Monday, Jan. 8, 2001 | 10:23 a.m.
Rita Rudner needs a new pair of shoes. Black ones. I'm joining the buying expedition to see how the other half shops. We meet at the chichi-est of Las Vegas shopping zions, the corridor at Bellagio, because I figure that's where people like Rita Rudner (wealthy, attractive celebrity types) pick up life's little necessities.
Only there's a glitch.
"My husband and I were victims of an international credit card fraud ring," says a somewhat stricken but particularly lovely Rita Rudner as she walks up to me in front of Giorgio Armani with her publicist, Tanya, in tow. "My husband [writer-director Martin Bergman] was in LA and he went to buy my birthday present and they told him our card was no good. It's the only one we've got. But they let him take the [gift] anyway. He's a really good customer."
Of course, they did. That's what the Bergdorfs, Bloomies and Barneys of the world do for the Bergmans, Baldwins and Barrymores of the world. Me? I'd be lucky if they let me loiter in the shoe department for more than 10 minutes. But this isn't about me.
"So I'm sorry, but I can't buy anything," she says apologetically.
Sorry my ass! I'm expecting to see some serious cash dropped. I'm shopping at Gucci, Prada, Chanel, Tiffany & Co., et al with a bona fide celebrity, after all.
But I soon forgive her. You see, it turns out Rita (she said to call her that) is just like me. She prefers shopping at the Fashion Show (just like me), a good bargain (just like me) and, as I'll discover at lunch, Circo's three-bean soup and field green salad (just like me).
Disguised behind black Chanel sunglasses, Rita--clad in black capri pants, a pink-and-white striped boatneck T with three-quarter-length sleeves and a pair of fuchsia-colored low-heeled sandals replete with delicate bows--is a waif of a woman.
Slung over her right shoulder is a Louis Vuitton handbag, the color of cotton candy (one of many gifts from husband Martin). One wrist drips in antique diamond bracelets (birthday and Christmas gifts from Martin), the other in a tangle of pink beaded bracelets ($18) that she bought herself. Her rhinestone, butterfly-shaped earrings ($10) are pink. Her watch is kids Swatch ($35), also pink. "I love to mix things that cost $15 with things that don't," she says.
As for the gorgeous heart-shaped diamond around her neck: It's a 10th anniversary gift from Martin, which she casually tucks underneath her shirt as we open the heavy glass doors to Tiffany & Co., because diamonds have feelings, too, and she doesn't want hers to get low-diamond self-esteem.
Minutes later, Store Director Suzy Nagle "stops by" to say hello. She recently saw Rita's show at the MGM Grand and "just couldn't stop laughing. And your dog is so adorable."
"He's not in the show every night," Rita says, "so I'm glad you got to see him. He had to go home Saturday and get a bath."
Her dog is Bonkers.
"He has a checkered past. When we got him he'd been hit by a car. He had two pins in his hip and an ear infection and he was full of tangles. Now he's the most beautiful dog you'd ever want to know, and he sleeps on a bed in Beverly Hills and in a penthouse at the MGM."
My cat sleeps on my head. But this isn't about me.
As we make our way through the blinding glass cases, Rita points to the classic six-prong Tiffany cut and says, "My husband really, really loves this huge diamond ring. Then he realized that we'd have to sell our house. But they are so beautiful.
"How do you get them so shiny?" she asks Suzy (who also said I could call her that).
"It's the cut of the diamond."
"I think it's Windex," Rita whispers.
Later, I ask Rita if she looks at price tags when she shops.
"That's always the first thing I look at. And I always look at the sales rack first because I buy a lot of gowns and not everyone in America needs gowns, so a lot of gowns go on sale. I'm a person who needs to wear a gown every single night of her life. Most people need to wear gowns at their prom and at their wedding."
As we return to Armani, I comment on her Louis Vuitton handbag. It turns out she only buys two bags a year. She built her whole summer and spring wardrobe around this one.
"My husband bought me this bag and I just became a pink lady. Everything I bought this whole year was either pink or goes with pink and everything orange in my closet just got shoved to the back."
At Giorgio Armani, General Manager Philippe Neraud greets us at the door. This is usually the case. The staff of a high-end boutique seems to know when someone famous is coming even before that famous someone knows.
Introductions are made, and Rita shares with him her special shopping needs.
