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AS RAKESTRAW

Flying Into New York

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Flying Into New York

The first thing you notice is the light pollution. From 50 miles out, burnt purple blots away the stars. There is a city on a hill and you are descending into it. The second thing you notice is how that makes you feel.


Flying into New York feels like resignment. To visitors, it is elation. But visitors do not fly into New York. They travel to it. They see it. They visit.

To New Yorkers, returning from outside means the start of a stopwatch. 


I land at this time. It takes me this long to get home. It takes me this long to sleep. It takes me this long to commute. How long will catching up on email take me? When is that thing due? Will I have time to tick tick tick tick tick tick tick.


The range of an AIM-7E missile is 28 miles. From twice that distance, I-95 light pollution hones in on its own airborne targets.


Are you flying into New York, or is New York flying into you?


(This post brought to you by vacation hangover. Bury my heart in the Rockies.)


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New Years

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New Years

I feel guilty liking 2018.

In the popular narrative, this was the worst year. The sum total of events earmarked “2018” made it Hell on Earth. Wildfires. Politics. Geopolitics. There is a knot in the stomach of America, and each day, that knot twists tighter seemingly just because it can. That does not make for easy living.

In my personal narrative, however, 2018 was great. I graduated college. I wrote a lot. I got the job. Waking up at 6am to get back from the gym at 7:30am so a desk is filled by 9am is the stuff on AnSo nightmares. To me, it feels productive. As the saying goes: “Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life.” I hope the rest of my life doesn’t include New York rent, but in so many senses, it’s damn good to be here.

Which brings me to here. The big “here.” This fleeting moment, one letter a time.

2016 was the worst year until 2017. 2017 was the worst year until 2018. 2018 was the worst year. Until what?

There’s a part of me that believes the large, secular trends filtered to us through the daily panic are nowhere close to over. Elections won’t fix structural changes. Podcasts won’t fix eroded institutions. If I look both ways each time I cross the street, I’ll likely live long enough to see how our shared complex system dissipates 30 years of tension. As an 18-25 year old male, I hope it’s peace.

But here’s where the guilt really kicks.

One year from now, we’ll know whether the knot has tightened - whether past trends predicted future results. 2019 may be a year of collective exhale. 2018 may have been our 1968. If I had a time machine, I wouldn’t be blogging. Time has a way of healing all wounds, and again, looking both ways should let me stick around long enough to see it.

However, if the plate tectonics we’re experiencing play out, some of the earthquakes now manifesting - rising inequality, asset inflation, divisive politics - may look more like foreshocks.

I hope they don’t. I hope the next year is happy, healthy, and productive. But if it’s not, it’d be nice to say “2018 was great” without furrowing brows.

Optimism and guilt. Forecasts and foreshadowing. A cocktail of emotions spurred by a night of cocktails. Must be New Years.

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Highsnobiety: 2017 Was the Year of the Celebrity Sneaker Co-Sign

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Highsnobiety: 2017 Was the Year of the Celebrity Sneaker Co-Sign

My latest for Highsnobiety, talking one of the most insane trends to ever hit the sneaker industry. From Amber Rose to Gary Vee, 2017 was "the year of the co-sign." How long before celeb sneaker collabs become just another part of the merch table?

Read the full story at link here.

 

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Highsnobiety: Let’s Face It, Buying Sneakers Has Become Way Too Complicated

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Highsnobiety: Let’s Face It, Buying Sneakers Has Become Way Too Complicated

My latest work for Highsnobiety, this time covering the crazy world of sneaker releases. I argue that "bots vs. brands" is an unwinnable fight, that gamified releases are less crack than whack, and that jumping through flaming hoops shouldn't be a prerequisite to hooping in Jumpman. How's that for turns of phrase?  

Read the full article at the link here

 

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Breckenridge, CO (10/17/2017)

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Breckenridge, CO (10/17/2017)

It only took three years, but for once during undergrad, I took a proper break. 

Last week, five friends and I ventured west to the mountain town of Breckenridge, Colorado, a ski resort/outdoors mecca sitting at 9,600' above sea level. It was, in every sense, breathtaking. The American West is my happy place (runner-up: the Canadian West), and after two summers of New York office work, a return to thin air and mountains was a high without compare. 

A selection of my favorite shots from the trip are below. 

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Highsnobiety: Let's Stop Pretending Balenciaga's Meme-Bait is Cool

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Highsnobiety: Let's Stop Pretending Balenciaga's Meme-Bait is Cool

Last week, a straw broke the camel's back. Read my latest for Highsnobiety at the link here.

