Wednesday, March 31, 2010

J. Crew Liquor Store

Since 1825, The Tribeca Tavern has been an institution, located in a storied townhouse. And just a few years ago, J. Crew took over, leaving the original wooden bar, magnificent ambiance, and opened their first ever men's-only store. Stocked full of everything you love, you'll find things most J. Crew stores only dream of - Belstaff jackets, Mackintosh coats, luxurious Italian wools from Lanificio Di Tollegno (est. 1862), Mister Freedom shirts, pocket collections of Levi's jeans, Globe-Trotter luggage, vintage Rolexes and branded Timex watches, Selima Optique Glasses, and more cool shoes than you know what to do with.

You could easily spend a small fortune at the liquor store and still crave more!

What am I loving most?

Belstaff® original Trialmaster jacket

Item # 26008

Founded in 1924 in Staffordshire, England, Belstaff is world renowned for its exceptionally designed, hardworking and waterproof outerwear, like this lightweight version of their classic waxed-cotton jacket. The epitome of rugged, authentic cool, the Trialmaster is as famous amongst serious motorcyclists as it is with fashion aficionados. Ideal for spring and summer wear, the Original Trialmaster jacket is made of a resin-coated, lightweight cotton twill, which develops a unique "high-and-low" shine with wear, for a completely vintage character. Cotton fabric from the famed British Millerain® Co. Ltd. Standing collar with buckle. Two-way zip with button storm closure. Underarm vents. Detachable self belt. Flap pockets. Adjustable cuffs with button closure. Cotton plaid half-lining. A Collector's Item. Made in Italy. Spot clean. Available in select stores.

The assortment is intoxicating. Get to the liquor store and get drunk. On fashion.

Liquor Store
235 West Broadway NY 10013
212 226 5476

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Observing Fashion Fashionably

Good morning from America's east coast. I apologize for the delay in my posting - I was out of the country and disconnected from the virtual world. At first, knowing I would not have access to electronic communication was a little stressful - but in actuality, it was quite nice to take a break.

So here are a few of my more memorable observations and insights, in no particular order of importance or chronology:

-- Cruise ships are a potpourri of nationalities when it comes to their workforce. In a thankless environment where patrons are accustomed to the "everything isn't just included, but is expected" mentality, the food service and housekeeping staffs aboard cruise ships remain incredibly kind and gracious to their more-often-than-not unappreciative clients. So taking a moment to address these employees by name, or thank them for their service, definitely caught them off guard. Here's my challenge for the day: the next time you're pumping gas, ordering your latte, waiting for your valet to deliver your car, checking into your hotel, or boarding your plane - look at the employees name tag, and thank them by name for helping you. I guarantee you'll get better service, and will really make their day.

-- Eating a meal with a group of people you've never met, in a "formal" setting can be a little tricky regarding proper etiquette and table manners. You don't want to be that buttoned-up, old-fashioned stickler for the rules and prevent others from enjoying themselves, yet you also don't want be the slob that is so casual and disrespectful that you kill the appetites of those surrounding you. The first and foremost rule when it comes to dining etiquette is this: never make your table mates feel uncomfortable or uneducated when it comes to manners. If you're friends with them, of course you may quietly offer tips or guidance; if you don't know them - it's not your place to educate them at the table. You may always offer your services later, in a private moment. You never want to embarrass or look down upon those with less-than-desirable table manners.

-- Fashion and architecture have an amazing love affair. The best stores and brands have the most complimentary architecture. Every Christian Dior store, no matter where in the world you may be shopping, has the same uber-luxe plush grayish light-purple carpet, white floating shelving units, and ornate crown molding, and vertical plasma televisions showing the season's latest show, while high quality sound systems pump out a complimenting soundtrack. Stepping into a Dior Boutique brings the essence of the brand alive by appealing to all of your senses.

You'll see this same concept applied throughout other segments of the retail industry as well. Walking into Starbucks for instance, is always characterized by the sounds of coffee brewing and milk steaming, music softly playing, various lamps and chandeliers lighting the space, and a feeling of comfort and familiarity. The general layout of McDonald's fast food chains remains virtually unchanged, regardless of the space they occupy. Identifying key codes from your product range and translating them into architectural elements will intensify your brand awareness and strengthen corporate identity.

