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Ruven Afanador
Interview

Betty Halbreich

10.16.14

Once Bergdorf’s best-kept secret, Betty Halbreich has been Director of Solutions, the store’s personal shopping service, since 1976. Young and old alike embrace her dogged drive for wardrobe perfection, always honest but never brutal opinion and ability to make shopping fun — at any price. In 2013, Betty made her silver screen debut in Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s, captivating audiences with her take no prisoners approach. Next up for the woman who hates to have her photograph taken – an HBO project in the works with Lena Dunham based on her recently published memoirs, aptly titled, I’ll Drink to That. No filter, no apologies for Betty Halbreich. This firecracker has walked to the beat of her own drum for 86 years and is still going strong.

Interview

Did the fame after Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s surprise you?

Yes, I was absolutely surprised! Ever since I was a little girl I’ve hated having my picture taken. So, I’ve never even watched the film.

How did you approach writing your memoirs? Was it exciting?

It was extremely exciting. I wrote every Saturday and Sunday on a legal pad. It was wonderful and cathartic. Writing was isolating, but I welcomed it and needed it. I could have written on and on…

Was it challenging?

Nothing is a challenge at 86! The challenge is getting up and going to work every day.

What do you want people to take away from the book?

I want them to think I walk to a different drummer. I never have wanted to be like or act like anyone else. That is my sanity.

Was the launch party a memorable night for you?

Everyone had a-hoopla of a time as they were all getting loaded. I was behind the desk with an empty bottle of Belvedere vodka for display and the New York Times reporter.

Were you surprised Lena Dunham was interested to turn your memoir into a TV show?

I am not surprised by anything. When the New Yorker called to profile me I thought they had the wrong person and called the wrong number. I soon discovered that Judith Thurman is one of the best writers in the world. She’s a genius but I never read the article.

What is it like working with Lena?

Lena and her family are my Jewish soul mates. So, we’ve become an extended family and it’s just wonderful. It will probably the best time in my life. For a woman at my age, going thru this at this point in my life — I’ve got a lot to be thankful for.

What is your approach to personal shopping?

I listen. I find people want advice and they want to tell you their problems and talk about their life. It makes shopping a little less boring. Shopping is a luxury. I want it to be fun and not so serious. Plus, I don’t let them spend all their money in one swoop.

I am so dogged that I will do this until I drop. I just finished with a young woman who was looking for a top and bottom to wear to an event. I become absolutely driven to find the right thing. In the end, we paired Rick Owens pants with an Andrew Gn top. Who would have thought of putting that together?

Did you ever imagine your Bergdorf’s tenure would be so long and illustrious?

Would you ever believe that a woman who came here not knowing my ass from my elbow would still be here nearly 40 years later? Illustrious it’s not! I am a schlepper of clothes and I give free advice.

What do you love most about your job?

Love is about loving a man. As for my job, I like that I can put my legs over the bed, rise, dress and arrive here. I still have tremendous motivation without being driven.

What is the secret to your successful career?

A lot of anger and the sheer will to keep standing. Being tough has worked to my advantage. I’d rather be feared than loved.

You have the most luxurious store in the world at your fingertips. Do you ever shop anywhere else?

No! When I leave here I have no desire to look at a pair of pants, shoes or anything. I do love to shop at Costco, fruit stands and grocery stores.

Do you receive gifts from your fans?

Yes, recently, a young man brought me coconut balls, which he must have read about in my book. Never saw him again. Someone must have read I like to clean and sent me 5,000 sponges, dust cloths, wash clothes — a whole case of cleaning supplies.

What do you like about getting older?

What’s nice about being old is that people look up to you because of your age. Or, they stay far enough away because they don’t want to hear what I have to say.

How tough is it to get on your client list? Are you accepting new clients?

I believe in open door policy and delightedly accept new clients.

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