Chocolate Cremè de la Cremè

Godiva, the incomparable Belgian chocolate maker, is closing every one of its retail shops in North America.  Maybe you’re blaming the pandemic but Godiva claims foot traffic at shopping malls – where most of its boutiques are located – “plummeted” over the last few years.  I’m sorry to see Godiva go.  Mind you, it’s not that I make a habit of buying $3 truffles.  It’s more the idea that I could if I wanted to.

Godiva is the cremè de la cremè of chocolate.  Their products are born of a family business dating back to 1926.  Their Truffe Originale, “an intense dark chocolate mousse in fine dark chocolate, rolled in pure cocoa powder”, is the standard by which most Belgian truffles are measured.  Godiva’s three chefs are profiled on its website (I discuss one of them in my post Confection Perfection), and endeavor to maintain the very high standards of Godiva while churning out new and different creations.  It’s no wonder Godiva isn’t considered a “candy store” or a “chocolate shop” but rather a chocolatier.  Only the very best get a label like that.

Godiva’s handcrafted “gold box” assortment

To me, Godiva chocolate is a taste of heaven on earth.  But it’s also a taste of a lifestyle – one most of us will never afford.  Godiva has me picturing mansions (not houses), yachts (not boats), private planes (not the middle seat in coach).  Godiva is a brief, delicious dip into the behind-the-gates world of the uber-wealthy.

I’ve stepped into a Godiva chocolatier exactly twice in my life.  The first was in college, after a visit to the Rizzoli bookstore at exclusive Water Tower Place in downtown Chicago.  After spending too much money at Rizzoli I was in the perfect mindset for Godiva (which was right next door).  I still remember selecting a single truffle from the glass display case.  The petit woman behind the counter wrapped up my tiny purchase in box, bow, and bag, as if I’d just purchased a fine piece of jewelry. She bid me a fond farewell.  I walked out of there feeling, well, special.

Would you pay $20 for six truffles?

My only other visit to Godiva was more recently with my wife and daughter, on a Saturday at one of Denver’s nicer shopping malls.  We’d just come out of Starbucks, coffees in hand, and there beckoned Godiva.  After much deliberation, we spent the better part of $10 and walked away with three truffles.  I’m sure they were elegantly wrapped.  I’m also sure they were delicious.  But with Godiva, it’s more about the taste of something beyond your means.  That taste may be more satisfying than Godiva chocolate itself.

Tiffany & Co, NYC

Tiffany is a comparable experience (as I wrote about in my post All That Glitters).  Walk past the front-door security guard into their multi-level department store in downtown Manhattan.  Your first thought will be either, “I don’t belong here”, or, “I’m underdressed”.  Ooh and ahh at their lavish necklaces, bracelets and rings, but don’t expect to see price tags.  Like Godiva, Tiffany’s best is behind glass and you have to ask a staff member about the cost.  My wife and I made it to Tiffany’s fifth floor before we found something we could afford – a pair of ceramic coffee mugs.  At least we also walked away with their signature blue gift boxes.

Think twice before entering!

Then there’s Prada, the Italian fashion house famous for its luxurious leather handbags and shoes.  My twelve-year-old daughter dragged me into their Madison Avenue boutique once (past the requisite security guard) but I realized our mistake as soon as we entered.  Prada displays maybe a dozen items in a single museum-like showroom, each carefully positioned on an individually lit shelf.  You are invited to sit on the central couch and offered a choice of beverage.  Then a person brings you items of your choosing (but don’t touch!).  Once I realized Prada purses start at $1,000, I asked my very disappointed daughter if maybe she’d like to go for ice cream instead.

Godiva’s tiny “biscuits”… $0.75 ea.

Godiva’s North America retail shops will be gone by March, but you’ll still have other options to purchase.  You can find small displays of their products at the cash registers of upscale department stores.  You can order most of their delicacies online (including “Gold Box” assortments, which cost more than you can afford).  You’ll even find Godiva’s “Signature Mini Bars” at lowly retailers like Target and Walgreen’s.  But let’s face it, Godiva is as much about the experience as it is the chocolate, and I’m just not gonna feel uber-rich when I’m at Target.