 

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Grailed: A History of Arc'teryx Veilance

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Grailed: A History of Arc'teryx Veilance

Earlier this month, I set out to give one of my favorite menswear brands the history it has long deserved. Visit Grailed to read Climbing Higher: A Complete History of Arc'teryx Veilance now.

 

Special thanks to Taka Kasuga, Conroy Nachtigall, Bernard Capulong, Gabriel Authier, and Marco Barneveld of The Dyneema Project for making this piece possible.

 

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Stockholm, Sweden (8/27/2017)

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Stockholm, Sweden (8/27/2017)

Earlier this summer, I traveled to my family's homeland of Stockholm, Sweden for a week full of strong coffee and slight breezes. The Swedish summer is my ideal climate, and I found Stockholm and her archipelago just as agreeable. All in all, a wonderful vacation, made wonderful twice over by the gorgeous environment, both urban and otherwise. 

Enjoy some of my favorite photos from the trip below. Adjö, Sverige - I'll see you soon. 

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Highsnobiety: Did Social Media Ruin Sneaker Culture?

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Highsnobiety: Did Social Media Ruin Sneaker Culture?

Part II of a two-part editorial series for Highsnobiety investigating the importance of sneaker communities in the past and present, and how the very notion of community around stores and shoes has changed forever due to social media.

While Part I covered the past, this time, it's all about what's now and next. After you've read more about how sneaker culture proves we're all just animals after all, check out the rest of the story at the link here

Special thanks to Jeff Staple, Eugene Kan, Bobby Hundreds, Eddie Cruz, Lawrence Schlossman, and Chris Danforth for all their work putting this amazing series together. 

 

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Highsnobiety: Sneaker Culture is a Reminder That We're All Just Animals

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Highsnobiety: Sneaker Culture is a Reminder That We're All Just Animals

Part I of a two-part editorial series for Highsnobiety investigating the importance of sneaker communities in the past and present, and how the very notion of community around stores and shoes has changed forever due to social media.

Like any good story, this one starts by setting the scene. Read the full story at the link here

Special thanks to Jeff Staple, Eugene Kan, Bobby Hundreds, Eddie Cruz, Lawrence Schlossman, and Chris Danforth for all their work putting this amazing series together. 

 

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Highsnobiety: Here's How The Sneaker Industry is Fueled by Copied Designs

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Highsnobiety: Here's How The Sneaker Industry is Fueled by Copied Designs

My latest for Highsnobiety: an investigation into one of the fundamental forces powering the sneaker industry. In a divisive brand culture like sneakers, claims of one brand copying another launch both troll threads and witch hunts alike. However, there's a mountain of evidence to suggest that every sneaker brand - from Skechers to the Swoosh - has only grown by shamelessly copying already-popular designs.

And I do mean shameless.

Three-striped Nikes? Yes, it happened. Read the full story at the link here

 

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Even Memories Get Older

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Even Memories Get Older

In an unprecedented approach to my own editorial direction, I'll keep this short.

Over the past few months, I've had amazing opportunities reveal themselves, opportunities that - to be blunt - were only brought into life through this blog. Many of those opportunities carry the understanding that work I do there is not to be reproduced elsewhere. As I devote myself more and more to work that I love, I find myself less able to produce the sort of long-form original content I used to for AS RAKESTRAW. 

This isn't "the end" - but it's an end of something.

I'll still post the occasional playlist, styling feature, shoe review, or hell, art/car/design feature that I truly feel is worth sharing. However, for all intents and purposes, most of the posts from here on out will be links to work produced externally. 

Personally? I'm excited. While this feels like the end of an era, there's a certain pleasure that comes with having a more immediate, more personal outlet rather than one focused on research-heavy editorial - a blog focused on the week-by-week, not the years gone by. Even memories get older. 

Plus, if you're one of the few who do truly enjoy my writing (hi, Mom!), I'll still be writing about anything and everything for the outlets you'll see linked on this page. It'll just be a link to the story vs. the full story itself.

Thank you to everyone who has followed, read, and supported this winding path I'm on. As we approach this next bend and the new direction it carries, I have only one thing to say: I hope you'll join me. 

 

Kind regards,

 

Alex Rakestraw

Alex Rakestraw

   

 

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Highsnobiety: The Story Behind the adidas Sneaker Worn by Soviet Special Forces

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Highsnobiety: The Story Behind the adidas Sneaker Worn by Soviet Special Forces

My second article for world-leading lifestyle publication Highsnobiety, all about the adidas "Москва" sneaker - an adidas Gazelle knock-off that ended up on the feet of Soviet Spetsnaz operatives serving in the Invasion of Afghanistan.

