, Aretha Franklin. Perhaps a size 8?…
And there was Gandhi slipping slim arms into the fur, twirling like a
dervish, in the blackglama mink. Smiling a secret smile that no one —
not Indira or Tagore or the British or his most secret love — had ever
seen . . . Before he took it off (the coat, not the smile), caressed the
fur, and slowly spread the mink on the floor of Bloomingdale’s, where he
lay down and prepared to make a hunger strike. His greatest. His last.
And without a doubt his most shamelessly glamorous.
Gandhi’s hunger strike at Bloomingdale’s became a sensation. Andy Warhol
and the Factory entourage arrived to make a movie about Gandhi and the
blackglama mink. Lou Reed wrote a song about it. The nice young man came
every day from Brooks to dress Gandhi in yet another lovely suit. STARVE
IN STYLE, a Brooks promo created specially for this event ran in the
Wall Street Journal, Esquire, and Playboy.
Not to be outdone, Bloomie’s developed its exclusive Gandhi line. There
was Gandhi perfume and Gandhi luggage, Gandhi gloves, and Gandhi
strollers, and even tiny porcelain Gandhi plates for those determined to
eat as little as possible.
Day after day, people came to shop for the Gandhi products (sold only at
the New York store) and to see the great man himself, now in creaseless
linen blue, now in a jaunty plaid. And always so thin, so very very
svelte. His skin above the collar and below the cuffs becoming
In the years that followed Gandhi grew so transparent that he was able
to teleport through the city, astral-planing in surprising locales,
leaving his body, a wan, witty husk in its suit de jour on the top floor
of 59th and Lex. He was spotted at the New School lecturing on
economics, at the US open gearing up for his killer serve in classic
Lacoste whites, buying toy trolls on Madison in Bermuda shorts, treating
everyone on 102nd Street to Bazooka bubble gum which he dispensed while
wearing a white and pink seersucker suit. There were swank shots of him
in W, The Fashions of the Times, and Vogue. In black tails, a tux, or a
morning ensemble of dove gray. In orange Nikes playing a pick-up game of
Basketball on Avenue A.
And isn’t that he just now at the corner — by the dumpsters, which line
our city’s largest empty space? He walks into the ruined downtown Brooks
Brothers, and circulates among the silent people who lie in neat rows
along side the stacks of dusty button-down shirts. Stepping delicately
over the twisted metal and broken glass, he leads the stockbrokers,
elevator operators, police- and fire- persons, cooks, waiters, tourists,
and a young prop stylist who came from Hoboken, New Jersey for her first
big photo shoot to a long, but polite, queue.
At the very edge of the island, Gandhi waits. As the New Yorkers, New
Jerseyites and visitors ascend an escalator to realms which both
epitomize and transcend style, he waves a blessing with one hand.
Plunges the other — opalescent, vital — into an endlessly deep pocket of
warm, lustrous black.