Some content sourced from the 1/24/2021 CNN.com article, “Godiva is closing or selling all of its stores in the United States”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

All That Glitters

Audrey Hepburn will always be one of my favorite actresses.  Her grace, beauty, and acting – especially her comedic roles – combined for an enchanting big-screen presence.  I’ve only seen a handful of her movies but it didn’t take many to fall in love with Audrey’s delightful characters.  Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady (which premiered shortly after I was born).  Sabrina Fairchild in Sabrina.  Hap in Always (her final film).  And perhaps my favorite role, the quirky Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

In the opening scene of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Holly gazes into the New York City Fifth Avenue store window and famously observes, “Nothing very bad could happen to you there.”  Holly’s probably right, but that’s not to say something very bad couldn’t happen to Tiffany’s itself.  Sales and profits are down significantly over the last two years.  Cartier and David Yurman steal market share from the ultra-wealthy.  As detailed in a recent Wall Street Journal article, Tiffany & Company is resorting to pedestrian strategies to restore its cachet.  And those strategies are so not Tiffany’s.

The first sign of Tiffany’s troubles might have surfaced last February, when the company debuted its first-ever Super Bowl ad.  I’m not sure what tarnished the Tiffany’s image more: a television commercial stuffed between plugs for beer and tortilla chips, or Lady Gaga as its newest sponsor.  Apparently, that’s an appeal to the Millennial generation (as if young people shop at Tiffany).  No offense, but Ms. Gaga is no Audrey Hepburn, as Zales is no Tiffany.  There’s a bit of a stain on the robin’s-egg blue.

The one and only time I visited Tiffany’s New York City location was two years ago with my family.  Despite our touristy dress we were greeted warmly by the security guard as we passed through the grand polished brass-and-glass doors.  Once inside, after a nervous glance at the showcases of diamonds (as if we could afford anything whatsoever), we were politely redirected to the fifth floor to “more affordable offerings”.  I took no offense, as I was only hoping my daughter could snag one of the famous blue boxes as a souvenir.  Turns out she purchased a Tiffany’s gold ring for several hundred dollars while my wife and I settled for a set of Tiffany’s ceramic mugs.

As satisfied as we were with our purchases, I have to admit gold rings and ceramic mugs removed a bit of the Tiffany prestige.  I more associate Tiffany’s with priceless diamonds and silver – befitting royalty.  In fact, that’s where Tiffany’s got its start: almost two hundred years ago as a purveyor to the Russian imperial family.  Tiffany’s also brings to mind its trademark advertisement, showcasing a single piece of jewelry against the silhouette of a couple embracing – a refined, iconic portrait of elegance.  Audrey Hepburn, not Lady Gaga.

Today you can purchase Tiffany ceramics, as well as Tiffany leather goods, paper products, watches, fragrances, and even a limited-edition cell phone.  You can find over 300 Tiffany shops in 22 countries around the world.  I thought Tiffany was more of the “Rome-Paris-London-New York City” kind of retailer, complete with stern, immobile security guard at each front door.

Admittedly, some of my first associations with “Tiffany” were far removed from diamonds and gemstones.  Tiffany Darwish was a flash-in-the-pan American singer in my late teens (her only real hit: a retread of Tommy James and the Shondells’ I Think We’re Alone Now).  I developed an affection for Tiffany lamps  – the stained leaded-glass variety – when I studied the Craftsman style of architecture in college.  And it’s hard to get the lyrics to Big Blue Something’s singular hit out of my head; especially the lines: “And I said, ‘What about Breakfast at Tiffany’s?’  She said, ‘I think I remember the film.’  And as I recall, I think we both kinda liked it.”

Tiffany & Co. recently ousted its Chief Executive in search of a new one, with hopes of improving both sales and image.  To the new leader in search of new answers, I say look back to the Golden Age of Hollywood for guidance, when the Tiffany blue was truly iconic.  As Holly Golightly would say, nothing very bad will ever happen to you there.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.