On foot in the middle: three stripes.

On foot in the middle: three stripes.

On foot on the left: three stripes.

On foot on the left: three stripes.

 

You can read the full article on Highsnobiety here. A special thanks to Chris Danforth from Highsnobiety for his help making this story and research possible. 

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Highsnobiety: Sruli Recht Explains Ecco's Transparent Leather

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Highsnobiety: Sruli Recht Explains Ecco's Transparent Leather

My debut article for world-leading lifestyle publication Highsnobiety. I had the chance to interview avant-garde designer (and genius materials innovator) Sruli Recht to discuss his breakthrough innovation: transparent leather. Best of all, there are sneakers involved.

You can read the full article on Highsnobiety here. A special thanks to Sruli Recht and Marco Barneveld for making this opportunity possible. 

 

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A Shopping Guide to Center City, Philadelphia

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A Shopping Guide to Center City, Philadelphia

Philadelphia is a many funny thing. For the second-largest Northeastern city (and fifth largest in the US, by population), the first capital of the United States could justifiably be called “overshadowed.” To the north lies New York City – Gotham, Metropolis, America’s gravitational center – while just beyond that is Boston – “The Birthplace of the Revolution,” whose iconic film portrayals and championship sports teams ensure its name still rings ‘round the world.

Then, just three hours south of America’s first capital, there’s its current: Washington, D.C. I don’t need a Kevin Spacey voiceover to tell you why the District punches well above its population.

Yet, perhaps it’s this status as the I-95 underdog (coupled with rent prices literally half of Mahattan’s) that gives Philadelphia its charm, pluck, and sheer vitality. After all, while Boston has “Good Will Hunting” and “The Departed” in its corner, Philly has its own Oscar story: “Rocky,” a tale of an indomitable human spirit beating all the odds. Overshadowed? Not quite. Underrated? You bet.

Last weekend, I spent a sunny Saturday downtown for a day full of eating, shopping, and touring. Since I grew up in Philly’s suburbs and would visit often, I did my best to avoid the chains and seek out the Center City destinations I know and love. I even made a customized Google My Map (link to map here) so you can follow along. 

Neat, right? Well, I thought so. Without further ado, here are the stores and sites that made the cut. 

 

Knead Bagels (725 Walnut St)

The culinary avant-garde is typically liquefied, ionized, or at the very least, gluten-free. Knead Bagels, then, is either a slave to convention or the avant-avant – and believe me, there’s little conventional about lavender bagels and scallion lime cream cheese. Knead’s iconoclastic approach to a New York delicacy has nothing to do with any metropolitan rivalries, and is instead a simple story of passion and chance. Two professional chefs, one serendipitous curiosity (quote: “I want to try making bagels”), and countless hours of recipe refinement all came together to form a single delicious result: the best artisan bagels I’ve ever tasted.

While Knead’s bagels certainly cost some dough ($3.50 for a “non-traditional” with spread, $7.00 for a breakfast sandwich), the taste is worth every penny. Go early to avoid the omnipresent line, and whatever you do, don’t default to your deli’s typical “plain on plain.” Knead’s fresh, flavorful bakey is not the place to be stale. Start your time in Philly here with an unforgettable bagel sandwich.

 

Lapstone and Hammer (1106 Chestnut St)

Visit enough sneaker shops, and even the least fastidious philosophers among us will start believing in singularity – or at the very least, convergent evolution. I’ve been to specialty boutiques in all four corners of the country, and heaven forbid, there are genre tropes. The shelf-warmers needed to guarantee access to big releases; whatever clothing brand rapper of the moment just promoted; the list goes on. Homogeny, thy name is Instagram hype culture.

Lapstone and Hammer, however, is different. In fact, it’s brilliant.

In the same way that NOAH introduced New York City to a combination of store and product best described as “streetwear for grownups,” Lapstone and Hammer has built Philadelphia’s very own temple to the cult of taste. The store is split neatly into two halves, the first of which comprises an oak-paneled room lined with designer shoes on one wall (Common Projects; Filling Pieces; ETQ) and contemporary yet understated menswear (Robert Geller; Momotaro; Schott NYC) on the other.

Just beyond the oak and denim, however, lies the sportswear: a backlit monochrome antechamber lined with every Nike release you’ve ever heard of, plus the hottest selections from other sneaker brands like Asics, Vans, and Saucony (notably absent is Adidas, who’ll be joining the lineup soon). Business in the front, party in the back.

Carve out a good chunk of time to spend at Lapstone and Hammer – it is truly (and refreshingly) like no other sneaker store I’ve ever visited. Oh, and the staff are friendly, too. Take that, boutique genre tropes!

