Winona Ryder's Forever Sweater

Winona Ryder’s Forever Sweater

Ten years ago today Winona Ryder stole several thousands of dollars worth of merchandise from the Beverly Hills Saks Fifth Avenue. I reacted to the news of the incident the way I react to most celebrity scandals — with unmitigated delight — and prepared myself to follow subsequent action with mild interest.

Then, on the day of her arraignment, a friend called me. He was very excited. (The last time I had heard him like this was during the 1994 Oscars when I called him to make fun of Susan Sarandon’s dress and he picked up the phone, having no idea who was calling or for what reason, and wailed, “I know, it’s hideous.”) His excitement was more buoyant today, less despairing. “She stole a thermal,” he said. “Winona Ryder stole a thermal.”

I knew immediately what he meant — a Marc Jacobs Cashmere Thermal. “No way,” I said. Weirdly, I was living just a few miles from the incident, and he was in New York.

“How do you know?”

“How do you not know? Bye.”

I had been with this friend when I saw my first Marc Jacobs Cashmere Thermal T-shirt, at the Barneys on 61st Street. He is a very good dresser, and not just in that generic gay way of like, “Girl, how cute do I look in this!” He’s more Brideshead Revisited gay than Chelsea gay. The fucker has taste. Anyway, we were in the men’s department at Barneys and he paused at a display and held up what appeared to be a soft brown shirt. “Behold this masterpiece,” he said somberly.

I gathered the thing in my hands and held it like a baby. It was so soft. It was silky. It was a sweater, not a shirt, but you could wear it like a shirt. It could be slipped on with nonchalant elegance, and was so beautiful it made you think marrying someone fat and stupid and rich would be ok, if you could just wear one of these all the time. Each delicate square of waffling was its own tiny island of sumptuous luxury. It cost a fortune — over $500. “This is a forever sweater,” I said. A clerk at Charivari — the now-defunct boutique where, coincidentally, a young Marc Jacobs worked — had once referred to a sweater I purchased there as ‘a forever sweater,’ and we found this phrase ridiculous, but not without meaning. I so wanted this object. “Why is it so perfect?” I moaned.

In the exact same tone Tom Cruise in Risky Business says, “Porsche, there is no substitute,” my friend said, “It’s perfect because it’s a Marc Jacobs Cashmere Thermal T-shirt, and Marc Jacobs Cashmere Thermals T-shirt are just perfect.”

We stepped out onto Madison Avenue, dizzy with desire, overcome by that experience unique to extreme youth where the humiliation of being underpaid and the belief that greatness and luxury goods are just around the corner merge into one sensation of sweet yearning. We made a pact: The first one of us to get rich would buy the other one a Marc Jacobs Thermal T-shirt.

I think this was the late mid ’90s. It might have been 2000. I do remember that at the time my favorite joke (stolen) involved looking downtown, pointing to the World Trade Center, and saying, “Hey! I thought somebody blew those things up.”

Part of me thinks I should forget about telling the next part of the story, that a big frowny face followed by an ellipse would be sufficient. At one point I thought I was rich but by the time I got around to getting us our thermals, I realized I owed the IRS so much money that my accountant, an Orthodox Jewish woman in her 70s, stood up from her desk one afternoon and shouted at me, “Your freewheeling days are over, missy.” Then my friend seemed like he may have been about to enter Thermal Country, but he got laid off. The towers fell, for real. I actually read in the paper (in addition to being stylish my friend is very discreet, funny how those go together) that he had a fancy new job and I wrote him an email, not congratulations — never congratulations — but “Where’s my thermal?”

He wrote back, “This is a good job but it’s not Thermal good.”

Not terribly long after Winona’s incident I had my brush with success. I promised my friend as soon as I got a house, I’d get us thermals. I bought my house in 2004. Needless to say a. I no longer live there and b. if you care to go through my things at the more modest place I live now you will not find a Marc Jacobs Cashmere Thermal T-shirt.

About two years ago my friend and I were sitting in a bar, making the stupid jokes we make to avoid actually talking about our lives. Halfway through drink two I made a weak foray beyond senseless, apocalypse-driven repartee and said wistfully, “Someday we’ll get our thermals.”

“You actually think one day one of us is going to buy the other a Marc Jacobs Cashmere Thermal T-shirt?” His eyes were large and indignant behind his Robert Marc glasses. “Are you insane? Personally, I’ll consider myself lucky if I don’t have to eat you when you die.”

I called the LA Saks Fifth Avenue the other day. Just to see if they had any. After all, what did it mean to not be able to afford something? I mean, I do have $700 dollars. So I could afford a thermal. Sure, it would be idiotic of me to buy one, but I’d been wasting money on stupid things for years, and really, why should I stop now?

