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.

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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.

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.

Simple Vessels

Came across very nice tea packaging design for Jamie Oliver while browsing the Williams Sonoma website for hot chocolate mixes.  I randomly bought a hot chocolate pot today for $15 at Housing Works Thrift Store thinking it was a weird tea pot.  The wooden stick is to mix the chocolate around.  Sweet.  I don’t even drink hot chocolate very much, but now that I have this awesome contraption, I have an incentive to drink more of it.  As for the Jamie Oliver tea…at $29 a container, I think I’ll stick to my PG Tips.  It would make a nice gift for someone, no?

Jamie Oliver's Very Special Mango Passion Fruit Tea
BIA Cordon Bleu Hot Chocolate Pot

Illegal Wedding Fair in NYC

I haven’t had a spare moment to blog for the last couple of months since planning for the Illegal Wedding Fair went into high gear!  This is my better-late-than-never post about the upcoming event that we’ve been feverishly working on, with an additional note to say I probably won’t be posting anything until after June 6 when all of this is over and I have time to do normal things again like pick up the dry cleaning and wash the dishes.

So here’s everything you need to know about the IWF.  It’s NYC’s premier same-sex wedding fair event taking place on Sunday, June 6 at the stunning townhouse venue, 632 on Hudson.  It’s a 4 hour event from noon-4pm with over 25 local vendors showcasing their work, all of whom unanimously support marriage equality.  There will be gorgeous wedding cakes by Cake Alchemy and Nine Cakes, a fabulous dinner-party vignette by floral designers Poppies & Posies in collaboration with the incredibly talented calligrapher Bryn Chernoff of Paperfinger, utilizing furniture and tableware provided by Broadway Party Rentals.  You’ll be able to nibble on delicious hors d’oeuvres prepared by eco-chic caterers Stuart & Welch, as well as Brooklyn’s own DISH Food & Events.  There will be an explosion of gorgeous flowers everywhere, designed by our participating gay-friendly florists, including Saipua, Worship Luxury, and the elusive/exclusive private florist Shaun Carson.  Luxury event designer Zak Kunish of ZAK Events will be showcasing his talents, as well as Marie Danielle Vil-Young, event coordinator of À Votre Service Events.

E&V Weddings, the featured photographers of the Illegal Wedding Fair will be taking over an entire room in the upper triplex that I like to call “the Chuck Bass Opium Den,” offering retro-vintage portraiture and all sorts of photographic goodness.  Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Kelly Guenther will also be on hand to showcase what she calls her “wedding photojournalism,” as will luxury events photographer Robert DiScalfani‘s crew.  You’ll find some gorgeous wedding gowns by Lovely bridal shop in a room that looks like Marie Antoinette’s boudoir, sample beautiful favors by Amy’s Cookies and Bespoke Chocolates, and even get to talk to speech consultants at The Oratory Laboratory about how not to embarrass yourself when giving that semi-drunk and tearful speech at your next wedding.  Face Time Beauty Concierge will be doing touch-ups and offering advice on how to look your best, and wellness guru Tory Marsh will be giving advice on health and nutrition.  You can find same-sex wedding bands designed by Rony Tennenbaum, who recently opened a boutique in Nolita, and check out the beautiful stationery of both Lion in the Sun Park Slope and Atelier Isabey.  Am I leaving anything out?  All this while enjoying cocktails expertly mixed by Payman Bahmani of Life’s a Cocktail and Mayur Subbarao of Evoe to the sounds of some great performers provided by Elan Artists!  Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon, right?

If you start to feel overwhelmed you can take a breather in the gorgeous lounge space on the ground-floor created by the furniture and props rental outfit, Taylor Creative.  From there you can look across to the Speaker’s Corner and catch some amazing talks by David Toussaint, author of Gay and Lesbian Weddings: Planning the Perfect Same-Sex Ceremony, Annie Lee, principal planner and founder of Daughter of Design, and Dr. Anne Klaeysen & Law’nence Miller, officiants from the New York Society for Ethical Culture.

Meet Kirsten & Maria Palladino, the Editor-in-Chief & Publisher of Equally Wed, the nation’s premier same-sex wedding magazine and our national media sponsor for this event.  They’re coming all the way from Hotlanta so come say hi!  We’re also crossing our fingers that City Council Speaker Christine Quinn might be able to drop in to give an address so this is serious stuff!  We’ve got a ton of great products to raffle off for charity from our amazing sponsors, including a few of those famous Marriage is So Gay T-shirts.  Everyone will go home with a sweet swag bag and enjoy products from sponsors illy issimo and popchips among many others.  Our hearts are full with love and gratitude for all the awesome people participating in realizing this one-of-a-kind event.  Come on out and share the love on June 6!  Say NO to marriage discrimination in our state (and everywhere else, for that matter), and let’s hope that next year this will be the LEGAL Wedding Fair!

Tickets are $35 per person / $60 per couple – available here via Brown Paper Tickets, the first and only fair trade ticketing company.  See you at the party!