 

Boyds Philadelphia (1818 Chestnut St)

After you wrap up at Lapstone, walk down Chestnut across Broad Street and keep going until you either a) see blue awnings or b) hear Porsches. Congratulations, sir – you’ve arrived.

As Bergdorf is to New York and Harrods is to London, so is Boyds to Philadelphia. Boyds is a luxury department store in the intangible way that few institutions can ever be, and frankly, may ever be in the rest of our history. Boyds is a landmark draped in silk and marble, its creation due in equal parts to social stratification and an altruistic drive to create pure splendor in our workaday world. The thoroughly-modern luxury brands it stocks at present – Canali, Kiton, Moncler – are testament to the continued vivality of Boyds’ towering heritage.  

As befitting of a luxury clothier, they weren’t keen of me taking too many pictures. All the more reason, then, for you to see it in person. If even just to window shop, no Philadelphia shopping guide is complete without Boyds.  

 

Barneys New York (1811 Walnut St)

As Barneys is to New York, Barneys is to… well, you get the idea. The Philadelphia outpost of New York City’s most stylish luxury department store is every ounce of the polish and prestige you got at Boyds, just with a slightly-younger demographic in mind. On the men’s side, adidas sneakers share shelf space with selections from Gucci and Saint Laurent. For the ladies, it’s all about artistic luxury – brands featured include Balenciage, Fendi, and Acne Studios.

While Boyds is a can’t-miss institution, my personal fashion tastes swing much more towards the selection at Barneys. Thankfully, while they cater to different clientele, the two are mere blocks away. Some things, however, the two share deeply in common: Barney’s, too, was mum on interior photos. Rats. Take time to peruse, try on, and ogle, then exit onto Philadelphia’s iconic Rittenhouse Square.

 

UBIQ (1509 Walnut St)

After you’ve taken some time to enjoy the Square (if you’re visiting on a Saturday, make sure to check out the Rittenhouse Farmers’ Market), head three blocks down Walnut St and look for the one storefront that’s not a corporate boilerplate. On the same block as Brooks Brothers and Club Monaco is a store that couldn’t be less preppy if it tried: UBIQ, Philly’s own premium streetwear destination.

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In short: UBIQ is dope. They get every big release (Yeezy, NikeLab, etc.), stock awesome clothing from off-the-radar international designers, and have ridiculous semiannual sales featuring “last pairs” of hyped-up drops at 40% off. Plus, they even get their own exclusive Stone Island collabs (see: last season’s phenomenal Coral Blouson). UBIQ’s own apparel line also scores high marks from me – their SS17 “World Over” capsule had some really solid graphics, specifically on this Travel Poster tee.

After earlier explaining everything I found stale about typical sneaker shops, what I just said may sound like a scurrilous about-face, but hear me out. Is UBIQ “conventional” for stocking things you’ve heard of before but only ever seen online? To an occasionally-jaded style writer, maybe. Then again, I also go every time I’m in town. Even if you swear by the oxford shirts next door, you’ve gotta check out UBIQ. Huge shoutout to Kahlil and Cleveland for helping me out when I stopped in last.

Cross Broad St again, walk two blocks, and look for the steel-and-glass store front. Pull the door, walk inside, and enter the urban oasis known as rikumo. Founded in 2010 but reopened in 2016, rikumo is a Japanese homewares and lifestyle boutique selling only artisan products discovered by owners Kaz and Yuka Morihata during their frequent trips to Japan. Everything you see in store has been curated to reflect the remarkable tastes of the Morihatas as well as the considerate interior of rikumo itself. Seriously – the store is a feast for the senses.

While you won’t find any apparel here, any visitor shopping for style would be remiss to pass it up. Savor your time at rikumo and leave no stone unturned as you browse the shelves – you might surprise yourself with the unexpectedly-delightful objects you find.

Personally, I’m a fan of the teas, soaps, and Craft Design Technology officewares (below). I never thought I’d have an opinion on office supplies aesthetics, but hey, even memories get older.  

 

Reading Terminal Market (51 N 12th St)

For the grand finale: there’s everything at once.

Take a right out of rikumo, walk three blocks up 12th Street, and look for the shuffling mass of neon-dazed tourists. Don’t worry – it’s still “local character” even if other people have heard of it. It’s just kinda hard to keep a culinary wonderland like Reading Terminal Market out of the guidebooks.

