Category: Lifestyle

Time, With a Parisian Flair


Five hundred units of each model were produced for sale in the store and on its website; the mechanical version retails for 365 euros ($424), the quartz for €190.

Three years in the making, LMM was a pet project of Arthur Gerbi, Merci’s managing director. But to the 32-year-old entrepreneur, the watch represents more: It is style as an act of resistance to these face-paced times, even if that resistance lasts no longer than the few moments it takes to wind a watch.

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The in-store display allows customers to see what the watch looks like with a variety of straps. Credit Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

To that end, Mr. Gerbi and the architect Jules Mesny-Deschamps, his longtime friend and business associate, compiled a 60-page manifesto titled “60 reasons to wear a watch in 2017,” which is included with each sale. The arguments range from the obvious (“to be on time, or measure tardiness”) to the esoteric. Mr. Gerbi’s favorite is a quote by the German educator and time researcher Karlheinz Geissler: “I can only be flexible if I have rituals, fixed moments.” And on page after page, like a flipbook, the second hands on a graphic rendering of the LMM advance.

As for outer packaging, a Japanese-made, stapled box in folded gray cardboard flouts the customary codes for better timepieces.

During a recent visit to the Used Book Cafe in Merci, Mr. Gerbi looked only slightly disheveled. He had just arrived in Paris from Tokyo, where he often travels with Mr. Mesny-Deschamps.

For years, Mr. Gerbi said, the two had been toying with the idea of designing a watch. Then in 2015, when he left a career in commercial real estate to join Merci, they found their platform.

A popular destination since its opening in 2009 on the then-scruffy fringe of the Marais, Merci has always been a family affair. It was created by Marie-France and Bernard Cohen, the founders of the children’s clothing brand Bonpoint. Then, in 2013, it was purchased by Gérard and Danielle Gerbi, founders of the women’s ready-to-wear brand Gérard Darel.

Mr. Gerbi, the youngest of the couple’s three children, runs the business in the same friends-and-family style. His sister-in-law, Valérie Gerbi, is artistic director and oversees women’s fashion. Daniel Rozensztroch, who founded the store with the Cohens, also is an artistic director (and, Mr. Gerbi said, a compulsive watch collector). Mr. Mesny-Deschamps, for his part, shrugged before defining his role as “right-hand man.”

In contrast to the aloof glamour of the Golden Triangle, the nickname of Paris’s wealthy Eighth Arrondissement where many luxury houses are based, Merci’s allure (and success) has always come from being many things to many people. The sprawling building houses a selection of men’s and women’s clothing and housewares as well as three restaurants, all making Merci a favorite fashion week hangout. It is also a pioneer in socially conscious retailing: Since the Cohens opened its doors, a portion of the store’s proceeds have supported charitable works in Madagascar.

Mr. Gerbi, a longtime watch aficionado, says he reads people by the timepieces they wear and how they wear them — pristine or well loved, expensive or affordable, left wrist or right, face in or face out. As a yoga devotee and new father, he also believes that now it is more important than ever to “use time to anchor oneself.”

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Merci, on Boulevard Beaumarchais in Paris, sells fashion and housewares, and has three restaurants. Credit Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

“Being connected to everything means being connected to nothing,” he said of these gadget-driven times. “It’s not what I believe in personally. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ll resist as long as possible. You have to know when to put down the phone and just be present.”

For example, he didn’t download anything for his 13-hour flight from Tokyo to Paris, preferring instead to lug along magazines and reconnect with what he called “the pleasure of paper.”

Saying you’re going to design a watch might play well at a dinner party, but as Mr. Gerbi soon discovered, actually making it happen was a different matter.

When Mr. Gerbi and Mr. Mesny-Deschamps started working on the watch, the only nonnegotiable feature was the Swiss-made ETA 2801-2 movement. Using what Mr. Gerbi described as sheer obstinacy, they had gotten the Swatch Group company, one of the world’s largest producers of watches and movements, to supply what was essentially a start-up. “We knew exactly what we wanted,” he said, adding that “any collector could take a knife to the case, pry it open and see how truthful” they are that it has an ETA part. (The quartz model features a Ronda 513 movement.)

