As with most things in Hollywood, a new fashion statement has made its way down to the masses. Those red-string kabbalah bracelets you've seen Madonna and Demi Moore wearing are now for sale at Target for $25.99.
From Target's online description: "This red string is believed to protect against the evil eye, a negative energy source. What makes this particular piece of string so special is, in part, the fact that it has traveled to Israel, to the ancient tomb of Rachel the Matriarch, and returned, imbued with the essence of protection."
Madonna says she's now a devout practitioner of kabbalah (the interpretation of Judaism in terms of the workings of the 10 powers of God through which God created and interacts with our world). But those who study it say calling them kabbalah bracelets is misleading.
"They have nothing to do with kabbalah; that's the trick of the marketing," says Eliezer L. Segal, a professor of religious studies at the University of Calgary. "The public that's being catered to doesn't know any better."
Segal says the red string dates to Greek and Roman times, and the practice was later adopted by Jews.
The only mention of red string in Jewish texts, says Segal, is in the Tosefta, a supplement to the Mishnah, a book of laws. It's in a section that discusses superstitious practices - which ones are forbidden and which are accepted. Putting on red strings is one of the things that's forbidden.
In Eastern Europe, families nevertheless tied the red string to cribs in order to divert diseases such as scarlet fever. There it was called a bendel ribbon in Yiddish. They also attached it to the clothing of older children. Now it's used to keep away "the evil eye."
These days the bracelets are available in gold, too - the red string is woven into a gold chain. For those who have been to the Old City of Jerusalem, the fact that they're selling for $25.99 is laughable: Visitors can buy them in Israel for about 22 cents.
Sweet smell of marketing
Of the 150 or so new fragrances that will be sniffed and sprayed at perfume counters this year, among the most anticipated is Prada.
Devotees of Italian designer Miuccia Prada's shoes, handbags and clothes didn't even wait to smell the eau de parfum before placing their orders - they prepaid and waited until the first pastel-pink boxes were shipped to Neiman Marcus.
True to Prada style, which blends tradition with modernity, the rectangular glass bottle has an optional atomizer, just like the bottles on your grandmother's dressing table. The company also mixed its pink packaging with prune-colored logos. Leave it to Miuccia Prada to make fashionable a color associated with a wrinkly fruit used to jump-start your digestive system. Prices range from $65 for a 1.7-ounce eau de parfum spray to $125 for an "intense" spray.
So how does it smell? Prada materials herald the scent's arrival as a "new age in the history of amber fragrances." It has top notes of bergamot and bitter orange oil; floral and patchouli middle notes; and base notes of vanilla, sandalwood oil and tonka bean, the fragrant seed of a South American tree. The slim vial we sampled dries down to a warm, sensual scent that isn't easily ignored or forgotten.
Why the clamor for cologne?
"It's status," says Nancy Sagar of Neiman Marcus. "We live in a world of labels, and it's important to many people. It also appeals to a young woman who can't afford a Prada outfit, but she can wear Prada by having the fragrance."
The company is carefully rolling out the scent, offering it first at Prada stores, Neiman Marcus locations nationwide (and at its sister store, Bergdorf Goodman) and Saks Fifth Avenue's New York flagship. In mid October, distribution will expand to about 350 doors, Women's Wear Daily reported. The scent could ring up $25-million in sales in its first year, WWD says.
Limiting initial distribution is a marketing strategy that lends an aura of exclusivity to the product, says Mary Ellen Lapsansky of the Fragrance Foundation in New York. "It builds interest and excitement," she says. As for Britney Spears' scent, Curious, its bottle will launch with an atomizer, too.
"It's very feminine and something that they're doing to stand out and be different," says Lapsansky, who says we'll spend $7-billion on scents this year.
On the men's side of the fragrance aisle, Burberry this month unveils Brit for men. The hit women's version, introduced last September, in June won the Fragrance Foundation's "FiFi" award, the Oscar of the perfume industry, for high-end women's scents.
Mary Lou Camacho, manager of a Denver Burberry store, says she has presold Brit for weeks. "As soon as the women's scent came out, men were wondering when they'd get theirs," Camacho says.
Brit rolls out nationally next month at such stores as Nordstrom and Saks.