Things I'm loving for men:

-- 2 button suits, especially in hues of gray.

-- well-made, traditional styled dress shoes, but updated with a splash of colour or interesting leather variety.

-- lightweight cashmere vneck sweaters - summer's best outerwear. hands down.

-- owning, not renting a tuxedo. Or multiple tuxedos. That fit properly.

-- having incredible, flawless skin is the best accessory, regardless of the season or weather conditions. invest in a good skincare regimen and dedicate a few moments each day.

-- And speaking of investments, investing in a few pieces of high quality luggage will better prepare you for your array of travel arrangements, eliminate undue anxiety and stress, and make your transportation time much more efficient.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Luxury on Location

I just read an article from an industry network I belong to regarding the Luxury Segment in Russia. Here's an interesting fact: Decrease in demand for products of Luxury, Premium and Upper Middle segments in Russia in 2009 amounted to 15-20% (in Rubles), which is equal to the drop of 40-45% because of the exchange rate difference. Most luxury operators had stopped their expansion and focused on the development of their existing projects in large Russian cities.

This might seem like a fact that has nothing to do with the luxury clients in the rest of the world, or even the average global consumer, but in reality, it effects us all. The internet has revolutionized retail in general. More than ever, a consumer's ability to visit a store is no longer a factor driving sales. Whether your neighbourhood shop is Harrods, Target, or Myer - everyone has access to everything. Gone are the days when you could only get Henri Bendel candles is you visited the flagship location - now you simply call or click and the inventory is virtually and literally yours.

It's important for stores to retain a physical presence in strategic markets. From a small counter inside specialty department stores, to a boutique in a trendy area, and billboards or advertisements throughout the city, brand awareness is huge.

Location and exclusivity brings a specific value to brands. Just a few months ago in vacation-centric Orlando, Florida, consumers could buy Chrisitan Dior at a boutique, a counter inside Saks Fifth Avenue, and even snag a bargain at the French Couture brand's own outlet store. In a tricky economy, the brand had become over saturated; all that remains is the outlet location.

Just because there might be a small market or magnetism for a luxury brand or service in a seemingly random location does not require the company to invest in opening a location or store. When your goods are too accessible, the brand as a whole loses it's lustre. It's no longer special. You want your clients and potential customers to retain brand awareness and feel that your goods aren't too out of reach, but at the same time, you want them to remain special.

Anyone can go out and buy a purse at virtually in any marketplace. But not everyone can go out and purchase the Lady D - Dior's collection established at the request of Madam Chirac for Princess Diana to serve as a symbol of France, complete with the Louis XVI print Canage. The bag is artfully made, in limited quantity, and isn't sold just anywhere.

My point is this: when companies over extend their reach, they often lose sight of their essence. The customer experience, the product availability and assortment, and the driving force behind the inspiration and identity is lost.

In Russia, I'm sure there is still a huge population of luxury clients. Just because their "local luxury" stores have closed, doesn't mean the brand awareness and desire isn't present. The few who shopped in St. Petersburg or Moscow probably preferred to shop in Europe or North America anyway. Just as those who shopped Dior in Orlando probably preferred to shop Rodeo Drive or Fifth Ave.

Striking a balance and mastering the craft of remaining exclusive and not out-of-reach is definitely an art form in constant evolution. Regardless, luxury is always en vogue and will remain in demand.

Monday, March 15, 2010

luxury goods in a non-luxury marketplace

The idea of making luxury products available in a non-luxury marketplace may seem upsetting, counterproductive, and compromising in a negative manner to traditionally exclusive, luxury brands. And I must admit, I see the just caution and hesitation in mixing luxury with non-luxury. The general public view and sentiments of industry insiders would not be favourable, for example, if Gucci suddenly started collaborating with Kia to produce a "luxury" version of the discount imported automobile. Miley Cyrus might have won more middle-class and lower-than-middle class children when she debuted her clothing line at discount retailer Wal-Mart - but didn't win any glamour points for her at the Academy Awards, no matter how hard she tried.

