Viewing entries in
Lifestyle

Highsnobiety: These Were 2017's Wildest Innovations in Clothing Technology

Comment

Highsnobiety: These Were 2017's Wildest Innovations in Clothing Technology

My latest for Highsnobiety, this time covering the craziest clothing tech innovations from the past year. From 3-D printing to the Levi’s x Google jacket, even a year without a Flyknit can still shift paradigms. Check out the full story at the link here.

 

Comment

Highsnobiety: Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Buying a Winter Coat This Season

Comment

Highsnobiety: Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Buying a Winter Coat This Season

In my latest for Highsnobiety, I put together a complete part-by-part breakdown of the technology behind your winter coat, then gave my choices for 2017's best outerwear. Make some coffee, put on music, and put the phone face-down - when I said "complete," I meant it. This one's a longer read than normal.

Still interested? Click here for the full guide, and by all means, enjoy. This piece more than others was a true labor of love, and I hope it shows.

 

Comment

Breckenridge, CO (10/17/2017)

Comment

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. 

DSC_0740.jpg
DSC_0750.jpg
IMG_1030.jpg
IMG_1061.jpg
DSC_0811.jpg
DSC_0807.jpg
IMG_1158.JPG
DSC_0829-2.jpg

Comment

Shoe Review: Beckett Simonon "Cohen" Loafer (2017)

Comment

Shoe Review: Beckett Simonon "Cohen" Loafer (2017)

Shoe: Beckett Simonon "Cohen" Loafer in Dark Brown (2017)

Price: $199, from BeckettSimonon.com

 

Loafers hold a special place in the footwear pantheon: for a shoe so simple in design, their identity couldn’t be more complicated.

Descended from a traditional Norwegian fisherman’s slip-on, the English sporting loafer first gained wide appeal as a souvenir brought back on the feet of those who could afford a voyage to the fjords. It then migrated to the resort scene (see: “those who could afford”), allegedly arriving in West Palm Beach, Florida during the 1930’s. There, this lower effort alternative to the Oxford found a group both conscious of image and short of time: the American collegiate male.

take-ivy-2-l.jpg

Immortalized in the movie Animal House as the prepster’s piece de resistance, loafers - specifically, the Bass Weejun - became popular on Northeastern college campuses for their blend of athletic ease and aristocratic connotation (see: “those who could afford”). In American popular imagination, the fate of the loafer would forever be East Coast Prep.

Across the pond, however, a different thread was unraveling.

Right around the time that Bass & Co unveiled the Weejun in 1951, England’s “mod” culture stepped into the mainstream. London's mods staked their identity in an idea of a polished, affluent, post-war modernist – from suits to scooters to the shoes they wore to use both, an ideal “mod” product was one that realigned the old to the lines of the new. Slim-fit suits were a part of it. English rock was a part of it. Loafers gave a mod his steady foundation.

Paul_Weller_TSC.jpg

Only twenty years later, however, the “new” was old enough to become new again. The loafer’s association with the music of mod culture gave English punk and New Wave artists license to lean on the venerable silhouette, and before long, even American pop artists were adopting the shoe for its newfound “edge.” Michael Jackson’s moon-walking Florsheims were this wave at peak.

A Norwegian fisherman’s shoe worn by Ivy Leaguers and English Punks, made spectacular by the 1987 VMA winner for Best Choreographythere’s a penny for your thoughts.

 

Impressions

At the time of this review, I’m an American college student attending a prestigious university after a childhood spent in the greater Northeast. Long story short: my read on loafers is more Dead Poets than downtown punk. Yet, even though my wardrobe consists mostly of white tees and dark pants, I was pleasantly surprised with the mileage I get from these shoes.

First things first, let’s meet the loafers. The slip-ons in questions are the Cohen Loafer by Beckett Simonon, a direct-to-consumer e-comm shoemaker offering handmade dress shoes at accessible prices. As GREATS is to sneakers and Warby is to eyewear, Beckett Simonon (BS?) is to formal footwear. Cool products. Low prices. Done.

Speaking of product: the Cohen.

DSC_1527.jpg

Aesthetically, Beckett’s loafer is a classic Ivy-style slip-on. There’s a moccasin toe (check), a one-piece back (check), and an austere, sensible monotone upper (Worthington Check, the III). While it’s as generic as they come, for a first pair of loafers, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I own a navy suit, grey chinos, and olive green J. Crew shorts. If I’m wearing a shoe whose connotation meshes with each of those, I’d prefer its looks to do just the same.

Materials-wise, the Cohen is just as traditional. The shoe’s upper is made from full-grain calfskin, lined with untanned vachetta leather for sockless comfort, and then stitched to a leather outsole with a rubber heel cap for added traction. While it’s far too early for me to comment on durability, the leather feels thick out of the box and the stitching is, well, done by hand. For the three weeks I’ve worn them so far, I’ve been impressed by the quality.

