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Archive for October, 2007

            One of my favorite blogs to read on my little blogroll is Things I Bought That I Love, which essentially is a review of recently purchased items, from clothing to dinners out to tazers.  Yes, tazers.  Normally I can’t stand the mindlessness of shopping blogs because I really couldn’t give a fuck what someone bought save for DIY projects and the like.  But when said blog is written and maintained by Mindy Kaling, writer and actress on The Office, well, the exception proves the rule. 

            Ever since the biting slap she gave Michael in the second episode of the series, Mindy has been a force to be reckoned with on the show as the ultra-perky Kelly Kapoor.  Moving quickly from the background to a prominent secondary character, she now embodies the busybody office girl whose interests lie not much farther than celebrity gossip, fashion, and boys, and is completely unashamed of that fact.  With his tongue firmly placed in cheek, her fellow writer listed Kaling’s contribution to the writers’ room on the show as “fashion/on-line shopping,” and Kaling her self has mentioned that Kelly is often just a more extreme version of her personality, but in reading a few entries, you realize that there is much, much more going on in that head of hers than she wants let on, which leads me to her most recent post.

            Its title, “American Apparel Cotton Spandex Jersey Boy Brief,” is highly deceptive, as she launches into a diatribe on two topics that I’ve given some though to, mostly because they actually do kind of go together.  First, she decries the infantillization of women when it comes to grown women wearing little girl clothes.  I can’t say I disagree—though I’m known to occasionally dabble in a miniskirt vaguely reminiscent of a schoolgirl kilt, it’s done with a healthy dose of self-awareness.  The same cannot be said for the cooing being done over the yet-to-be-released Erin Fetherston collection for Target, which is essentially encouraging grown women to dress like six-year-olds.  Alluring, isn’t it?  Regardless, Mindy and I do agree on one thing that is a fun offshoot of this trend, and that’s the proliferation of boyish clothes for girls—she loves the boyshorts at American Apparel, I love boy-sized Lacoste polos, as they are significantly cheaper and better cut for my figure than the “women’s” sized ones which end somewhere above my navel.

             The reason why she mentions these boyshorts at all is because they feature into one of what she calls her “Sunday Morning Fantasies” which essentially involve laying about in cute underwear on a random Sunday morning (easily the dreamiest time of the worst day of the week) in an impossibly cool situation with impossibly cool people, ultimately being a moment when an impossibly cool photographer materializes to capture the moment forever.  I too am struck by these moments, but I would refer to them as my Imaginary French Vogue Photoshoots, and would be set, cast, costumed and have a soundtrack to them.  Oh yes, and they would all be réalisé de Carine Roitfeld.  So in honor of the holiday, I’ll share some of my imaginary dress-up situations:

             One involves me lounging on my bed, in a Hanes old-man tank top and these, with my hair all artfully mussed and my eyes smudged with just a little too much eyeliner, smoking a clove cigarette, pouting as I read Tropic of Cancer.  Another would be me sitting on the floor of a too-small kitchen in a tiny Parisian apartment, eating a platter of lox and bagels, my hair in a low, mussy ponytail, discarded sneakers barely making the frame, all while listening to “The Stars of Track and Field” by Belle and Sebastian while wearing these  and this.

             I’m not sure where this American Apparel fixation came from aside by my wearing their short-shorts all over the house (but not beyond save for an emergency food run downstairs), but right now, they are the starring brand in my IPVPs.  But there are others, featuring things like furs, beautiful dresses, tuxedos and shallow pools. 

I feel like this could be a series…perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. 

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            Most mornings find me waking up about an hour before I have to leave for work to allow me time to actually wake up, eat breakfast, drink my required cup of tea and get dressed without rushing about like a madwoman.  Since the new television season has started up, I’m also able to catch up with shows that I may miss during the week, and while some are guilty pleasures and little else, I do enjoy kick-starting my brain by watching the occasional quasi-intellectual show.  Because it seems I cannot go for more than a week or so before being sucked into a new cooking competition, I’ve been following the Food Network’s latest attempt at credibility, The Next Iron Chef.