Reading Terminal Market is a sprawling, bustling labyrinth of prepared food and farm-fresh ingredients, as famous for its specialty treats as its hearty lunches. Neon signs and wafting smells jockey for sensory real estate with the intensity of locals queuing for world-famous DiNic’s. The line for one of the deli’s legendary pork sandwiches (claim to fame: named one of the best sandwiches in America by the Travel Channel) was too long to rationalize when I visited, so I took a more intuitive approach to Reading and simply followed my nose. The result: a late lunch made entirely of Beiler’s Bakery donuts. Mmm. Nutrition. If Philly donuts are the key to cultivating mass, Fat Mac has all my sympathy.

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Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this shopping guide to downtown Philadelphia. Anything else I should add? Did I miss your favorite store? Sound off in the comments below or on my Facebook here to start the conversation.

 

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The Future is EveryWear: an interview with the team behind ONU apparel

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The Future is EveryWear: an interview with the team behind ONU apparel

Since the dawn of the “Space Race” thrust fabric research into the public consciousness, our societal vision of the future has always included high-tech clothes. From Starfleet jumpsuits to Bond’s gadget-packed suit suits, the pop culture of the time reflected one simple sartorial idea: with the right technology, your clothes could passively improve your life. To a world that was still getting over Tupperware, these dreams of lifestyle-augmenting apparel were, well, a moonshot.

In 1969, the moonshot landed. That year, the father-son team of Wilbert Lee Gore and Bob Gore heated some plastic rods, got frustrated with how slowly they were stretching, and ushered in the future. The Gore family’s invention – a waterproof membrane that could be cut and sewn as readily as a textile – laid the groundwork for some of the world’s first truly-durable waterproof garments. Now, with high-tech fabric alone, simply wearing the right clothes could improve your life. While another, arguably more famous, moonshot also landed that same year, for the world of technical apparel, the invention of GORE-TEX wasn’t just one small step – it was a leap towards the future.

Nearly five decades later, technical apparel has transformed from curiosity to expectation: “athleisure” dominates sales charts, leggings have usurped denim jeans, and running shoes carved from autonomously-woven yarns cost less than a month’s worth of your afternoon coffee breaks. Our pop culture has eagerly reflected this acceptance of high-tech clothing: from the invisible camo bodysuits of “Ghost in the Shell” to the hidden armors of “Deus Ex”, our decades-old vision of the clothes we wear granting us benefits past just avoiding a “public indecency” charge is now moving faster than ever. Last July, Thomas Moon and Paul Lee decided they could move even faster.

Through a closed-list soirée on New York’s Lower East Side, Moon and Lee launched ONU – “Clothing For People Who Do Everything.” With no official pronunciation (“It’s meant to be pronounced in any particular way that you like using sounds that are native to multiple languages”) and a devotion to making technical clothing that’s as streamlined as it is stylish, ONU is seeking what it means to be truly “adaptable.” While GORE-TEX redefined technical apparel as a genre, with ONU, Moon and Lee want to carve out a whole new category: “EveryWear,” or, high-tech clothing designed for performance, well, everywhere.

Last month, we sat down with Moon, Lee, and Justin Kim – the ONU team – to discuss their vision, their research, and why the future of apparel means not running home to change.

 

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AR: How did you get the concept for the ONU brand? How did the three of you even get together in the first place?

JK: It’s been in existence since June of last year. We launched with a small event in New York City but we have no physical location, so that event was a place for us to have an introduction to the brand.

But, it’s funny that you pronounced us as “oh-new.” [The brand] isn’t pronounced in any particular way – it’s meant to be pronounced in any particular way that you like using sounds that are native to multiple languages and cultures around the world. We are really emphasizing being a global brand that’s as international as possible.

The only way this brand could even happen is through the internet. Paul is working in conjunction with people over in Taiwan, traveling all the time, while Thomas and I are working remotely as well. We’re a “tech startup” in so many ways in addition to being a product company.

TM: When you look at a lot of brands, there’s so much “strategy” in terms of rules you have to follow that at a certain point, it’s almost redactive, right? It defeats the brand and the purpose of it. That’s one of the reasons behind that particular element with the name – we allow people to say it however they want. When we do collaborations with people who do video or photography work with us, we want to bank on their expertise. Otherwise, what’s the point in hiring someone who’s really good at their craft if you’re just going to make them do it the way you want it done. That’s not really a collaboration.

JK: Every single collection is a collaboration and a capsule collection that’s presented as such.  The first one we launched in New York, with a launch event in New York, by a designer – Diana Eng - who’s based in New York. We collaborated with her on everything from the bare ideas to the final product. Then the second collection, which was launched just end of January, was launched in Shanghai, by a designer – Christina Liao – who is based in Shanghai. It’s a very international collaboration on all levels.