If you’re as much of a lover of love as I am, you’ll undoubtedly be struggling to think of just the right gift for surprising your special someone on Valentine’s Day. Last year I gave my Valentine tube socks and a gift certificate for a colonoscopy at a mobile clinic. The year before that, she got a can of compressed air and a signed first draft of a poem I wrote about Minwax (An Ode to Shining Wood).
Surprisingly, these items were not well-received. (I know you’re as stunned as I was.) But I am nothing if not reflective. And while some of that is due to the humidity, much of it hinges on the fact that if I don’t start doing better, my clothing will be thrown out into the street.
To that end, I have done all of us a favor and looked into having an actual professional take the reins and do what many of us are clearly unable to do: buy a Valentine’s Day present that will make an impact. I called up one of this area’s top personal shoppers, Barbara King of barbarakingstyling.com, to see if I’m alone in my ineptitude. It turns out I’m not. In fact, King makes a healthy living helping those of us who would rather work, golf, sunbathe, kayak, play tennis, go to the movies, walk the dog, pay our bills, get a root canal, listen to people discuss politics, drive off a bridge, etc., than shop for a Valentine’s Day gift for our significant other.
King is a stylist/personal shopper who’s worked her magic for clients all across the country. “I live and breathe this business,” she says. Which is great, because this feels like a life-and-death situation. So what should we look for when hiring a personal shopper? “Experience would be one,” King says. “Somebody who is flexible with ideas, who has good taste (not necessarily expensive taste), who is very creative, resourceful, and someone who is well-rounded and well-traveled. And someone who is not sticker-shocked.”
She says the real key to a great gift is the delivery. Her husband isn’t particularly excitable about gifts and already has everything he wants (he’s married to pro shopper, duh), so one Valentine’s Day she paid for a choir to go serenade him at work—in a warehouse. The mini Mormon Tabernacle delivered a classic Michael Bolton tune to her man in front of more than a dozen shell-shocked co-workers.
“That was memorable,” King says. “And a great Valentine’s Day gift.”
And as a stylist, she also has insight into an item that is a pretty big deal on Feb. 14: lingerie.
For those of you who are unaware, back in the day, before people started wearing T-shirts and sweatpants to bed, lingerie was a time-honored tradition that made special moments more special. But I’m embarrassed to say that before King mentioned it, I had forgotten that lingerie was a thing.
“It is,” King says. And she learns an awful lot about how much guys like the body of their partner when she asks them how much skin they want to see for her purchase. For example, if he says, “How about one of those flannel housecoats? You know, that drags on the floor and buttons up around the neck?” Well, then, he’s given up.
So depending on your perspective, King says a visit to Gattle’s (gattlesofnaples.com) or perhaps Intimates Adult Boutique (intimatesadultboutique.com), both in Naples, might be in order. The latter takes Valentine’s Day to a whole new level. A quick trip to their website proves that Chinese design studios really do have our best interests at heart. But whenever making lingerie purchases, you must know the sizes you’re looking for. Gentlemen, that means you have to do some reconnaissance.
What other romantic options does she suggest? “How about hiring a professional photographer such as Heather Donlan (heatherdonlan.com) to take a couples photo?” King says. It’s romantic. It’s charming. It lasts longer than chocolates. “Oh, and definitely Norman Love chocolates,” she adds. Cliché? Perhaps. But there’s little argument that Love (normanloveconfections.com) is a master of the dark (chocolate) arts, and not to give his signature sweets this time of year would mean missing out on standing in line for 45 minutes with all of the other people who are as smart as we are. Beat the rush and stop in to either his Naples or Fort Myers shops a few days before the big day.
A bit outside of the box—King can tell I’m quirky—is a crystal from Lucy Finch’s Altered Elements (altered-elements.com). The Naples store, a place for hippies with money and/or people who don’t believe the Nazca Lines were created by a very stoned Matthew McConaughey, is a metaphysical wonderland. Filled with crystals and art and books, it’s a place to find yourself. Unfortunately for me, if I end up with a crystal as a present, my Valentine will long for the days of tube socks, so our hunt continues.
Interestingly enough, King used to work for a client in another state who regularly had her purchase items not only for her loving, though much older, husband, but also her lovely, but age appropriate boyfriend. The boyfriend then also began hiring King—for his wife. “They were really good clients,” she says. That is until the much older husband found out about the much younger boyfriend and set all of his wife’s clothing (that King had purchased) on fire. It was like an episode of Grills Gone Wild, but instead of Cajun short ribs, it was cheater summer dresses on the barbecue. Mmm, smells like despair.
Of course, in an odd cottage industry sort of way, this was a boom for King, as she was hired by the then soon-to-be ex-wife to go out and buy her new clothes all over again.
Nevertheless, I share that story with you not to show you how fickle the human heart can be, but to drive the point home that if we screw up these gifts, someone might set our stuff on fire.
“What about a heart diamond necklace from Kathy Bigham at Bigham Jewelers (in Naples, bighamjewelers.com)?” King asks. Hmmm. Diamonds never go out of style, and that would certainly beat tube socks. But what about the all-important delivery? King suggests placing the necklace on top of a red velvet cake that is delivered inside a balloon. And if I can get that delivered by a choir singing When a Man Loves a Woman while Heather Donlan captures it all on camera, this will be even better than compressed air.