            I’m a total sucker for anything IC-related, because in college many a weekend night we would flip to the Food Network to watch the original Japanese show.  Few things are as impressive as seeing chefs butcher live, squirming eels or break down poultry within a matter of seconds, and it was one of the most educational shows on television because it opened our eyes to high-end Japanese cuisine.  It had its elements of the ridiculous, of course:  the foppish “chairman,” the Backdraft score, the actresses on the judging panel who were dubbed over and made to sound like giggling ninnies.  But it never failed to push the boundaries of creativity, and watching these culinary masters tackle each challenge with unbridled enthusiasm completely elevated my respect for chefs everywhere.

            Sadly, it has now been demoted to late-night airings because when the original series ended in 1999, the powers that be were at work creating an American version to capitalize on the show’s rabid popularity.  That debuted a year or two ago, and while it features the adorable Alton Brown as commentator and the indomitable Jefferey Steingarten and Ted Allan as frequent judges, it lacks the elegance of the original and as a result, it’s no longer appointment television like its predecessor was in our household.

            That said, the network has decided to enlarge its stable of Iron Chefs from the current 4 (Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, Masaharu Morimoto and Cat Cora) to include a fifth (or perhaps replacing one of the current chefs—gossip abounds that Morimoto may retire from the show as he is the only link between the original and the current versions), and have embarked on a “limited series” to find this chef from a talent pool of eight seemingly qualified contestants.  Note:  I only say “seemingly” because I have not tasted any of their food, so I cannot judge on whether they are deserving of being considered the best of the best.  Most have appeared as challengers on ICA, however, which leads me to believe that they are a highly talented group.

            Therein lays my main criticism of the show:  unlike Top Chef, we’re not given that much insight into these chefs’ thought processes; aside from knowing what style they cook in and some of their favorite ingredients, we aren’t granted much access into their heads.  It’s unfortunate, because they seem to be genuinely interesting people, and if I am going to have the pleasure to see one of them compete on ICA after this exercise is over, I’d like to be privy to the passion that I know is there.  Back stories are not the highest priority on this show (nor should they be, really), but while I love watching people cook (particularly professionals), allowing more of their personalities unfold only enriches the experience even further for me.  Sure, this show is about the food, but it can’t only be about the food.  I could be biased, though, due to the fact that we are privy to les raisons d’etre of both Mario Batali and Bobby Flay through their Food Network shows, and to a lesser extent Moriomoto’s in part due to his participation on the original Iron Chef.  To be completely honest, it’s still a little unclear why any of them want to be the next IC.

            Will I keep watching?  Absolutely—despite its flaws, it’s still an intelligent competition and it will likely finish just as the mother of great reality competitions comes back on Bravo:  Project Runway. 

Michael Ruhlman (acclaimed food writer and pal of Tony Bourdain) and Andrew Knowlton (editor for Bon Appétit) are two of the judges on the show, and both are following the competition through their blogs, here and here.

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New York magazine’s latest issue boasts a review of some of the most important design revolutionaries in the city’s recent history, with a focus on names that are perhaps not ones tossed about at home, but whose contributions have permanent imprints on the visual landscape.  It is only natural, then, that such a homage must include a nod to Massimo and Lella Vignelli, creators of not only the American Airlines’ “brand identity” but perhaps more importantly the instantly recognizable New York City subway system map.  I’ve mentioned them before only a few weeks ago, as their work was part of the “Helvetica:  50 Years” retrospective at the MoMA, but because I cannot get enough of gazing at the elegant, abstract simplicity of their 1973 map, I’m posting it here:

 map071029_560.jpg I won’t try to regurgitate the article; you can read it here if you like.  But this technique, aped from the London Underground maps and still in use today, has turned the otherwise dull transit map into some of the most aesthetically pleasing maps out there: 

Philadelphia’s SEPTA map (1980):

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Washington Metro Rail Map:

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 Milan Metro Map:

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Few things intimidate me more (creatively speaking) than a few yards of fabric, unfurled in all its glory on the floor or a bed or similar.  With many of the creative projects I undertake, generally there is plenty of room for error, or at least reimagining:  it’s easy to disassemble a necklace and restring the beads, a botched sketch can be thrown away and started anew on a fresh page, ridiculous verse or prose can be deleted with a few keystrokes.  But fabric is decidedly different; one bad snip and the entire piece could be ruined. 