“Three weeks of wear?” I’m glad you asked.

It’s time to talk wearability.

As mentioned above, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with just how wearable the Cohen loafer is in casual settings. My on-campus wardrobe consists of white tops and neutral bottoms, varied by occasion: smart casual chinos, late-to-class tees, you know the deal. In these bounds, I’ve yet to find a silhouette where loafers don’t work.

When I need to make an impression without a jacket or tie, sockless loafers paired with cuffed chinos and an OCBD are a subtle way to say “some effort is cool.” When it’s 40 at 9am and 90 at 4pm (shoutout Michigan fall), a crewneck sweater and chino shorts look right at home with shoes meant for loafing. On a sunny day, Cohens can even make a plain tee and chino shorts lean Cape Cod. I wear mine most often with 8" shorts and an uncuffed OCBD in hopes it will one day lead to yacht ownership. 

That being said, as a 21-year old male, loafers are still primarily a formal shoe. Compared to, say, Nike’s sublime Flyknit Racer (another streamlined, low-heeled athletic silhouette), the context created by a century’s worth of Ivy League association might not always be additive compared to the meaning evoked by another similar shape. I’m a firm believer that most aren’t buying loafers to replace their Common Projects, but I don’t want to give the impression of a casual shoe “magic bullet.”

There are many ways to fill a shoe tree, and while our handsome, punk-meets-prep leather low-top may have the cultural bones to play more roles authentically than other shoes, the Cohen Loafer is still not the only shoe you should own.

What it is, however, is a damn good generalist.

DSC_1527.jpg

While boat shoes may have worked well for that junior year semi-formal, even the most minimal 2-eyes err heavily towards the “casual” side of smart casual. The same is doubly true of the brown leather “dress sneakers” sold by most heritage brands. On the converse, even a “casual” brogued oxford is typically interpreted as much more biz than the opposite.

In the middle of it all: loafers like the Cohen.

 

Disclosure: Beckett Simonon sent these shoes along to me for nothing more than a request for an honest review, and to me, an honest review requires the reader trusting the writer - hence, the candor. My sincere thanks to Donna at Beckett Simonon for her kind gift. 

Comment

Shoe Review: Thursday Boots "Duke" Chelsea Boot (2017)

Comment

Shoe Review: Thursday Boots "Duke" Chelsea Boot (2017)

Shoe: Thursday Boot Company’s “Duke” Chelsea Boot in Honey Suede

Price: $199 MSRP, from ThursdayBoots.com

 

In the mid-19th century, the British Empire was riding high. Napoleon defeated and the “Great Game” in check, nothing, it would seem, could halt Britain’s trot – as long as they could get on their horse, that is.

Noticing Queen Victoria’s struggles with clunky lace-up riding boots, her shoemaker (an English cobbler named J. Sparkes-Hall) designed rubber-sided “patent elastic ankle boots” to aid Her Majesty’s equestrianism. By the time Sparkes-Hall filed a patent for the design in 1851, he cited the fact that “she [Queen Victoria] walks in them daily” as “the strongest proof of the value she attaches to the invention” to back up his invention’s worth. Probably helped that they looked great, too.

 An 1851 ad by J. Sparkes-Hall promoting "patent elastic" boots (source:  The Gentleman's Gazette )

An 1851 ad by J. Sparkes-Hall promoting "patent elastic" boots (source: The Gentleman's Gazette)

Perhaps due to their equine origins, close to a century would pass before “Paddock” boots (named after the horse enclosure) became associated with “dressing up” instead of “dressage.” During the 1950’s – British Empire now firmly shattered – a group of young filmmakers, creatives, and other selectively-employed youths who hung around London’s Kings Road neighborhood grew to favor the  boots. That youthful clique, which included the likes of Mary Quant and Alexander Plunket Greene, was nicknamed the “Chelsea set” by the British media. You can see where this is going.

Born to help a reigning queen with her queenly reins, the Chelsea boot became a shining example of 60’s-era Swinging London as Britain once again colonized the world. Popularized in the US by “British Invasion” rockers such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, Chelsea boots became the ultimate symbol of sleek, sumptuous rockstar style.

 The Beatles photographed in Chelsea boots (source: GQ via  The Idle Man  blog)

The Beatles photographed in Chelsea boots (source: GQ via The Idle Man blog)

Does a boot designed for easier take-off really signal that much about its wearer? To chaste and proper Victorians, certainly not. Yet, to legions of rock fans (and designers like Hedi Slimane who worship their same gods), the Chelsea boot epitomizes slick, casual cool.