Mr. Mesny-Deschamps said the two men stressed over at least a thousand details. “If Arthur and I agree on something right away, it usually means something’s amiss,” he said.

They settled on a diameter of 33 millimeters (“otherwise, the watch wears you,” Mr. Mesny-Deschamps said). Other features include a Perspex crystal (for a vintage feel), a polished step case (the term for a case with a ridge or step around the crystal), a brushed finish, Helvetica typeface and curved lugs.

If the watch’s success is measured by its acceptance beyond the Merci community, then it is a hit. It had favorable reviews on sites such as the well-regarded watch blog Hodinkee and admiring comments from bloggers like François-Xavier Overstake, who said that an executive at a top-end watchmaking brand brought the LMM to his attention.

Mr. Gerbi attributes the watch’s success to the persistence that he and Mr. Mesny-Deschamps devoted to the project.

“Merci is not about status, it is a moment in time,” he said. “When you have the time and the means of expression, you might as well say as much as possible.”

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Claude Sfeir is a Collector’s Collector


“The Henry Graves was the Mount Olympus of watchmaking in quality, rarity and complexity,” said Mr. Bacs, who had left Christie’s as its head of watches to start his own consulting firm.

(If high-level watch auctions are something of a spectator sport today, it is largely thanks to these two men. At major sales, chances are the hammer will be held by Mr. Bacs, whose Bacs & Russo consultancy is now associated with the Phillips auction house. And Mr. Sfeir will be the last to raise his paddle.)

“I started buying watches 37 years ago,” Mr. Sfeir said. “Everyone knows me and I know all the serious buyers. Over the years, some lost interest, some were dishonest, some stopped buying and some died.”

At age 55, Mr. Sfeir is still in the game. A jeweler and gemologist by trade, he has an eye for quality and admits to being driven by impulses like the thrill of the chase, the show of loyalty to watchmaking friends and the drive to create a legacy. “Every year, I tell myself that I will stop buying, but then I buy more,” he said.

Mr. Bacs said: “I have seen the evolution of his buying from hundreds of watches a year to a handful but in the millions. Claude says it is cheaper for him to buy watches than to see a shrink.”

There is logic behind Mr. Sfeir’s choices. He likes prototypes and one-off pieces by Rolex and Patek Philippe. He owns the first prototype of the celebrated Nautilus model designed by Gérald Genta in 1978, and the only titanium model of the Sky Moon Tourbillon, Patek’s most complicated wristwatch, which has the unique reference 5001T. “That is the most important watch of the 20th century,” Mr. Sfeir said.

His most beloved possession is a 1942 Rolex split-seconds chronograph reference 4113, which Mr. Sfeir bought in a private sale in the late 1990s. (In May 2016, another Ref. 4113 sold at Phillips for 2.4 million Swiss francs.)

“That is the watch I love,” Mr. Sfeir said. “Rolex only made 12 in this reference. Mine is the first in the series.”

Mr. Sfeir’s path to watch collecting began while he was in his teens. “In those days, my father drove a cab in Beirut to support our family,” he said. “In the summers, I worked in our neighbor’s stonecutting business.”

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Claude Sfeir is known for wearing watches on both wrists. Here, top, the Naissance d’une Montre — Le Garde Temps school watch made by Michel Boulanger with the support of Greubel Forsey and Philippe Dufour and, below, a 1969 Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Paul Newman Oyster Sotto. Credit Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

His parents decided to send him, the oldest of the three children in their Christian Lebanese family, from a war-ridden Beirut to Dubai. He was to work in his uncle’s shop in the Gold Souk, Dubai’s old jewelry market.

Clients of the gold shop would sometimes bring watches to sell. “We traded everything by weight, even Patek Philippe and Rolex watches,” Mr. Sfeir said. “We didn’t know how to open the watch cases, so we would break them with a hammer, take out the movement and pay for the weight of gold.

“I realized years later that I had broken some very valuable timepieces,” he said.

His first watch, a Rolex Ref. 6694 that he bought in the 1980s for the equivalent of about $80, ignited a passion for the brand that he has not outgrown.

Auction catalogs with color photographs and detailed descriptions developed his appreciation of watches. And over the years, as his own jewelry business grew, he could support his family and feed his watch habit.

