Tea in the Spirit of Coco Chanel

Sep 12 2019 | 03:51 PM

After three days of NYFW — the shows, the lines, the outfits, the even longer lines — I had no desire left to dress myself for a season that has yet to come, to impress people I’ll never again see.

The hectic nature of fashion week is lost in the glitz and glam advertised all over, so finding something that wouldn’t make me sweat and stress seemed impossible, until an invitation to a Coco Chanel-inspired afternoon tea at the Lowell Hotel arrived in my inbox.

So on Sunday during tea time, I dressed myself for one last event. This time, not caring how trendy I looked, or whether my mule shoes really encapsulated my fashion persona, I took the F train uptown and arrived at a quiet Upper East Side street to a sight I only appreciated after bearing witness to the opposite for too long: a door with no lines outside.

Inside the hotel was a floral smell best described as mouth wateringly pleasing. A perfect appetizer for the senses.

Just one floor above the lobby, the Pembroke Room rests — and I use that word literally.

Though smaller than expected (there are about 10 tables inside), the warmly lit, mirrored room felt just as a Sunday afternoon should: charmingly dull.

The quiet atmosphere was a bit shocking at first. Part of me was expecting sparkling rhinestones from wall to wall. This was, after all, a Coco Chanel tea. But a few minutes of adjustment led into a catharsis rare to the city, especially this week.

Coco’s Haute Couture Tea in the Pembroke Room was a special, rather than a show, ongoing until Sept. 15 (the last day of NYFW). It's a classic tea that includes savory salmon and creamy lobster options, as well as more desserts than you might expect (the best, in my opinion, being the raspberry tart).

For those who have never been to tea, fear not. The Pembroke staff are experts in flavor pairings, and upon request they’ll bring out tea alternatives like coffee. It’s much less overwhelming going to your first tea than going to your first fashion show.

The special’s Chanel twist includes a glass of French rosé Champagne, a camellia-infused tea inspired by the designer’s signature bloom, Chanel-themed cookies and a copy of Pocket Coco Chanel Wisdom, a book filled with Chanel quotes that is small enough to fit in a clutch purse.

When you go to tea on the Upper East Side, you expect it to be posh. Haute Couture Tea is posh’s classier older sister.

First came the Champagne, which, while bubbly, had an effect less like a sparkling drink and more like an easy white wine.

Each sip of the camellia tea was rich with a real vanilla taste and its floral undertones. With one cube of sugar added, it was basically like a frappuccino — not necessarily a sugary mistake, per my taste. I’d recommend sipping the most when eating the savory snacks, because each flavor calms the other down, whereas having the tea and dessert all at once could be overwhelming.

Though headlining the event, Chanel was not the star of the show. Simple nods to the late designer were made here and there, without being overpowering. I appreciated this approach, which left room for interpretation, self-reflection and research.

After stuffing myself with finger sandwiches, I went online to read about Coco Chanel, Googled past designs and even looked into buying a Chanel perfume. I can’t say I put in any effort to get to know the brands whose runway shows I attended after they finished.

Perhaps the realm of fashion week that ties in the industry’s history rather than force-feeding its future is best served with scones and jams.

Chanel said it best: “Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.”