 

Impressions:

Before we begin, a confession: of all the visions to euphemistically fw, I just didn’t dig Hedi’s YSL at all. Perhaps it’s because I couldn’t afford a $4000 leather jacket. More likely, it’s because everyone I saw wearing the “Slimane aesthetic” (black leather jacket, distressed skinny jeans, suede Chelsea boots) off the runway looked drug-addled or just plain mopey.

 Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane Mens FW13

Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane Mens FW13

Depression memes aside, that’s just not how I try to live my life. 

It was this conditioned aversion to all things “Chateau Marmont” that caused me – regrettably - to overlook suede Chelsea boots. Even while YSL and Common Projects turned out grail-tier suede Chelseas as early as FW13, no level of product or promotion could pique my persuasions. In my mind, suede Chelseas were the Father John Misty set’s equivalent to Bapestas: expensive; costumey; a pan-flash, with extra herb.  

Then, I actually tried them on.

Father John, I repent.

First, let’s talk comfort. Compared to the lace-up boots I own from Santalum and Wolverine, the slip-on/slip-off a Chelsea boot provides is just plain nice. This one eased friction point is a wonderful introduction to what is all around a very comfortable boot. The elastic has just enough backbone to keep your ankle locked in without abrasion – not like you’ll be making quick cuts in Chelseas, but should you find yourself stage-diving in rocker boots, rest assured they’ll stay snug. Worth noting: I followed Thursday’s advice exactly and sized one full size down my usual US10. Even with think-knit Anonymous Ism socks on, I felt cozy yet never constrained.

Also on the subject of coziness, I’d be remiss not to mention the insole. Materials-wise, it’s a combination EVA comfort strip on top of cushy cork midsole, all under a leather interior lining. Experience-wise, it’s a zero break-in daily driver. My first day wearing the Dukes, I spent a solid 4+ hours on my feet, walking around Princeton, New Jersey to shoot photos with a friend. Compared to my usual experience in Cuban-heeled boots (4 hours standing in Bean Boots = a compulsion to sit known only by father penguins), the Dukes were a remarkably pleasant surprise.

Next, let’s talk about the shoe itself. Rather, let’s just look at it:

DSC_0755.jpg

It’s gorgeous.

The toebox is round and rakish; the heel, stout and firm. My one aesthetic gripe is that I wish the elastic inset were color-matched to the suede, but as to the shoe's architecture itself, I'm beyond complaint. Thursday claims the boot went through 20+ redesigns before coming to its present shape, and judging by the Duke’s serpentine charm, their effort was more than validated. There’s little room to wax poetic about minor changes to a centuries-old design, but one ageless proverb comes to mind: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If the streamlined skeleton of the classic Chelsea profile was good enough for royalty, focus the R&D elsewhere. Like, for example, that skeleton’s skin.

The honey suede is a deep, golden orange, and retains its supple hand-feel despite Thursday’s “WeatherSafe” treating. It’s my understanding that WeatherSafe is a detuned DWR optimized for rough leather – wax without glisten, armor without a shine. Even coated, the suede is buttery and pliable, fighting creases with an elasticity I once only expected from the boot’s heel panels. Plus, like come on – just look at this suede. It’s beautiful! It’s textured! The tasteful thickness of it… ahem. Moving on.

 Another boon to longevity: those stitches you see above are locked into a leather Goodyear welt,  meaning water resistance and easy resoling . 

Another boon to longevity: those stitches you see above are locked into a leather Goodyear welt, meaning water resistance and easy resoling

While I haven’t been caught in any claim-verifying afternoon pop-ups yet, this water resistance alone makes a compelling case for the Duke vs. other mid-price suede Chelseas. Even the most committed faux-Buddhist rockers would snap at water stains crashing their style.   

Which brings us nicely to wearability.

 A Day's March/Uniqlo/Gap/Thursday Boots

A Day's March/Uniqlo/Gap/Thursday Boots

In my mind, suede Chelseas occupy a privileged position in the pantheon of menswear: true versatility. Like the white low-top tennis shoe, they are both simple and elegant enough to fit all contexts. Despite my seething hatred for the nonsense witticism “you can dress it up or dress it down” (a lazy, even trite piece of ad copy that describes the simple act of wearing clothes), the Dukes feel at home in both t-shirt and button-up alike. Paired with casual outerwear, they’re a no-brainer regardless of any other contexts your outfit implies.

 A Day's March/Uniqlo/Gap/Thursday Boots

A Day's March/Uniqlo/Gap/Thursday Boots

They’re just that wearable.

