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Archive for February, 2008

Innocent Dutch retailer welcome page?  

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Or was someone enjoying reruns of Monty Python’s Flying Circus? 

You decide.

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Because the love of fonts starts early:

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            During a particularly random Wikipedia spiral, I stumbled across the story of Best Products, the “catalog showroom” retailer that competed with Service Merchandise and went out of business in the late 90’s.  Growing up the store meant little to me other than having to go there so my parents could buy some mundane item or another (although I do remember my dad getting a particularly pretty strand of pearls for my mom for her birthday) or paging through the color-coded catalog, looking at all of the mundane items at home.  That said, I knew little about the retailer’s contributions to the architectural landscape from 1974 through 1980 until I stumbled across its Wikipedia page—who would have thought that a fairly conservative couple-cum-retail-magnates from Virginia want to revolutionize the way the suburban retail landscape would look?

            The firm responsible for carrying out their vision of turning retail on its ear was SITE, (anagram for Sculpture in the Environment), a high-concept architectural firm in New York committed to elevating the general public’s self-awareness via grandiose, daring building projects.  Each of the eight BEST buildings were meant to generate both internal and external dialogue, from doubting the wisdom of entering a building that appears to be crumbling before you, to allowing yourself to be put on display in what could be termed a human-sized terrarium, to discussing the physics of a building that literally looks like its’ been hoisted off of one end.

            Despite this seemingly progressive attitude towards retailing, BEST’s business model was not one of longevity, and certainly not one that could anticipate the advent of the Internet and the rise of the big-box discounters, and its swift demise rendered many of the buildings left in its wake completely useless to any other business—only one of the eight buildings survives in its original form today, ironically both as a Christian chapel and the only one that looks like it’s been left abandoned as an intentional line of trees bisect the building, encouraging growth all around the structure.

             To get an idea of exactly how cool these projects were, a documentary made sometime in the 80’s looked at each building individually, and is now posted on YouTube in four parts:

 

 

 

Note:  in this segment they also mention the now-demolished Ghost Parking Lot that lined Dixwell Avenue in the Hamden Plaza parking lot—it’s wild to see the difference in the area between then and now.

 

 

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Usually when Carolina Herrera presents her collections, I’m in awe of the craftsmanship and the simple elegance of her aesthetic, but I’m never overwhelmed by any whimsy or fanciful notions from her–season after season, she generally presents gorgeous clothes in some wild prints, but nothing that would veer towards the true avant-garde.

 That is, until her latest for autmn/winter 08, presented Monday morning:

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(images from Getty Images/Wireimage)

I’m not one to have princess fantasies, but this collection suddenly made me yearn to be one, only so that I could have a formal riding habit and have an excuse to wear those fabulous hats, and fancy dinners where I can wear that gorgeous dress.

Brava, Carolina, brava!

To see the full collection, go here.

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The most interesting email appeared in my inbox this morning: 

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I must say, I give them a lot of credit for not only wearing their politics on their sleeve, but to be at least somewhat fairly balanced with regards to both parties.

Happy Super-Ginormous-Fat-Fasnaught-Tsunami Tuesday everyone! 

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            Michael and I like to joke that the residents in our section of New Haven like to pretend that they are living in a small, cosmopolitan European city (Michael thinks Copenhagen; I’m more inclined to think a small Northern Italian city like Turin) rather than in New England, given the sheer number of people who tend to loiter outside the local markets and coffee houses for hours on end, even during normal working hours during the week.  There are benefits to this mentality, however—since they want to feel that they’re in Europe, they want to consume like they are as well.

            What does this mean?  Well, not only do we have easy access to some wonderful coffee houses (but most cannot provide the delight of European coffee, ironically enough), gourmet markets and expensive housewares stores, but now there are entrepreneurs who are recreating the European grocery shopping experience through the fromagerie/charcuterie model—specifically, one particular store.

              Having taken over the space once occupied by a sushi restaurant, Caseus is clearly designed to evoke an Old World sensibility without sacrificing accessibility.  A bistro is upstairs, featuring small plates, cheese boards, and a small sampling of some classic, mostly French dishes, and the cheese shop sits below.  The primary selling area is not very big, and rather sparsely decorated—they rely on the labels that appear on their rounds of cheese, pasting them to the wall much in the way a wine store in the area keeps a growing collection of wine corks.  A small cold case is in front, with signs that note that other selections can be gotten from “the cave”—the primary storage area that’s hidden from easy view that perhaps I will be able to see after visiting the place a few more times.

            Once inside, an associate approaches you, offering a sample of cheese (for me, it was a Vermont cheddar that was dynamite) as they ask you what you may be looking for.  A mixture of curiosity and craving for Serrano ham led me to ask what kinds of cured hams they carried, and lo and behold, a gorgeous hock of meat was already on the slicer.  After a taste (which was sliced at the appropriate thickness—not too thick, and thin enough to nearly melt in your mouth) I ordered a half-pound without even asking or caring what the price was, and though more expensive than the $17/lb ham available at the market downstairs from our apartment, it still was fairly reasonable at $24.99/lb, particularly as a simple indulgence.

            And as good as the products are, the staff is even better—they love to talk about food with you, and it’s not merely about them waxing poetic about the differences between Roquefort and other bleu cheeses, either.  They want to know what you’re looking for, in what context is it for (i.e., a cheese party or as a luxurious ingredient), and hey—they even would like to know how it worked out in the end.  They see themselves as mongers, and to that end they know the importance of a rapport with their customers, because then it becomes a relationship built on trust.

            I was only there for all of fifteen minutes, but as I walked back up Whitney with my $15 in ham in tow, I could sense a whiff of Brie lingering on my coat, and I knew that I would be back soon.  At the very least, I know I must get a peek inside that cave.

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