When luxury companies and high-end designers collaborate with non-traditional entities, they must do so with attention and research. Liberty of London, Alexander McQueen, and Jean Paul Gaultier all recently have produced collections bearing their name and insight with trendy discount retailer Target. The difference: the Target demographic might not necessarily own any of the actual products from these brands, but the consumer base is not only aware of the brands, thanks in part to mainstream luxe-obsessed entertainment like The Devil Wears Prada and Sex and the City, but they lust after the famous creators and promote the story, the romance, and the excitement typically associated with the much more expensive Couture versions.

When you have access to a customer base that knows your products and dreams of one day owning a piece actually inspired, let alone designed by a famous designer or fashion icon, you instantly have success while retaining your corporate identity. It's not to say that the discounted version is going to take the place of the luxury collections. I'd much rather see big designers create a limited edition, heavily publicized, affordable sampling of ready-to-wear clothes, accessories, or homegoods for Target, than to dumb-down, cut corners, or not remain committed to their original design inspiration, aesthetic, or commitment to quality and excellence.

Bringing a luxury powerhouse like McQueen or Gaultier to Target is beneficial to both parties. Target, already known for being trendy and more fashionable than closest competitor Wal-Mart, increases their value and solidifies their place as the number one choice for the customer who prioritizes value, quality, and design. And in turn, these big designers expand their potential customer base, market reach, and brand awareness.

No matter your budget, being fashionable is always en vogue.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Totally on Target

Our relationship has been quite the roller coaster of love lately.

First you brought me my favourite skincare and bodycare products from the UK's famous Boots The Chemist and even high end skincare from Origins, Bumble and Bumble, and StriVectin.

Then we hit a low with your awful selection of Ed Hardy products and an assortment of trucker hats.
But you made up for the misstep with a fabulous grouping from Smith and Hawken for the garden, a surprisingly copious selection of independent films, and fabulous frames from Rachel Ashwell's Shabby Chic collection. You one-uped yourself with collections of clothing by Isaak Mizrahi and Loomstate, and then even the great dreamer Alexander McQueen.

Then inexplicably you showed more Ed Hardy "stuff" and I thought we were over. But then just last week you launched a special collection by Jean Paul Gaultier.

And today you launched your Liberty of London collection exclusively for Target. I must say that right after church, I stopped in to view for myself and left with a fabulous navy blue and white floral print shirt, some vivid red and white boxers, a picture frame, and some garden gloves. And don't be surprised when I come back to visit you and leave with a few pillows, possibly a quilt, another picture frame, a lamp shade, some hat boxes, a decorative platter and tray, and some plastic tumblers.

I love you. I love you. I love you! And it's definitely a British love affair. Cheers Target! I'll see you soon.

PS - since you're loving this AngloMania, how about a partnership with Marks & Spencer for some Percy Pigs, real Cadbury eggs, Walkers' salt and vinegar crisps, and orange Tango. That would be ab.fab.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Linguistic Lesson

Language is a powerful tool. Speaking the right language at the right time can be the difference between life and death, or success and failure, or most often - a misunderstanding.

In the world of all things luxe, knowing how to say "hello", "goodbye", "thank you", "welcome", and "have a good day" in a handful of languages can definitely position an associate above other less culturally aware employees.

I'm not saying that every employee should speak a handful of languages. But in today's market, especially considering the current economic realities, a staff that collectively speaks a few languages is incredibly valuable.

I remember back fondly of my times working at Dior when I would greet potential clients in their native language, or thank them and bid them a fabulous day. Instantly, when a client hears their language, especially when they don't speak much English - they trust you more, have more affinity and fondness towards working with you, and are in a much better mood. Going out of your way to learn a few phrases literally translated to thousands of dollars in revenue.

Thinking about language in luxury, I got to thinking about language in general. I wonder - why is it that in our own language, we create new names for countries and cities? Don't you think we should call a place the same name that the people who are from or live in that place call it? Italians refer to their capital as "Roma, Italia", not "Rome, Italy". Or the people from the Republic of Korea call their country Dae Han Min Guk (大韩民国).

Maybe it would be a sign of cultural respect. Imagine a global globe - one with the proper names of each country listed. Maybe I like thing streamlined and efficient. What do you think?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Express ticket to Fashion Hell

Dear Express,

Jean shorts? Front and centre in your store's display? Really? I'd ask what were you thinking, but clearly you weren't thinking at all...