Tokyo in Bloom

Back from Tokyo where the cherry blossoms were in full bloom and everyone was in a particularly good mood.  Grateful to have got the timing just right, as if we’d arrived a week later it would probably have been too late to see this:

Or the sight of this poor dude whose sole responsibility for the day must have been to secure a good location under the blossoms, hours in advance of the drinking and debauchery scheduled for later in the evening:

But as this blog is not supposed to read like the travelogue of some JET, I will refrain from indulging myself further in posting pictures of the Nat Geo variety.  I didn’t have too much time this time around to “braille the culture” as we used to say back when I worked at Faith Popcorn’s BrainReserve, but I did manage to sneak in my usual tour of the design floor in the Matsuya department store in Ginza, where they had their usual selection of stunning housewares by Yanagi Sori and ±0 with a smattering of neat new things I hadn’t seen before like these memo sheets from D-BROS designed to look like wedges of apples and pears.

Also got to check out the much buzzed-about store  called Pass the Baton that just opened a few months ago in the new Marunouchi Brick Square complex.  Started up by the same entrepreneur behind Soup Stock Tokyo, Pass the Baton takes the concept of recycling to a whole new level by combining the trend towards all things vintage with the public yearning for storytelling and community.  The way it works is that customers can submit “formerly loved” items that they want to sell at Pass the Baton, alongside a requisite introductory description of who they are, what they are selling, why they want to sell it and what the item meant to them, etc.  Once accepted as resale-worthy, the merchandise gets posted online alongside the owner’s profiles, and select items get chosen to be displayed in-store.

So instead of the experience of merely coming across old knickknacks at a flea market, you get a much more comprehensive sense of the “life” each object on sale had before ending up in Pass the Baton’s exquisitely curated shelves.  The prices are relatively high, but the sense of specialness that the stories of prior ownership imbue each item makes the experience worth the premium.  Pure genius!

Pass the Baton in Marunouchi Brick Square
A new type of recycle shop.

Bottling Innovation

Dude, this Japanese packaging re-do for Gatorade is so much better than those fat, squat things we have in the US! I guess the argument goes that Americans need to drink a lot more electrolytes or whatever than the little Japanese who take sips out of these skinny PET bottles.  But come on, we deserve some visually pleasing design too!  The Gatorade bolt on the black background is so simple and yet it totally pops on the shelf.  Beverage-maker Suntory distributes Gatorade in Japan so I suppose it’s just a completely different sensibility from what’s marketed here.

And while we’re on the topic of Suntory, can I just pose the question for the ten billionth time why we don’t have crystal-cut design capabilities for PET bottle packaging like they’ve had in Asia for like, oh, I dunno, 5 years now?  I’ve asked many package designers about this and the answer always has to do with the cost of changing factory production molds and the scale of distribution in the US, blah blah.  All important considerations, I agree, but it just blows my mind how slow we are to innovate beverage packaging for mass brands in this country.  You get superficial changes and the odd tweaks here and there, but in general the pace of innovation is incredibly slow.  Like think about the cans and bottles of soda you drank as a kid and ask yourself if they’ve really changed in any substantial way.  Yeah, didn’t think so.

So Much Teux Deux

I know I’m way more than a day late and a dollar short in keeping up my blogposts, but whatever, I was in sunny Los Angeles with better things to do.  And speaking of things to do, I’ve long been meaning to recommend this wonderful little browser-based to-do app called TeuxDeux designed by Tina Roth Eisenberg, a.k.a. swissmiss, everyone’s favorite design blogger.  TeuxDeux is truly life-altering for an avid list-maker like myself.  Finally, a well-designed alternative to my mountain of post-its and neglected task pad on my iGoogle!  No ugly widgets all over the place–just a clean white space in which I can list my tasks, only to cross them off one by one with a great sense of accomplishment.  Proof positive that simple really is best.  They’re currently hard at work on an iPhone app, which promises to make everyone’s busy lives even more organized and beautiful.

MUJI in Motion

It’s not often that I find myself mesmerized by a brand website but then again MUJI is not like any other brand.  Check out their Play MUJI site here and tell me you don’t find it intoxicating!  What an unbelievably beautiful way to showcase a ton of products without boring or overwhelming the viewer.  I love the way they use movement in each of the frames but in deliberate timing that leaves some frames still so as not to bombard you with too much stimuli at once.  It’s also clever how you can change the music if a particular tune is driving you crazy while you scroll through and lust after all the genius products displayed.  Given that MUJI is all about great design that combines simplicity with high functionality, it’s perfect that they’ve figured out a way to showcase those qualities so seamlessly in this site.  I know there are a bunch of MUJI stores in NYC now, but I am still counting down the days until my next trip to Japan because there really is no comparison to their flagship store in Yurakucho.  They sell everything from MUJI food, plants, eyeglasses and bikes to entire houses.  If there ever was a reason to visit Tokyo, the MUJI flagship store would be it.  Seriously.

And while we’re on the topic of well-designed brand websites, check out Uniqlo’s Uniqlock if you want to find out what time it is anywhere in the world while watching random Asian women dancing.  Right now they happen to be dancing in Paris but they switch it up from time to time.

Domsai

At the risk of turning this blog into nothing more than a list of things I covet, I am posting these Domsai by Matteo Cibic which I first encountered at The Future Perfect on Great Jones Street.  Perfection must be shared!  It took some serious self-control not to walk out of there with one of these, but it was the holiday season and I’d already spent a grip of money on things that now escape my memory.  Plus I could already hear the resident economist lecturing me about the perils of spending hundreds of dollars on what he calls stuff.  I call them objets d’art but this is where we differ and never the twain shall meet.  Big sigh, big groan.  You only regret the things you didn’t buy.