"I always look for things that are a bit shinier than what most people look for because I have to be on stage," Rita tells Philippe (I know I can call him that, since we've met before). "I never look for anything for my personal life. When you have to go out every single night of your life you don't want to get dressed up and go out. That's why I didn't even want a wedding. I said to Martin, 'I have to get dressed up in a big dress, and people aren't paying? That's not gonna happen.'"
Also, unlike most women, Rita requires that her gowns be able to roll up easily in a suitcase and not wrinkle.
"I have one gown that's fantastic. It's Norma Kamali," she says, whispering the designer's name so as not to offend Philippe. "It's made of this material that you can wash in the sink. So if I have to go two or three nights on the road, I can still bring it because I can wash it in the sink and hang it up and it dries overnight.
"Not that many people have a need for that," she says, returning her attention to Philippe, "so I don't think you should cater to that. Most people don't walk into Armani and say, 'I want something I can roll up, wash in the sink and carry in a bag.'"
Then Rita gets to the point: "Do you have any sale things at Armani?"
"Twice a year," Philippe says, grimacing slightly. "'Sale' is an ugly word at Armani. We have sales at the end of May and into June, and in late November--40 percent off."
"You'll invite me, won't you?" Rita coos. "Just send the invitation to Rita Rudner at the MGM Grand. I'll get it."
Philippe then shows us the sheer pants and top Michelle Pfeiffer wore to the premiere of What Lies Beneath.
"That's fantastic. That is my favorite thing. My problem is that I have a really good opening joke that involves a gown so I can't perform in slacks until I think of a new opening line."
As we make our exit, kisses are shared all around and Philippe graciously gives her a bottle of Armani's new fragrance. "Maybe I should come shopping with you more often," Rita says to me. You mean this doesn't happen all the time? No answer. Rita's already eyeing the window at Chanel.
As we mosey over, I discover her favorite designers are Kamali and Karl Lagerfeld, and that Rita only buys one expensive gown and one expensive "regular" outfit a year.
"I just love Chanel because there is such a distinct style to it and you can just tell the fabric and the detail that's gone into the making of every little bit is so fantastic."
I share my fetish for shoes and ask Rita if she has a penchant for any accessory.
"Because I don't look down very much I don't really bother with shoes. I have shoes that I really love and they last for so long. Mostly I wear sneakers to run around in and I never wear anything else."
But when we finally get around to the shoe shopping, she tries on two pairs, size eight medium.
"Stuart Weitzman makes beautiful shoes. These look comfortable, but my husband wouldn't like them. These look like my Frankenstein shoes. Hey, Tanya, these are by the same guy that made my Frankenstein shoes." Frankenstein shoes? "They're clunky and I love them, but they're not Grace Kelly."
But Rita's feeling guilty. She's very loyal to her purchases. She says that's one of the reasons Martin--her husband of 12 years although she says 10 in her act because it's "funnier"--married her. The other? She's frugal. And she's feeling really guilty about shopping for new black shoes when she has a pair she loves in Los Angeles.
"These are really comfortable but I think the heel is too low," Rita says after trying on a pair. "I need to be higher. Women need to be different heights at different times of the day and at different times in their lives. Men are always the same level, but women, sometimes we have to be really high and sometimes we have to be in the middle and sometimes we just have to be low."
"But never that low," her publicist adds.
"No, this is like bedroom-slipper low."
The salesman finds her another pair.
"Now these are very much like the ones I have but much cuter. Oh my gosh, $328." She turns to the salesman. "See, I can't do it. You did it. Don't think you didn't do it. You did it. You picked a great pair of shoes."
"Well, I had a great foot and a great leg to work with," he replies. But there's no sale.
A discussion about what to do with the peds ensues. Rita wants to wash them out before she gives them back. Tanya and I admit to often just sticking them in our purses.
As we walk out I ask Rita how much influence Martin has over her purchases.
"If he hates it, I don't wear it. I had a pair of pants I really liked. I bought them at Cach. And when I wore them, Martin said, 'When exactly are you going to wear those again so I can be out of town?'"
It turns out Rita isn't just like me. Aside from the obvious differences--she has homes in LA and Palm Springs, and here at Turnberry Place when it's finished in two years; she's just finished her first novel; and her Great Performances special will air on PBS later this year--when faced with purchasing another pair of black shoes when the ones she really wants are just a plane flight away, she just can't. Me? I would have bought those and the Jimmy Choos next to them.
I suppose that's why the wealthy stay that way, while the not-so-wealthy numb themselves to their squalor by shopping. (But this isn't about me. Really.)
"When you go shopping, it's people wanting to help you do what you want to do," Rita says. "What could be better than that?"
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