“Saks Beverly Hills, can I help you?”

“The Marc Jacobs boutique, please.”

“Marc Jacobs or Marc by Marc Jacobs?”

Ma’am, I just want a thermal, I wanted to whine. But I said, “Marc Jacobs, I guess.”

“Hello, Marc Jacobs.”

“Yes, I’m wondering if you have any cashmere thermals?”

“Do you want Marc Jacobs or Marc by Marc Jacobs?”

“I’m looking for the cashmere thermals,” I said.

“I think you want Marc by Marc Jacobs.”

Before I had a chance to refute this I was transferred.

“Marc by Marc Jacobs.”

“Do you have any cashmere thermals?”

“Do you want Marc by Marc Jacobs or Marc Jacobs?”

“Either.” I said. ”I’m looking for the cashmere thermal, I guess it’s a T shirt, but then, maybe there’s another version?” Honestly, wasn’t the cashmere thermal a classic? And hadn’t it earned some kind of dark cache, like, if not exactly like, John Hinckley’s Catcher in the Rye or O.J. Simpson’s Bruno Magli suede lace-ups?

“Let me try the lingerie department.”

This seemed like an odd choice. The woman said, “Cashmere thermal? Marc Jacobs? No. Did you try Marc Jacobs or Marc for Marc Jacobs?”

I called the New York Barneys.

“Hello, Barneys New York, how may I direct your call?”

“Marc Jacobs boutique, please.”

“Marc by Marc Jacobs or Marc Jacobs?”

“How about…Marc Jacobs?”

“Hello, Marc Jacobs.”

“Hi, I’m looking for a Marc Jacobs Cashmere Thermal.”

“Marc by Marc Jacobs or Marc Jacobs?”

“I believe, uh…Marc,” I said, suddenly exhausted. “But possibly, uh…Marc for Marc Jacobs.”

“It’s not Marc and Marc for Marc Jacobs. It’s Marc Jacobs and Marc for Marc Jacobs.”

“I know what it is,” I snapped. “I could write the words in calligraphy on a grain of rice with my eyes closed. And I have to tell you I feel like I’m calling the Quicken Arena in Cleveland looking for LeBron James and everyone’s like, have you tried Concessions? What about Ticket Sales? What about the Gift Shop?”

“Call Bergdorf’s,” she said.

When you call the main number for Bergdorf’s you get a salon. (Does anyone know why?) As the phone rang and rang I had the following insight: If I, like the designer in question, were a 48-year-old extremely good looking and muscular gay man who was one day at a time never ever getting wasted again, I may also have decided that the best chance I had left for thrills in this life was to ensure that everyone who ever said my name would be forced to say it two and a half times.

I hung up. I called an actual Marc Jacobs store.

“Oh, we don’t really make those anymore. I mean, we might have like, a few of them in the men’s store, but…”

Why hadn’t I thought of this first? I don’t know.

“You don’t make them anymore?”

“The last time I saw them was like, in 2008, maybe 2009?”

“But… how could they just stop making them? They were amazing! I thought those were… are you familiar with the term ‘forever sweater’?”

“Could you hang on a moment?” She put me on hold and left me there.

It almost made me feel better for not having any money anymore. Clothes are so ugly now. Everything has a ruffle or a bow. It makes you wonder if maybe Leona Helmsley’s Maltese, Trouble, used all that money she left her to go to FIT and open a boutique. Of course Marc Jacobs doesn’t make cashmere thermals anymore, because they were useful, and nice, and flattering.

On the Internet I found a Marc for Marc Jacobs thermal shirt, but it’s not cashmere, it’s not a T-shirt, and it has a stupid ass bow on it. (Curse you, Carrie Bradshaw!) If Jessica Simpson’s first event after giving birth happens to be a bar mitzvah it’s what she’ll wear.

Winona Ryder wore a Marc Jacobs dress to her trial, and she looked so good in it that he subsequently asked her to model for him. (She wrote him a note saying she was “honored.”) In 2006 she appeared “nude” in some public service ads Jacobs did around skin cancer awareness. She went from criminal to muse, but the damage had been done. Within a few seconds of seeing her, everyone still thinks “shoplifter,” and the slightly unhinged look in her dark eyes is her signature not just as an actress, but as a defendant. What she did is mystifying and particularly so considering that it was that dark holiday season following September 11. No one really knows why someone who can buy a hundred Marc Jacobs cashmere thermals will risk everything to steal one. I guess it’s not that much crazier than risking everything to try and buy one. At least Winona had hers for a few minutes.

Sarah Miller is the author of Inside the Mind of Gideon Rayburn and The Other Girl, which are for teens but adults can read on the beach. She lives in Nevada City, CA.