How do I buy for the difficult people on my list? Ask The Kit
“Gift giving gives me anxiety, from beginning to end. Is there anyone out there who is ‘easy’ to buy for? I was making my list and everyone on it — from my parents to my kids and stepkids to my husband to friends I need hostess gifts for — I would consider every name difficult to buy for, for different reasons. There are the picky ones with impossibly curated lives; there are snobby ones (or, at least, I worry they know about cool names and labels I don’t); there are the people who already have everything. I’m about to work myself into a lather, one that will last until the 24th of December, when I will still be dithering at the checkout. Any foolproof ideas to share?” — Signed, stressed-out Santa
They say it is the thought that counts, but if that were true, Stressed-out Santa, all the fretting you describe around gift-giving would earn you a championship plaque on the North Pole. Anxiety, in all its nefarious iterations, is a close personal friend of mine so, first of all, I empathize with your experience.
The act of gift-giving comes with a lot of societal expectations, wrapped up in an idealized emotional bow. We are supposed to intuitively anticipate the desires of the recipient, with our choices revealing how much we understand about them. Let alone the worry about how much we should spend on each gift and what message that transmits!
Luckily, there are people who think about these things for a living. My first thought to solve this conundrum for you was to book a coffee with Nicholas Mellamphy, a man who has surpassing knowledge of all things fashionable retail. He is also an excellent coffee date. Mellamphy has worked in sales and buying for top retailers across the country, from Holt Renfrew to Gucci and Chanel; he was creative director of The Room at the Bay before he launched his latest venture, Cabine, in Yorkville three years ago. Located in a townhouse behind a pink door, Cabine is an impossibly chic sanctuary-cum-salon where he hosts private clients to shop the items he has brought in from design houses around the world. In other words, Mellamphy conjures glass slippers for the country’s most discerning Cinderellas: he knows from difficult challenges.
Buying for those closest to us can be hardest, Mellamphy says. He is referring to the husbands of clients he has been known to coach on gifting. “In that case, we are talking about gifts that speak to a person’s being,” he says, and the stakes are high. “Getting that wrong could be detrimental,” he says, with understatement. “Like the old days of getting your wife an air fryer: you just don’t do that.”
Hey, unless they want one, and I am sure some people may indeed be practical at heart. I myself am not. I pre-emptively told my own husband on our first holiday season that if there were ever a vacuum, or anything in the cleaning family, under the tree that I would cry.
Often, clients will whisper a deft “I want that” to Mellamphy under their breath, he says, so he has a secret Santa suggestion stocked away to whisper in the right person’s ear.
For the rest of us who do not have a Mellamphy scouring the world on our behalf, the same concept still works, he says: “Tell your friends what you want!” Make a list and leave it around! Partners, ask your beloved’s friends for tips!
For most other gifts, Mellamphy says the secret is to not be too personal. Go fashionable instead, with items you yourself are genuinely enthusiastic about. “If you come to my house, you will see a lot of candles, a lot of books. Those are the things I give as gifts, things that create an environment, add a pop of colour.”
Mellamphy is a particular fan of coffee table books: “Look for Taschen, Assouline, Rizzoli. I think the new Tom Ford book (Rizzoli, a sequel of sorts to his classic giant, heavy, decadent 2004 photo essay book) will be the coffee table book of the season.”
Can you ever have too many of these? Apparently, I should bite my tongue for asking Mellamphy. “There is no coffee table big enough for me! My books are precious to me and I move them around my home and, at Cabine, they are pops of colour, they are display opportunities, they make a space come alive.”
As for books to read, he will pick a favourite every year — a novel, a memoir, a biography — and give it to 20 people. This year, for his ladies, he is thinking of Andy Cohen’s new book, “Glitter Every Day: 365 Quotes From Women I Love.” He explains that fashion, for him, is best seen through a pop culture lens, so he prefers contemporary and current to fashion history. Another fashion book that is on his list to give this year is an older one, about to be newly relevant when the movie starring Lady Gaga and Adam Driver hits later this month: “House of Gucci,” by Sara Gay Forden, which was written in 2000, when Mellamphy himself was with the company.
Speaking of movies, he switches over to how big Halston has been this year on the heels of the Netflix series. This vibe has inspired him to go back to Tiffany’s Elsa Peretti classics for his gift list this year: “The pieces are so timeless and chic, and they are not too, too personal to give.”
Scarves and pillows are also on his perennial list. “I love Bleusalt; it’s made of beechwood, so it has a sustainable slant and it feels incredible, like cashmere. How glamorous is it to wear the 3 Yard Wrap at the cottage or the chalet, in front of the fire, reading your new book?” As for pillows, this year his pick for friends and family is from MatchesFashion, in the form of cool graphic throw pillows by designer Christina Lundsteen. “Who doesn’t want a pillow?” Indeed.
Last on this list is a Mellamphy necessity: home scent. “I like to layer scents, from fresh flowers to personal fragrance, to candles. I’m loving Kandl right now; it’s a shop on Avenue Road. They carry all the big brands but also make their own, in vessels you can wash out and use as a vase or take back to have refilled.” Scent, he says, is something that will remind your recipient of you long after they have unwrapped the gift. Really, he concludes, you can’t go wrong if you go for fashion classics. Good taste is always in style.
Shop the advice
Have some difficult names on your shopping list this holiday season? Take a page from fashion consultant Nicholas Mellamphy’s chic little black book: Pick the fashion classics you love as gifts and you can never go wrong!
“House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour and Greed” by Sara Gay Forden (Harper Collins), $22, chapters.indigo.ca