Tag Archives: peru

Want to Build a Lifestyle Brand? Build a Lifestyle.

For most bloggers, linking to last week’s story is sort of like wearing last season’s clothes. But let’s be honest, I do wear last season’s clothes, and Rebecca Mead’s ramble through Brunello Cucinelli‘s Umbrian kingdom of cashmere, in the March 29 New Yorker is already a classic, much like Cucinelli’s casually elegant clothing.

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The philosopher-king of cashmere’s unusual approach to his business–applying his Greco-Roman values to his home, his office, his sample factories and even establishing a small surrounding city in his vision, made me wonder why we don’t see this more often with American designers, so keen on ever-lucrative lifestyle brand. So why not build lifestyles?

Sure, Betsey Johnson had Betseyville and Ralph Lauren has Telluride‘s Double RL Ranch (and Round Hill in Montego Bay and the beach house in Montauk and the Bedford estate), but these holiday homes and resorts are available to but a few privileged guests.

As long as Ralph Lauren is branding bed sheets, house-paint and 1500 cattle, why not brand his own supply chain, and maybe even build a little colony around it? I’m serious. Imagine if American designers established enclaves for producing high-end capsule collections where the entire supply chain–and not just the look–aligned with their values. Now that would build a brand.

Here are my proposals for a few I’d like to visit.

Image from Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY

Donna Karan’s Pure Peru: Donna Karan could establish a small factory in the mountains outside Máncora, Peru, to produce her existing DKNY Pure line. She could use naturally colored organic Peruvian pima cotton to create heavenly cotton tees in the sandy beiges and whispery pinks she used for the collection in the ’90s.  Mead mentioned 90-minute lunch breaks at the Cucinelli factory–enough time for pasta, salad, grilled meat and wine (for less than five bucks in the cafeteria), followed by a nap. Maybe Karan’s macrobiotic chef could whip up meals in an outdoor kitchen, and factory workers could re-energize with afternoon meditation breaks. The designer could host guests for retreats at Samana Chakra, a little beachfront spot I visited after a production trip for Edun a while back. Pure Peru? Sign me up, the shirts and the retreat.

Ralph and Ricky Lauren, Image by Gilles de Chabaneix, Architectural Digest

Ralph Lauren Red, White and Blue Label: For his All-American collection, Lauren could make it…wait for it…all American. He could bring down some of the beef cattle from Double RL and start a little cotton farm in South Carolina. Since organic cotton can only be harvested once per year (as opposed to conventional cotton’s three yearly harvests) Lauren could rotate his crops with grain to feed the cattle in the winter. Naturally, they would be grass-fed the rest of the year. Lauren could find some  old equipment from the area’s historic mills and make fabrics to send to factories in nearby Surry County, NC, a community that’s been hit especially hard by job losses in the textile sector. (BLS predicts the job market will lose 71,500 sewing machine operators between 2008 and 2018.) He could follow Steven Alan‘s lead and resurrect the old-school Made in the USA tag that’s sewn into some of Alan’s signature pieces.

Ms. Mead wrote of Cucinelli’s commitment to his country, where 100% of his collection is manufactured. When the financial crisis hit, she said, Saks showed their support for Cucinelli by dedicating its windows to his brand and hosting an event with the cuisine of his Umbrian home. What could be more American than an organic cotton dress farmed from land that helped raise a (branded) burger in the off-season? I’ll have one of each, and come down for the cattle round-up.

Yvon Chouinard, Image from Ben Baker Photo

Patagonia’s Camp Cleanest Line: Okay, I’m cheating, because The Cleanest Line is already the brand’s blog, but the double entendre is too good. As you can read in his book, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard applies his philosophy–which involves a great respect for the outdoors and his employees, and providing the time for the latter to enjoy the former–to his business offices in Ventura, California. Camp Cleanest Line could appeal to Pata-groupies who not only love the clothing and want to observe this management technique in action, but also want to take a break to surf Rincon if conditions are conducive. Visitors could participate in a beach clean-up like the one the Patagonia employees recently did, and the trash they collect could be recycled into fleece. Patagonia produces largely in China, but they take the dramatic step of making their factory list public, so any camper who really wanted to follow their soda bottles overseas could. Come to think of it, I’d say Patagonia’s sort of already established a lifestyle brand, which might be why I’m sitting here in the garment district longing for, well, that Patagonia lifestyle.