I don't know what's worse: jean shorts for sale at Express, or Ed Hardy steering wheel covers for sale at Target.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Moment of Silence...and vindication!

Breaking news in the retail world: American Eagle Outfitters announced just before the close of business today that they would close their concept Martin + Osa by the end of Second Quarter 2010.

At first when I heard, I must admit I was a little saddened, but I'm not surprised. Can we say Ruehl 2.0? Over the last several months, I've been incredibly skeptical of the brand's marketing and image. I really have (and still do!) loved the products and the idea of the concept. Whenever you take inspiration from a fabulous couple (Martin + Osa Johnson) who were world class travelers, movie makers, authors, philanthropists, and archaeologists, you're bound to have brilliant collections. But I must say the inspiration was lost in translation.

Starting with a good intention is one half of the equation; when your delivery declines on a daily basis - your intentions are clouded and lost. In ends as an awful mixture of new products quickly being reduced in price, a myriad of sales, promotions, and special offers, a return policy that started with complimentary returns (a huge allure in the internet shopping industry) that was quickly dissolved, and lacklustre performance.

Originally geared towards a higher end, older demographic than American Eagle shoppers, Martin + Osa was supposed to be for the young professional set in their mid-20s to mid-40s. But the real clients were never really defined, yet alone captured. Even in a recent grassroots marketing effort on Facebook, the company offered 25% off your next purchase if the company's fanpage received 6,000 fans - but less than only 4,500 people were interested in the company. In comparison, Guess Jeans' fanpage has more than 170,000 fans.

Blame it on mix messages from their marketing department. Blame it on too much segmentation between the online store and it's retail stores (where there were often instances of the same merchandise offered at different prices in-store versus online). Blame it on product allocation and buying. Blame it on shareholders with unrealistic expectations in a tough economy. Blame it on AEO leadership, and possibly its lack thereof. Blame it on the US$44 million dollars that the brand lost in 2009, including a US$11 million writedown.

No one really knows what went wrong with Martin + Osa. I've got a good bit of clothing from M+O - from cashmere sweaters, to vneck tshirts, to polo shirts, to denim - and really love it all. All I know is that I'm now searching for my next new favourite store.

Martin + Osa, it was a pleasure to know you both.

Fashion Loves and Lusts

(in no particular order)

-- Jean Paul Gaultier's collection for Target, that was released just last Sunday and is absolutely amazing. I think the concept of having brilliant designers inject some of their style and design influence into an affordable, mass marketed and limited edition collection is so much more palatable than having these same designers cheapen their collection or make their haute couture ranges more marketable solely in the name of making money in tough economic situations.

-- And speaking of Target, the trendy retailer is also set to launch a new collection featuring Liberty of London's fabulous fabrics. Is it a little ironic to anyone else that Liberty of London used to partner with J. Crew, and that now J. Crew is carrying a special collection of Levi's jeans, which traditionally would be sold in a Target like store?

-- Dolce & Gabbana's La Force fragrance (number 11 in the new series)

-- Cole Haan's Air Caden wing tip oxford. Comfortable. Lightweight. Durable. And oh-so-sexy. The perfect pop of colour for spring in the season's trendiest and boldest shade - electric blue.
-- I'm loving the expected wit and amazing charm that Stella McCartney injects into her creations. Maybe the fact that she began her show with a fake recording of Tiger Woods allegedly leaving a voicemail for his alleged mistress to remover her alleged name from her alleged voicemail message. But maybe it's the way she designs for women, by a woman, with the most elegance, grace, and power - all rolled into each garment. Stella is British Brilliance at it's best.

-- Christian Dior's stretch strappy sandal. He is the master of modern luxury. And his shoes never disappoint. Never is a strong word. And I meant it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Award Winning Fashion - Academy Awards 2010

Hollywood award shows have always been about our favourite girls in glitz and glamour. I'm quite thrilled that the powerhouse designers didn't disappoint in their over-the-top, full of everything we love to see and wish to own ourselves creations. Sometimes, during difficult economic environments or social tragedy, we see an immense scaling back on the red carpet. Hopefully, our economies will soon match the red carpet - full of vitality, inspiration, and beauty.

Here are some of my favourites from the last night's programme:

Vera Farmiga is majestic in Marchesa. (although the dress bares a striking resemblance to a creme coloured wax coated ruffle gown that Dior showed in 2006).