For this reason (in addition to not owning a sewing machine), I don’t take on many fabric-related projects.  I was never terribly prolific, mind you—just some pillows, random stuffed animals, and doll clothes back when I was very little, and a yoga bag constructed junior year of college—but not having a machine to make strong, even stitches makes me wary of creating anything that needs to, well, hold up to anything.  Or look particularly neat.  Or see the light of day.  It was last year, though, after Michael and I moved in together and we bought things like curtains that a solution was presented to me, at least for some basic crafts:  fabric tape, or the iron-on solution. 

Whenever we travel to IKEA (not really much of a journey, mind you, as it’s about ten minutes away) I have to stop in the textiles section and admire the rugs and bolts of reasonably-priced fabrics, mostly because they all have such a strong graphic appeal, unlike what is available at most chain fabric stores.  I wasn’t really even looking for anything when the following caught my eye like a thunderbolt:

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 And so I bought 2 ½ yards, folded it up, and shoved it into my closet, untouched through most of the summer.  That is, until yesterday.  

Presented with the unexpected pleasure of a Columbus Day holiday and a desire to do something creative, I finally cleared the floor, grabbed my iron, ironing board, tape measure and scissors, and got to work on what would become a table-runner and eight placemats for our upcoming party in a week and a half.  The runner will span our kitchen table, and the placemats will be out to artfully present the other displays of food we’ll have throughout the apartment.  I’ll post pictures the day after the festivities. 

Though not the most ambitious project I’ve ever undertaken, it was the right push to get me out of the creative funk I’ve been in…perhaps a dive into my bead box is now in order.

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Despite the questionable state of the current economy, the rich continue to spend virtually unabated, comprising what Michael Gross calls a “hugely disproportionate chunk of consumer activity” compared to the rest of us (i.e. the 80% of us not considered “rich”).  Retailers have struggled through this period, with many reporting dropping same-store-sales (a key measure in retail performance) and are now left struggling to figure out a way to recapture that ever-elusive profit margin.

The apparent answer:  target the rich!  They have money!

J.Crew, admittedly a store that I have a pretty strong love for (my wedding dress is from there, after all, and not one of the trés expensive ones), unveiled the J.Crew Collection a year and a half ago, featuring fabrics that were even more luxurious than its main line, detailing like intricate hand-beading, and designs that ostensibly show a greater attention to creating fashion-y pieces that could appeal to a more high-end consumer looking for something “special.”  Now Anne Taylor wants to get in the act with their own “Collection” line, featuring high-end updates on their business-casual separates, albeit with better fabrics, construction and details.

 

While in theory the idea kind of works—asking people to pay more for a better-constructed item that veers more towards classic than trendy isn’t the most ridiculous thing ever—what both of these brands fail to realize is that the market they want to target already has higher-end contemporary/bridge lines (like, for instance, Theory) that fill this niche and carry brand cachet.  J.Crew manufactures shoes that sell for nearly as much as Marc Jacobs or even a simple Manolo Blahnik; these Ann Taylor pants are very close in price to Theory’s famously slimming pants.  If a customer has already made the leap to lay out that kind of money for a clothing item, what would stop them from getting something “authentic” versus a mass brand’s facsimile?  And more importantly, why go to the extra expense and effort to court this imaginary new segment when both would much more likely be efficiently spent catering to your actual customer?

Clearly, they haven’t taken the same MBA classes Ryan Howard has.

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