“For years, I worked 18-hour days,” Mr. Sfeir said. “The first thing I did when I started making money was to make sure my father stopped working. We kept his cab; it sits in our garden in Beirut.”

His taste for what Mr. Bacs calls “exotic” watches naturally steered Mr. Sfeir toward independent watchmakers, particularly François-Paul Journe. In 2014, he became Mr. Journe’s partner in the watchmaker’s first boutique in Beirut.

“Claude has a ‘hierarchical’ collection,” said Mr. Journe, who has made a number of bespoke watches for Mr. Sfeir. “My watches rank third in his collection, behind Rolex and Patek, after he decided to diversify.”

The stature that Mr. Sfeir enjoys among watch lovers and collectors comes not just from his impressive collection, but also from his generosity toward charitable causes and the watchmaking arts.

“Claude is an extraordinarily charitable person,” Mr. Bacs said. “He buys at charity auctions to support all causes, and across the spectrum: Pateks, Journes, Milles, Tudors.

“His collecting has always been an affair of the heart,” he said. “If people around him are happy, he is well.”

For example, Mr. Sfeir recently spent 450,000 francs on a one-of-a-kind mechanical timepiece made entirely by hand by Michel Boulanger. He was the first watchmaking apprentice to be sponsored by Naissance d’une Montre, a project that the master watchmaker Philippe Dufour and the Greubel Forsey brand organized in an effort to preserve traditional watchmaking.

“It was an important acknowledgment that a great collector acquired our timepiece,” Mr. Dufour said in an interview. “Claude’s generosity goes a long way in supporting independent watchmaking.”

Mr. Sfeir said he now focuses on vintage watches with historical links. In April, he bought the Lemania chronograph wristwatch owned by Winston Churchill.

He also owns the Rolex Submariner of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the last shah of Iran, and all the watches worn by the six actors who have played James Bond in the film series, timepieces he recently lent to the “James Bond Time” exhibition at the Espace Horloger in Le Sentier, Switzerland.

With a collection that already could fill a good-size museum, Mr. Sfeir also has an eye on his own legacy.

“I will not sell my collection,” he said. “I am looking for a safe place to show my watches, where people can come and enjoy them, free of charge.”

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Making Watches for People ‘Who Can Read and Write’


In 2014, Nomos unveiled watches containing escapements — the precision components at the heart of the timekeeping mechanism — that it produced in house. The development of what it called the Swing System, the product of years of investment, freed the company from dependence on Swatch, the industry’s primary supplier of escapements.

The Nomos aesthetic also seems to have insulated it from the disruption of the Apple Watch and other smart or connected watches. “Our customers don’t want to show they have a lot of money,” Ms. Borowski said. “They want to show they are intellectuals.”

(Prices start around $1,500 for the Club Campus line, introduced early this year for under-25 buyers; the more sophisticated models can be as much as three times as much.)

Recently, Ms. Borowski and Uwe Ahrendt, the chief executive, spoke about Nomos’s design philosophy and the watch business at the company’s manufacturing headquarters in a renovated train station in Glashütte. The interview has been edited and condensed.

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Nomos employees at work in the brand’s Berlin studio. Credit Gordon Welters for The New York Times

When did Nomos sales take off?

MR. AHRENDT: It happened bit by bit, but the strongest growth was really in the last three or four years. We invested a lot in technological independence. In 2014, we presented the Swing System to the public, although by then we had already built it into 10,000 watches. Nobody noticed, which was a good sign. We knew that what we had developed over many years also functioned well. We couldn’t have grown if we hadn’t done that. Now, we make about two-thirds of our own Swing Systems.

How would you describe Nomos’s
design?

MR. AHRENDT: We are very restrained. We are simple. We are sophisticated. We build watches for people who can read and write. For people who are more self-confident. We were always true to this design philosophy. We didn’t follow every trend. We didn’t overdo it with prices.

MS. BOROWSKI: We fight for the best result until we can’t do it any better. We have a special ambition to do things right and perhaps not such an ambition to become rich. We have more fun. The customer picks that up, at least we hope so. We also have the good fortune that most of the watch industry is a bit more conservative, and perhaps not as contemporary. We are a bit younger and more affordable for people in their mid-30s who have a decent job.

