Happy Camper

I recently found myself stuck in a Marriott Residence Inn in Orange County with a baby and no car.  (Don’t ask.)  On day one I pushed a stroller to the South Coast Plaza, one of those mega-mall fortresses with identikit department stores for turrets.  As a New Yorker, I thought the novelty of the enclosed retail playground would be a welcome way to while away the hot summer days, but in reality I had “done the mall” in half a day and was bored to death before the sun even set.  Thankfully it turned out that there was a much better retail experience nearby that I didn’t even have to cross a freeway to get to.  It was called The Camp, and was an exceptionally well-executed “eco mall”.

One doesn’t typically think of a strip mall across from an El Pollo Loco as cutting edge, and yet here this was, a ten minute walk from the Residence Inn.  The Camp’s sustainable architecture was both beautiful and utilitarian, with green roofs and beach grass growing in the sandy walkways.  Patagonia held court over a number of refreshingly unique retailers and restaurants, the most interesting of which was the Seed People’s Market selling an eclectic hodgepodge of well-designed sustainable and socially-conscious wares like “wildcrafted” Juniper Ridge soaps, Kauzbots, Sseko sandals from Uganda and Lunchskins.  In short, this place sold cool shit that also happened to be environmentally and socially responsible.  Score!

What most impressed me about The Camp was its attention to detail: succulents growing atop garbage bins, crunchy little phrases like “eat tofu” and “say hello to others” written in each parking space, breezy semi-outdoor seating that made the most of minimal air-conditioning.  It came as no surprise that the developers behind The Camp are also the same people behind The Lab, its sister strip mall across the street known as “the anti-mall” — the O.C. hipster’s alternative to the South Coast Plaza and Fashion Island.  Ultimately I was able to survive a couple more carless (that’s CAR-less, not careless) days in Orange County without losing my mind, thanks to the retail therapy and ghost chili tacos at The Camp.  It ain’t Magic Mountain, but these pair-o-malls are definitely worth checking out.

Bad Situation

Hilarious report in the WSJ blog about Abercrombie & Fitch paying Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino of the Jersey Shore to NOT wear its brand due to “deep concern” over negative brand associations.  It’s like when so-called “chavs” started wearing Burberry tartan as the uniform of choice across the UK back in the mid-noughties.  That was one hell of a nightmare for the Burberry brand, though that brand is decidedly more aspirational than A&F which is more known for their barely clad models and politically incorrect T-shirts.   Which then begs the question if A&F is genuinely concerned about the Situation bringing down their image with all the tacky Jersey Shore associations or if they just want to fire up some good ol’ fashioned controversy for buzz.  After all, it sounds like they were the ones that released a statement about it.  If I were Snooki, I’d start wearing head to toe A&F and refuse to stop wearing any of it until they paid at least triple what they paid the Situation.  Work it, girl.  For real.

A.P.C. Quilts

Nice upcycling by A.P.C. Got a lot of leftover fabric from last season?  Make some awesome limited edition quilts out of it and voila! — you can charge $515-$955 a piece for the results.  Very nice, very smart.

Paying for Content: It’s About Time

The New York Times announced today that – surprise! – starting March 28, people are going to have to pay for their content beyond a generous 20 free articles a week.  No doubt a lot of people out there on the interwebs are decrying the injustice — What? Pay for news content? Ridiculous! — but I firmly stand by the side of the Gray Lady on this one.  If anything, I feel like it’s something that should have been done ages ago (and I’m not talking about the ill-conceived TimesSelect function that they thankfully axed in 2007).

Look, the concept of “you get what you pay for” applies just as much to media as it does to anything else in our capitalist culture.  If you seriously think that reading the minimally researched and un-fact-checked insights of a 22-year-old blogger is anything like reading the dispatches of Nicholas Kristof, then go ahead and keep refusing to pay for anything.  But the fact of the matter is that actual journalism is an expensive endeavor. If a society starts taking it for granted (and we’ve clearly already started going down that slippery slope), then you can essentially start saying goodbye to checks and balances.  The more a media outlet begins to rely on “clickability” and subsequent online ad revenue over a core subscription base, you get into the kind of sensationalist title-bating that you find in deeply irresponsible headlines like this gem from Slate.

The Times was arguably starting to fall into the same trap as well.  I mean, how do you compete with the HuffPo’s 40-pt fire-engine red font surrounded by thumbnails of Charlie Sheen?  Ironically, these all-caps headlines usually just link you back to the Times anyway, only it’s Huffington walking away with the most clicks.  So please people, listen up.  Don’t be so cheap that you don’t want to pay $15 a month to have unlimited access to quality news on your $300 iPhone.  The world needs good journalists…and guess what?  Just like you they need to get paid!


20×200: Japan Earthquake Relief Edition

I’ve been a long time fan of Jen Bekman’s 20×200.  Just check out my hallway if you want proof!  All those are prints I’ve bought over the years from Jen’s 200 limited edition prints for $20 scheme.  As her motto says, “Buy art. It’s good for you.”

Imperial Palace Gardens with Wall, Tokyo - by Emily Shur

Today I was particularly pleased to get an email from 20×200 featuring a photographic print by LA artist Emily Shur with all proceeds going towards Japan Society’s Earthquake Relief Fund.  It’s great how quickly artists always respond in times of crisis.     And never underestimate the power of a graphic image to galvanize support — a poster can be more effective than a statistic in inspiring compassion.