Demi Moore apparently bathes in the fountain of youth - sexy, stunning, and serious style. Atelier Versace gown and heels, Van Cleef and Arpels jewels, and Ferragamo clutch.

Reviving retro in the best way, Sarah Jessica Parker rocked this Chanel Couture 60s inspired column gown. Perfect colour, perfect fit...just absolutely perfect.

If the red carpet is an actress's sounding board for her love of style and fashion, we're hearing Zoe Saldana loud and clear! This fabulous Givenchy Couture frock is spot on, with glitter, glitz, and glam.

Saving the best for last, Sandra Bullock looked simply stunning in this flesh coloured, intricately beaded Marchesa gown. Elegance at its best.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Mastering the Art of Shaving

In 2008, Thirsty.Threads brought you The Art of Shaving, an on-the-go guide for guys to get the perfect shave at home. But for those of you with a little more time on your hands, a little more affinity for the golden days, the gentlemen in your life who relish in time-tested rituals and routines, I dedicate today's article to you: mastering the art of shaving - the straight razor.

Caution: before we commence and you try the straight razor shave yourself, know that it's not something to just make up as you go. This is a potentially dangerous art. Think about it - you're pressing an open, sharp blade onto your face and neck. Kindly be careful. Take your time, and all will be well.

So on to the best shave of your life:

1) Prep: It's incredibly important to prep the skin. After exfoliating and cleansing the skin (and preferably a steaming hot shower), apply a pre-shave oil. This will protect the skin, soften your beard, and help the blade glide effortlessly. When shaving, use the hottest water you're comfortable with.

2) Lather: using your favourite shaving cream, massage the product over the face and neck (or any other areas you're about to shave). Using circular motions will create the best lather. For better results: try a badger hair brush - it will help lift the hairs up, for a closer, smoother shave.

3) Shave: When shaving with a straight razor, it's important to stretch the skin that you're shaving so that is tight - you don't want to accidentally shave your skin off. Keeping the blade at about 20 degrees, make your first pass, in the direction of the grain. Move on to the next area, until you've made your "first pass" over your entire face (or the areas you're shaving).

For optimal shaving results: lather again, this time shaving sideways to your first passes. Remember to keep the skin tight to maximize exposure to follicles. (It may be tricky to shave the neck and lip sideways, so focus on the cheeks and jawline.) Finally, lather again and shave against the grain - the opposite direction of your first pass.

4) Protect: When finished shaving, rinse any remaining shaving cream off with COLD water. This will help close the pores and protect your skin. In the event of nicks or cuts, use an antiseptic alum stick to stop the bleeding. Finally, apply an alcohol-free moisturizer, preferably with sunscreen, and you're good to go!

Remember, it's important to shave with a sharp razor. Keeping the blade honed (sharpened with stone, done occasionally) and stropped (keeps the blade fresh and smooth with leather, done every time you shave). Once you've got the process perfected, it shouldn't take more than 10-15 minutes for a proper shave.

If you're curious about a straight razor shave, but don't want to risk the art at home, leave it to the professionals. Many barber shops, spas for men, and shaving specialty shops offer straight razor shaves, and are usually performed by the coolest, most storied older gentlemen you'll ever meet.

I definitely recommend The Art of Shaving, and have heard good things about The Grooming Lounge.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Nowness: fashion and style in demand, on demand

In the giant universe of seemingly infinite quantities of voices shouting out their opinions and views on style and fashion, I think my voice has a different pitch. I've been the sales force and leadership at both big box retailers and luxury fashion boutiques, I've consulted with luxury boutiques and companies for a handful of years now, and I've been personal shopping for a discerning group of fabulous citizens. I've been behind the counter, in front of the shareholders, and held the pocketbooks, and draw on these three views when looking at the magnetic world of beauty, fashion, and style.

One of the biggest messages I present to clients, whether in consulting or personal shopping, is simple in word and powerful in meaning: selling the message, the romance, and the story behind any product is just as important as the product itself.

It's most than just an appeal to your customers' emotion. Starbucks doesn't just sell bottled water called "Ethos" - it has contributed more than US$6,2 million for one powerful mission: to bring clean water to children around the world, and raise awareness of the global water crisis.