Why would the smartphone generation buy mechanical watches?

MS. BOROWSKI: It’s exactly because of the contrast with all these devices that are constantly beeping and sometimes getting on our nerves. People are longing today for something that they can understand and doesn’t become outmoded so quickly. Even if it’s complicated, it’s something you can grasp, and also something you can repair and not trade in after three years. It’s something that can accompany us throughout our lives, that can become part of us.

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Prototypes of dials at the Nomos design studio in Berlin. Credit Gordon Welters for The New York Times

It’s also sustainable. That’s also important for our customers. I can produce the energy myself, with the movement of my finger.

The watch industry had suffered the last few years. Why did that happen?

MR. AHRENDT: You could say it’s the anticorruption campaign in China, or other factors, but I think the Apple Watch certainly has something to do with it.

MS. BOROWSKI: We can’t know whether we would have grown more without the Apple Watch. In any case we couldn’t have handled any more growth. But probably the market has suffered. People only have one wrist. The hope of the industry is that the Apple Watch will teach young people to wear something on their wrists and at some point in their 30s it will be embarrassing to wear a gadget, and they’ll prefer a grown-up watch. But that’s speculation.

Where does Nomos go next?

MS. BOROWSKI: We still have a few ideas up our sleeves. Next year, there will something technologically new. We are just trying to do what we do best and hope that it continues to find new followers around the world. We’re not Rolex or Apple. Our unit sales are, on a global basis, still small.

MR. AHRENDT: We can become more international. Germany still accounts for two-thirds of our sales. How do we transport this success in Germany to international markets?

You have said that Nomos is part
of a renaissance in German design. What do you mean?

MS. BOROWSKI: Many years ago, Germany was known for design, beginning with the Deutsche Werkbund and Bauhaus. But after World War II, nobody wanted to talk about Germany. When I was a child, we always spoke of the Federal Republic, never Germany. Then with reunification, a positive transition started to take place. Germany had a more peaceful connotation. In 2006, the soccer World Cup in Berlin showed that Germany is not just Nazis and the Stasi; there is wildness and creativity in Germany, which is very important for art and design.

Since then, Germany is again a sign of quality among people who know design. Earlier, it was Milan or Scandinavia; Germany played no role. That has changed. German product design, combined with engineering and craftsmanship, have formed a kind of triumvirate. Especially for a company like Nomos, that’s terrific.

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Modern Love: 17 Million Frozen Sperm Await the Perfect Moment


At a bachelorette dinner for a friend in late July, I met Sadie. She was loud, brash, a presence. From across the table, I overheard her describing plans to drive south for the coming eclipse, and a deep longing welled up inside me.

“If you have space —— ” I said.

“We may.”

By the wedding on Aug. 6, I was two days late, my breasts sore and engorged. A pregnancy test came back negative, but I was certain it was wrong. I felt swollen with a secret, sacred hope.

As the wedding came to a close, a band of pressure began constricting around my temples; my progesterone levels were falling fast. The blood, when it came, seemed to originate from somewhere deeper and more mysterious than my womb. I felt as if I were bleeding out dreams.

When Sadie’s email and itinerary arrived the following day, I was strangely touched. Each line read like a mouthwatering, carefully constructed dish: “Sunday 11 a.m. — we should hit this 60-foot rock slide. And Sunday 7 p.m. — shindig on the Green in Asheville. Bring instruments!”

There were four of us going: Sadie; her husband, Steve; and, from what I could deduce, an elderly relation named Eli. “Eli doesn’t text or use email,” Sadie wrote. “So I will call him.”

They arrived early Saturday morning with a fiddle, a ukulele and Eli, who stood quietly to the side, a guitar case slung across his back. He was my height, and younger, his sandy hair thinning on top. He had a soccer player’s build, side burns, a square jaw: pleasant looking but not my type.

Then off we went down Interstate 81 along the verdant folds of the Shenandoah with Eli driving. Passing a sign for Charlottesville, Va., where white nationalists had gathered a week earlier, Steve said, “Did you see the video of that guy Cantwell?”

“The crying Nazi!” I said. “But I get it, how trapped and cheated he must have felt.”

Eli said, “Save your sympathy.”