20x200 prints in my apartment hallway

Help Japan print by Rob Dobi

Express Yourself

There’s been a lot of talk about breastfeeding in recent days, thanks to Michelle Obama’s public endorsement of it as part of her “Let’s Move” campaign to combat childhood obesity, and the stunningly moronic Tea Party commentary that has since followed it.  I think it’s common sense that we can now use money from our flex-spending accounts toward breast pumps, just as we’ve been able to use it on contact lenses.  And seriously, is publicly touting the virtues of breast milk anything worth getting upset about?  Regardless of whether or not a woman decides to breastfeed, it’s not like a controversial thing to recommend something that most mothers have been doing since the dawn of time, right?  I guess these hypocritical “I breastfed all my babies but don’t think other women should be able to use their FSA money to help fund $300 breast pumps” women (e.g. Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann) haven’t received the memo that breast milk is all the rage.  Let’s just say it ain’t just for babies anymore!

The Icecreamists in London’s Covent Garden was recently featured on BBC for being the first to offer an ice cream flavor called Baby Gaga made out of freshly expressed and pasteurized human breast milk.  At £14 a scoop, I’m not desperate to try it anytime soon; though as a friend pointed out, how much longer before we witness the same at our local farmer’s markets with locavore labels like “Danny’s Mom”?  Of course they’ll have to get around the New York Health Department, which last year banned Chef Daniel Angerer of Klee from making and serving cheese made out of the excess milk produced by his wife’s mammaries.  Waste not, want not?

Craftsmanship is Sexy

Living basically across the street from the Brooklyn Flea, I know that I have no excuse for being about a decade behind the curve in finally taking up a D.I.Y. activity that requires a modicum of manual dexterity.  Thanks to a Lifebooker Loot certificate for a beginning knitting course at La Casita purchased about a year ago and the kick in the pants (a combination of impending certificate expiration date and rapidly expanding belly) needed to actually redeem it, I can proudly say that I am now on my way to hand-crafting my first non-edible project as a grown-up.  Starting to knit a baby blanket is hardly a cause for public self-congratulations, but I have to say that an intimate knowledge of how much time and effort goes into making something that I could easily buy for a quarter of the price I spent on the yarn is really eye-opening.  It’s not hard to see why there has been such a huge resurgence of interest in craftsmanship and highly skilled manual labor as a result of all this amateur Etsy-style crafting activity.  There’s an element of elevated appreciation — gee whiz, how did he make that? — that naturally comes with having tried to make something out of nothing yourself.

The interest in craftsmanship seems to be pretty universal in mature economies across the board.  The shokunin (craftsman/artisan) boom has been growing in Japan for a while now and most international luxury brands with any heritage and dignity seem to have shifted their focus from logo-driven celebrity flash to an emphasis on the actual work that goes into their products.  Not surprising, given that in these markets, the default setting is overseas mass-production and an abundance of pretty much anything you need at comically low prices.  (The iPhone 3G is $49 today!)  Naturally, the swingback reaction to such a culture of ‘easy everything’ is to seek out things that are genuinely complicated and difficult.  Like comparing a baroque oratorio to a Black Eyed Peas reworking of a song from Dirty Dancing.  Scary fact: Handel composed the entirety of the Messiah in just 24 days!  I mean, no disrespect, but mad skillz just doesn’t mean what it used to.

Anyway,  I’m losing my train of thought again.  Oh right, so what I wanted to do was post these videos that Shota sent over and direct you all to Dunhill’s awesome Day 8 site that showcases the work of their craftsmen like this “Making Heritage” video below.  Super hot, but totally suitable for work.


This video for Red Wing Shoes I saw on Hypebeast today is similarly awesome, though decidedly more proletarian in flavor.  Viva Manual Labor!  Being a “knowledge worker” is overrated.  It’s what pays my bills for sure, but I certainly wouldn’t mind making something for a living.  PowerPoint Schmowerpoint.  -sigh-  But first things first…I should finish this blanket.

For What It’s Worth

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again — the polarization of media consumption keeps on escalating.  The day after Borders went out of business I find myself reading on Grub Street about how a set of $625 cookbooks are rapidly selling out.  I’ve long found it fascinating how mega-brands like Newsweek struggle to turn a profit while over on Mercer Street, the folks at Visionaire have been churning out deluxe magazines typically costing at least a couple hundred dollars since 1991 without a hitch.  Apples and oranges in terms of content, perhaps, but the point is that in the realm of media publishing, as things get more crap and diluted overall with the majority of product becoming either free or extremely affordable, there’s a simultaneous growth in demand for a truly luxury experience.

Radiohead’s controversial experiment with their release of In Rainbows back in 2007 was truly a harbinger of post-consumption consumption.  Their release of their digital album for free in conjunction with a super-slick and pricey LP offering basically reflected today’s consumer landscape to a T.  Some people just don’t want to pay for anything or don’t care enough to pay for something, while others will sell their internal organs for a piece of something they love.  The band is back this week with an announcement that they’ll be releasing a new album, The King of Limbs, digitally (not free but on the cheap) via their website on February 19.  What they are calling their deluxe ‘Newspaper Album,’ which consists of two clear 10″ vinyl records in a purpose-built record sleeve, a CD and ‘”many large sheets of artwork, 625 tiny pieces of artwork and a full-colour piece of oxo-degradeable plastic to hold it all together,” will be shipped out in March for fans who pre-order for the obviously worth it price of $48.  Around the same as a face-value ticket to see LCD Soundsystem for their farewell show at MSG!  That is, if you are an evil scalper bot who was actually able to procure a ticket at the price. (Another example of astounding consumer demand in this era of Free! but I digress…)

You're so very welcome...

Anyway, as usual my train of thought seems to have been hijacked by Thom Yorke.  I believe what I was originally trying to say is, dude, check out these luxury books in a custom Goyard trunk I saw in a bookshop window in Montreal!

Traveling Luxury Library by Goyard -- spotted in Montreal

Sound familiar?

Great article on hipsterism by Mark Greif in New York Magazine this week.

Photo: Plamen Petkov (NY Mag)