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A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

I went to see Breakfast at Tiffany’s at the Film Forum the other night and realized I’ve never watched the entire movie from start to finish. I absolutely loved it, and suffice to say I could identify with Ms. Golightly when she expressed her love of Tiffany’s–not so much because of the jewelry, but because I too have felt that inside certain shops, nothing bad could befall me.

On the way home from the movies, crossing SoHo, we passed Purl, the knitting shop where I bought my first skein of yarn in 2003. It was dark, silent, and freezing on Sullivan Street, but Purl was lit up like a Christmas tree.

It was the first night of the year, and I think they were doing inventory.

I stopped to peer into the window undetected for a moment before continuing to the J-Train. Incidentally, I had a project waiting for me at home, for the very fella who escorted me to the Film Forum. (Well-earned, you may be thinking, but I think he liked the movie as much as I did.) This is it–completed just a couple of days ago. Nevermind that wavy rib.

I started this in California, with the help of  Strands Knitting Studio in San Clemente.

It was a fortuitous find  on my way home from the Casa de Kathy Thrift Shop. I couldn’t resist.

Once hooked, I picked out a skein of charcoal grey Misti Alpaca yarn and the Gwyneth Paltrow-lookalike manning the store helped me work out a pattern.

Strands got me started, but I couldn’t have finished that beanie without popping by Purl, just a couple days after passing by that cold night. (It really takes a village.) I had knit myself into a bit of a corner and needed help getting the hat off the needles at the end. My stitches were too tight. As ever, one of the ladies at Purl was patiently helpful. Maybe she shook her head at me ever so slightly, but it was only as she bailed me out.

You might not believe it, but on my way across SoHo to Purl that very afternoon, for help with the project I started at Strands in San Clemente, I came across yet another amazing, and completely different knitting store.  All I wanted to do was buy the yarn to start another project, but I made myself wait, at least until the charcoal beanie was finished. Now I’m ready for my next project, and dying to return to my new find so I can tell you all about it, but it may have to wait for a day or two.

As Ms. Golightly could attest, this restlessness is exhausting.

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Make Mine Alpaca

I had a lot of support in preparing for my presentation on Wednesday, which ended up winning a grant to get CLOSETTOUR off the ground. Dan Shanoff and Jeff Jarvis helped me hone the material, but I had never done a Powerpoint presentation and was a little freaked out by the medium. I thought if I could get some visual cues on the screen, I just might be okay. So, I put Rosa here on the second slide:

She’s a Huacayo alpaca I met a few years ago on a sourcing trip in Arequipa, Peru, and her photo was tacked up beside my desk at Edun for ages. It’s hard to be anxious when you’re eye-to-eye with an alpaca, so I led the presentation with her. She and Michael Pollan served as a sort of tag team, their photos side-by-side illustrating the analog of provenance-focused food journalism, and how I might use his model to unravel a sweater back to Peru, for example, which is where I first met Rosa. There, I got to see how the yarn is hand-sorted for staple length (which effects whether your sweaters “pill”), color, and fineness, as this woman is doing here. Before seeing this, I always thought Baby Alpaca (a content listed in yarn) was shorn from, well, baby alpacas, but it actually just refers to the grade of the yarn.

I love–LOVE natural colored yarns (Is there anything prettier than a natural sweater with jeans?), and it’s incredible all the gorgeous colors alpacas can be–chestnut, like Rosa, warm grey, like this guy, who’s called Pancho, and about 50 shades of cream, ebony, mink, and charcoal in between.

Here are a few more, to give you an idea, all stacked on a shelf at the Peruvian mill.

One of the yarns we saw in processing was Blue Sky Bulky, one of my very favorites. This is the yarn I learned to knit with, on fat plastic needles my mom called “telephone poles.” It is so easy and comes in incredible colors–both natural and dyed. If you have a desire to knit, and have never tried, try doing a scarf with this yarn. If I can do it, you can do it.

Peruvian Blue Sky Bulky Yarn, 50% wool, 50% alpaca

(Alternatively, if someone you love might like to learn to knit, a great gift would be some “telephone pole” needles, a few skeins of Blue Sky Bulky for a scarf, and a copy of this book.) A few years ago I knit myself a foggy-blue hat inspired by the one pictured below, but it became the casualty of a particularly wild Christmas party, and never made it home.

Marc Jacobs Fall 2006 Ready-to-Wear
The look that launched 1,000 chunky berets

Marc Jacobs F/W 2006, from Style.com

Soon I’d like to treat myself with a trip to Purl, the knitting shop in SoHo, to see what colors of Blue Sky Bulky they have in stock, and give it another shot. The pattern for the Transformer Hat, which you can find for free on the left edge of this blog looks like it could make for a promising project, and I’m feeling a lot of affection for alpacas these days.