Every day for me is an exercise in letting go. I have to let go of rage. I have to let go of fear. I have to let go of everything I thought my life would be and isn’t.

Steve looked up from his phone and said, “We’re on this road for 247 miles.”

Sadie said, “The people in the back have to give back rubs to the people in the front.”

And then, before I let myself think, I reached over and squeezed Eli’s shoulders. Through his T-shirt, I could feel the musculature of his back, his spine, its finger holds. It had been a long time since I had touched a man. Doing so now felt decadent and exhilarating. There was a hunger in my hands, an urgency.

From her phone, Sadie started playing “The Ashokan Farewell,” two violin strings singing at the same time. Under my thumbs, Eli craned his neck to the right. It was an invitation. I wanted to touch him, down to the bone.

The four of us shared one room with two queen beds. Crawling under the sheets later that night, Eli was looking at me. For the first time, I noticed his eyes, bright blue.

Because Steve snores, Eli handed me two foam earplugs, which I pinched flat, then threaded into my ears. As they expanded, the room grew muffled, safe. I had brought sleep masks, one for me and a spare, which I shared with Eli. We lay in the bed, he on his side, me on mine.

In the dark I thought: “Where are you? Come closer!”

It was a blind progression of intrepid searching, inch by inch. I bumped into him and he did not pull away. And that’s how it happens, how we find each other.

On Monday at dawn we drove a final hour south on empty roads meandering through mist-filled forests. The light filtered down, dim and soft.

Within the gates of the public park that Sadie had selected, we claimed a table, setting out snacks and spreading blankets in the shade by a lake.

“I think this lake,” said Steve, pointing, “is used to absorb the excess heat of the nuclear plant over there.”

Eli followed me down into the water, which was oddly warm, and I wondered, despondently, “What have we done here?” We huddled together in the shallow waters where a snapping turtle was sunning itself on a log.

After, I went to the restroom and peed in a cup. The circle that appeared was perfectly empty, a blank white sun. When I went back outside, the light had begun to change, growing dimmer. Eli was lying on his back. I lay down beside him.

Sadie and Steve had brought eclipse glasses and special binoculars. Through the glasses, the sun was small and orange, like a yolk. But through the binoculars, it was enormous and white, the International Space Station hovering before it like a speck of dust on the lens. We lay on our backs, all four of us, and stared at the sky.

It began as a slice, a piece of the sun cut away. We traded glasses, waited and watched. A bearded man pointed out how the shadows through the trees had softened, turning into gentle half-moon crests. It was all so strange. Periodically, when we put on the glasses, we could see the sun disappearing, losing its shape.

Everything happened as the scientists said. The twilight deepened. The crickets began to chirp. Stars appeared. The moon whittled down the sun to one final sliver then slipped quietly into place, aligning itself as gently as Eli had aligned himself alongside me, one body blanketing another so perfectly, so completely.

I was, we were all, for the briefest breath of time, made whole. All around the lake, in the darkness, people gasped, cried out, broke into applause. Under his breath and with a reverential sigh, Steve said, “Damn.” Through the glasses, the sky had become entirely black.

“I can’t see anything,” Eli said, groping the earth. “What’s happening?”

“Take off the glasses!” Sadie said.

For two minutes and 27 seconds, it was possible to look directly at the sun’s corona, the only visible remainder of light. Greedily, naked-eyed, we stared at the black orb obscuring the sun like a hole in the sky. I could feel my heart breaking open. Eli pressed his foot hard against mine and the pressure changed me, dilating my eyes. Dopamine surged, flooding me with joy. I thought: I won’t be alone after all.

Then a searing, liquid-white light began spilling out over the edge of the blackness.

“Glasses on!”

And it was over, time to drive home. The perfect alignment of the universe had shifted.

“We’re on this road another 217 miles,” Steve said, staring into the traffic ahead.

I was driving, and Sadie had fallen asleep.

Do they see us from space, I wondered, all of us down here in our cars, a long, flickering, incandescent thread?

From the back seat, Eli reached up to touch the back of my neck.

I wanted to live in that moment forever, to tether myself to that particular point in time. I wanted to take the moment and bend it like a ray of light, extract its color and orbit it endlessly like a sun. But our planet moves through space at the rate of 18 miles per second — 18 miles per second! — and I did not hear from Eli again.

