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 hit rock bottom.
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.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-07-21
- Reviewer: Staff
Sartorial style becomes a philosophy of life in this spirited memoir by Halbreich (Secrets of a Fashion Therapist), Bergdorf Goodman’s legendary personal shopper and the subject of the 2013 documentary Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s. From her affluent childhood in 1930s Chicago, through her moneyed but turbulent married life in New York, to her divorce and nervous breakdown at middle age, Halbreich recounts her life in clothes. High-end shopping had long been her major consolation when, in 1977, she found her calling: to help women—rich and poor, famous and obscure—find themselves by finding the right outfit at Bergdorf’s. When dressing clients, Halbreich explains, “I try to steer them away from the herd and make them understand the beauty of individuality.” She is a beacon of good taste and good sense, particularly when sharing her tart opinions on the vulgar fashion trends of the past quarter-century. The downside to her philosophizing is a tendency to lapse into cliché. (Perhaps we do not need a personal shopper to pronounce that when she was unhappy she did not know herself, whereas “now I am happy, because I do know myself.”) Still, Halbreich comes across as sage and gracious as she narrates a life full of incident, taking us inside the fashion industry and one of its great institutions. Agent: Carol Mann, Carol Mann Agency. (Sept.)
A legendary personal stylist's candid story
Eighty-six-year-old personal shopper Betty Halbreich stole the show in a 2013 documentary called Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s. Her slightly haughty demeanor was belied by a twinkle and a smile playing at her lips. There’s more to this story, she seemed to be saying.
Is there ever. In her deliciously candid memoir, I’ll Drink to That, Halbreich recounts her life in fashion. Born into a wealthy Chicago family, Betty was a lonely only child who adored but rarely saw her glamorous parents. A classic beauty, she was married at 20 to a dashing and wealthy New Yorker, Sonny Halbreich. Her only job was to dress well for their extravagant life.
But when infidelity cracked their marriage open after several years and two children, Halbreich attempted suicide and was briefly hospitalized. As she adapted to life as a single, middle-aged mother, she got her first-ever job. Using her legendary ability to put her own twist on an outfit, she worked her way up in the fashion world before joining Bergdorf Goodman (“Xanadu. Candy Land.”) in 1976.
Upper management soon took note of her ability to find the perfect ensemble for every lady who came through the door—no matter her shape or budget. After being put to the test by successfully dressing the legendarily stylish Babe Paley, Halbreich got her own personal shopping department.
“I took the lady of leisure style off my back and put it on others, particularly women who didn’t have only wealth but also big lives,” she writes. “With charities, multiple households around the world, and complicated families to run, they wanted to be fashionable but not look like everyone else. And they certainly couldn’t be seen in the same dress twice—in the past I never would have either.”
Halbreich shows very little sign of slowing down. She styles celebrities, socialites and the now-grown children of women she’s worked with, all of whom seek her trademark honesty and sharp eye.
In this superbly entertaining, surprisingly poignant memoir, Halbreich proves that fashion is about so much more than clothes: It’s a reflection of personal identity and self-worth, whether you buy your outfits at Walmart or Bergdorf.