LVMH - Moët HennessyLouis Vuitton has captured the essence of luxury living with their new website Nowness. Fashion, Art, Culture, and Travel. The most captivating multimedia experience, Nowness highlights the inspiration, the pulse, and the unadulterated spirit of all things luxe. There are no products for sale. There are no giant advertisements even pushing products.

I read an article in one of Conde Nast's fashion magazines for men recently that highlighted the attention to detail, the attitude, and the charming character of some of the world's best dressed men. Sure, being outfitted in some of the most sought after designs can make you look good; but possessing real depth, real character, and real manners, compassion, and joy make you look world class.

The same can be said for luxury fashion labels. Whether Haute Couture or of humble design and construction, when the inspiration, the depth, and the character of the brand's design is visible and understood, you suddenly appreciate and feel more affinity for that brand. To the unknowing shopper, Vietri is just another maker of dinnerware and flatware; yet to the educated client, Vietri is a fabulous American company founded by a mother and her daughters (the name Vietri signifying three lives) who fell in love with the ceramics they saw while on vacation in Italy, extended their trip to allow time to source a vendor, and began selling high quality Italian dinnerware in America. And I must say, bringing a beautiful plate from the freezer to the oven to the table is incredible luxury and convenience!

Everyone likes to feel good. As consumers, we want to know that the companies we love are doing their best to bring us the best possible product at the best possible price while making the best possible decisions. We understand that quality costs money, and you get what you pay for. And behind the counter on the business end, we understand that without quality products, and more importantly, without customers, our business would simply not exist.

Fashion travels. Style speaks. Fashion rocks. Style is art. Style and Fashion are now. Are you?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Fashionable Motivation and Motivating Fashions

A few days ago, a friend of mine sent me a text message.

"My roommate just said, 'if you dress mediocre, the world is your oyster.' Discuss."

My first response? "Wow. Wow. And Wow." My main point? If you dress mediocre, then you'll end up hunting and searching for treasure and inspiration and excitement with no guarantee of payoff. Not every oyster opens to a pearl. Some may look like authentic, freshwater pearls - but in reality are manufactured and not quite what they seem. Some oysters are too tough to open, and those mediocre dressers will simply give up. And some oysters are out of reach. If you look and act mediocre, you have to expect mediocre outcomes.

His roommate's argument? Basically that if you look 'average', you can go to any kind of bar. But if you look good - you can only go to nice bars.

My response again? Quite the contrary. Atmosphere is always alterable. You can wear a fabulous 3 piece suit to Chili's or your neighbourhood grill and fit in just fine based on your approach, attitude, and the way you carry yourself. And you can wear shorts and a rugby shirt to Morton's or Ruth's Chris or another higher end establishment if, again, you have the proper approach, attitude, and aura.

Most simply: If you let your clothes dictate where you can and cannot go, the world is not your oyster - but your prison.

And going back to the original statement about "being average lets you go to any type of bar" really made me think more about why we go to bars in the first place. You go to bars for entertainment, for socializing, for drinking, and for meeting people - whether potential mates, friends, or just random conversation. No one wants to be with average people. And for sure, no one wants to date or mate just an average lover.

After thinking about this brief message exchange, I started thinking about the importance of approach, attitude, and aura in many activities.

When I was little, my family and I would eat some pretty fabulous meals. At the end of the meal, when everyone was stuffed full of delicious foods and had engaged in stimulating, meaningful conversation, my Father would comment that this is the difference between eating and dining. Eating is a necessity. Dining might involve a bit more planning and resources, but is significantly more meaningful and enjoyable.

This same concept can be applied to fashion. There's a huge divide in dressing out of necessity and dressing with fashion and style. Uniforms are perfect for protecting yourself from danger, weather or work related elements, or because you're simply required to do so. But expressing your style through daily fashions brings vitality, colour, and texture. You've never seen Scott Schuman photograph a mundane, lacklustre ensemble; it wouldn't even catch his eye.

I'm not saying we should all go out and mimic the avant-garde trends of the latest runway show in Paris or Milano. First impressions are often the only chance we get in life. So put your best food forward. Live and act with purpose. Make the sidewalk your catwalk. And the world will truly be your oyster.