This isn’t the ending I wanted, but it was remarkable to see, remarkable to experience, coming home that night in a chain of cars, so festive, wending through the darkness, the snaking, synchronized way in which we all progressed, each of us so insolently persistent in reaching our own particular destination.

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Dressing to Play a Power Woman


“I put Diana in pants, oversized blouses and men’s coats,” she said. “The most important thing is how a man’s cut can be very feminine and very powerful. The silhouette is more modern, closer fitting.”

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Ms. Dockery wore 20 costumes during rehearsals, but by the first preview, there were six. Credit Jan Versweyveld

Prada’s recent collections, with their pops of orange, green, red and other bright colors, were an inspiration, according to Ms. Huys, who said Miuccia Prada herself was among the women who served as a model of sorts: “the kind of woman, like Diana, who is personally powerful and rich, not just a business woman.”

It took Ms. D’Huys nine weeks to settle on Ms. Dockery’s final looks; of the 20 costumes initially selected and worn during rehearsal, six outfits made the first preview. They created “the strongest images of Diana,” said Ms. D’Huys, who found many of the pieces in vintage shops, including the hip Retro Woman in the Notting Hill area of London, and in the National’s own costume stores to keep the look within budget — and believability.

That whittling process helped Ms. Dockery create her character. “I’ve never done a play before where are you in costumes from the very first day,” the actress wrote in an email, “so I was in character from the start.”

Thus platform peep-toe heels were swapped for simple black leather round-toe court shoes from Selfridges, because the first style hurt Ms. Dockery’s feet and “it’s important to be comfortable to show strength,” Ms. D’Huys said.

Ms. Dockery agreed, adding that the physical demands of playing an executive in today’s media world mean that lower heels are the modern power shoes.

“You can immediately see what works and what doesn’t,” Ms D’Huys said, adding that a Chloé minidress was too girly (army-inspired though it was).

The only scene in which Ms. Dockery does wear a dress — a low-cut, black Diane von Furstenberg wrap with layered satin frills — is in a steamy restaurant moment with her former colleague and soon-to-be lover, Max Schumacher (played by Douglas Henshall). It made sense, Ms. D’Huys said, because “it is easy to pull up and with one popper easy to open.”

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Ms. Dockery’s character is Diana Christensen, the role played by Faye Dunaway in the ’70s film. “I put Diana in pants, oversized blouses and men’s coats,” Ms. D’Huys said. “The most important thing is how a man’s cut can be very feminine and very powerful.” Credit Jan Versweyveld

Red, flared trousers from Zara also made the final cut and are central to the character’s new look as “they are masculine and Diana has to fight in a man’s world,” Ms. D’Huys said. “They even help her stand in a more powerful way.”

Along with the flares came assorted silk shirts, including one McQ tie-neck bib-front style that Ms. D’Huys dyed a vivid orange (originally made in cream, the color was too washed-out for Ms. Dockery’s complexion), and a bright purple from Diane von Furstenberg.

Military-style coats play a significant role, including a belted beige trench with capelike shoulders, and a double-breasted Burberry wool with epaulets and leather detailing on the sleeves.

“Everything is loose fitting and not too styled, so Diana is relaxed,” wrote Ms. Dockery, noting that not-trying-too-hard was the essence of her character’s look.

As Ms. Christensen’s power fluctuates through the play, so does the vibrancy of her clothes. She makes her entrance in a neutral tobacco-colored honeycomb-print blouse, for example, but dons a luminous yellow shirt when she believes she has hit the ratings jackpot when her increasingly unmoored anchorman Howard Beale (played by Bryan Cranston) delivers his famous live broadcast announcing he is “mad as hell” and can’t take it any more.

Later, as her personal and professional lives go awry (her lover leaves and ratings plummet), more subtle, smudged colors appear in the form of dark green, wide-leg pants bought online from Theory a week before the first preview. “I wanted another color for the ending as everything goes down,” Ms. D’Huys said.

What Ms. Christensen never has: “It” bags or other logo-laden accessories. As to why, well, Ms. D’Huys said, “most of the people I have met who are very important and powerful don’t show labels.”

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