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A Piece of my Heart

Well, dear readers, my heart is pounding, because in less than an hour our Entrepreneurial Journalism class will have the opportunity to pitch our new media ventures to a pretty hard-hitting panel of venture capitalists and media pros. (Perhaps you’ve heard of David Carr or Daylife, or Outside.in?)

I’m a little nervous, but more excited, and as usual I was wondering what to wear for the occasion. So I opted for a comfortable combination that would remind me of the sorts of stories I’m hoping to tell one day, through a more developed version of CLOSETTOUR–because that, if you haven’t figured out, is the idea that I’m presenting. That’s why (so sorry) the blog has been a bit bare lately. 

So, there’s a little snapshot of what I decided to wear: my racing heart as I type before heading to the conference room at CUNY. I’ll fill in later with more details, and detail shots, but in the meantime: The sweater was made in Madagascar, of Italian silk and cotton yarn–I managed its production for Edun. The shirt underneath is Peruvian organic cotton and modal–also for Edun. And the necklace is from an amazing turquoise trader I met in Missouri a couple of weeks ago. She had incredible stories to tell, that for the moment I’m keeping close to my chest. Hopefully this presentation will be the first step towards more resources to pass stories like hers along.

I got a fortune on my teabag yesterday that said, “let your heart speak to other’s hearts.” 

Here’s hopin’…

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The Sartorialist's Dilemma

In yesterday’s introduction, I mentioned Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a book that poses a simple question, one I spend a good deal of time, energy, and money in efforts to correctly answer: What should we have for dinner?

Here, I’m posing a dilemma even dearer to my heart (rather than my stomach), that also has a bit to do with value, as well as values.

What should I wear?

I spend even more time, energy, and money thinking about what to put on my body than I do thinking about what to put in my body. Both of these “dilemmas,” the omnivore’s and the sartorialist’s, are problems of privilege. It’s because we’re blessed with so many choices, and presumably, a little bit of time, energy, and money, that we can question these matters at all. Combine that with an affinity for fashion, and ever-increasing information, and you’ve got the makings for a great deal of debate.

What on earth am I going to wear?


Sometimes it’s a question of fit, others it’s a question of cost, sometimes it’s about instinct, history, or dare I say, love.

Here’s an idea…I’ll deconstruct what I’ve got on in that snapshot (taken last fall,not for the purpose of this exercise) to give an example.

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Okay, the necklace was my mom’s. It’s a tiny butterfly on a gold chain that my dad gave her a long time ago, and is unquestionably my favorite accessory. An identical necklace would probably twinkle at me from a jewelry store’s display case, but what makes it irreplaceable is its sentimental value.

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The white top came from a little vintage shop in Rio I wrote about for Nylon. You can read a few of the reasons that I loved their store in that little article, and they sort of apply to the top too: it took a little bit of looking to find it, it’s one-of-a-kind, and both delicate and durable. Although the straps are a little fragile, it has worn beautifully. The fabric is a woven cotton, kind of like a thin sheet, so it hasn’t gotten stretched out or pilled. I have no idea how old it is, but I do know that to buy something similar (handmade and well-designed) new, rather than vintage, would be very expensive, and without the joy of discovering a little gem in a special shop at the top of a hill.

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The cardigan is a sample from Edun, the fashion company I went to work for in 2006. I have lots of stories to tell about that, but let’s stick to the sweater. It’s a sample, which is sort of like a rough draft for the fashion industry. It was made at a small factory in Lima, Peru, where the boss lady was a fantastic creative problem-solver, which is pretty important when you’re trying to make a quality product at a specific price. That particular style didn’t make it into the collection, which means the stores didn’t purchase enough to warrant manufacturing, so it was cancelled. At Edun we used to dream about a collection called cancelled to incorporate all the lovely styles that never made it to the market. In the meantime I have my own little collection of cancelled samples–some from various jobs in fashion, others from sample sales. I’ve since updated this one by switching the buttons from metal to old-fashioned black leather knots.

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Topping it off is a wool hat I bought in a market in Arequipa, Peru–a souvenir from a visit to Edun’s yarn manufacturers in the Andes.

So…as you can see, everything has a story. And I’m only scratching the surface here. My hope is that I’m going to be able to use my closet as a case study, to begin asking, on various levels–whether economic or ethical, scientific or sartorial…what to wear?

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