Case in point: I’m working in a less-formal office this summer. Instead of hauling both casual boots and hard-bottoms to my summer apartment, I’m bringing a single pair of gorgeous suede Chelseas to cover me for both days in and nights out alike. Two birds, one Dukes.

If you’re looking for a versatile leather shoe you can rock with everything but shorts, learn from my mistakes: gives Chelseas a chance. Post-Dukes, I feel foolish for writing off suede Chelseas as costume shoes for the #fashion crowd. In fact, I find myself wearing them all the time. Perhaps I’m overcompensating for the years of wear my ego denied; perhaps they’re just that versatile, comfortable, and handsome on-foot. Whatever the reason, I adore my pair.

DSC_0746.jpg

While it won’t outcompete the luxury craftsmanship of Saint Laurent’s Wyatt or its Common Projects equivalent, Thursday made one hell of a Chelsea boot at a fraction of the cost. Made for the Queen yet priced for the people, the Duke is accessible royalty – and in suede, to boot.

 

Disclosure: Thursday Boot Co. sent these boots along to me for nothing more than a request for an honest review, and to me, an honest review requires the reader trusting the writer - hence, the candor. My sincere thanks to Darnell and Matthew at Thursday Boots for their kind gift. 

 

Comment

A Shopping Guide to Center City, Philadelphia

Comment

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.

DSC_0286.jpg

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.

-----

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.

 

Comment

Chicago, IL (2/26/2017)

Comment

Chicago, IL (2/26/2017)

Last weekend, I visited the city of Chicago on my school's spring break for a long weekend of touring and fun. Given Chicago's reputation for grand architecture, the Midwest's own metropolis provided an excellent venue for some long photo walks.

If you'd like to read more about what I did, check out my Wicker Park shopping guide here. But, if you're more the "worth 1000 words" type, simply scroll down to see some of my favorite photos from the weekend below:

DSC_1479.jpg
DSC_1419.jpg

Comment

A Shopping Guide to Wicker Park, Chicago

Comment

A Shopping Guide to Wicker Park, Chicago

Young. Vibrant. Aspirational. As Williamsburg is to New York, Wicker Park is to Chicago.

Last weekend, I visited the Midwest’s best pantomime of a hipster paradise for a day full of eating, shopping, and touring. This was my second visit to the neighborhood, and therefore provided a great chance to avoid tourist traps in favor of seeking out the local character. After a long day of drinking in all Wicker Park had to offer, I decided to type up this guide to help you plan your own visit to one of Chicago's most eclectic neighborhoods. I even made a custom Google My Map (link) so you can follow along.

 My custom Google My Map shopping guide ( link )

My custom Google My Map shopping guide (link)

Cool, right? Without further ado, here are the stores and sites that made the cut:

 

 

RSVP Gallery (1753 N Damen Ave)

If you interpret the word “Hypebeast” as “news source” instead of “insult,” you’ve probably heard of RSVP Gallery. The Wicker Park boutique is one of Chicago’s highest-end menswear outlets, a curated collection of everything luxury streetwear under the helm of street culture legends Virgil Abloh and Don C (of “Just Don”).

It is also, sadly, a strict “no photos” zone. Considering the art on display (vintage neon signs, displaying everything from Pepsi to Chanel) and the art on the racks (Cav Empt to Rick Owens; Undercover to Givenchy), this museum-style approach to photography coverage is understandable. Somethings are just best experienced in person. Start your tour of Wicker Park here to drink in the freshest boutique in the area code.   

    

Fjallraven (1708 N Damen Ave)

If latitude is any measure, Chicago and Stockholm are worlds apart.

Good thing “thermometers” came around.  

In one of America’s most notoriously-frigid cities, this outpost of the legendary Swedish outdoors brand Fjallraven seems both welcomed and expected. A quick stroll through Wicker Park reveals many Fjallraven products in action – the Kanken backpack and Greenand jacket, both heritage functional gear in their own right, are at home within the urban rustic aesthetic favored by the “single-origin coffee” set.

Perhaps Fjallraven’s gorgeous Wicker Park store (kitted out to look like a Swedish hunting cabin, antler chandelier and all) was just an inevitable step towards a Sweden/Chicago synthesis. After all, if you go back far enough, most of the Midwest was settled by Northern Europeans – now, it’s just their clothing’s turn to colonize. Special thanks to Lucas for walking me through the Spring line, including the innovative Eco-Shell rain jackets.

 

Marine Layer (1636 N Damen Ave)

Need to escape the Swedish tundra? Salt spray and palm trees are only a block away.

While other stores in the neighborhood seek to keep you warm and dry, Marine Layer (a California-based apparel brand) has staked a claim on maximizing fabric comfort. The supersoft cotton blend found in their t-shirts is as welcome as San Diego sun, and, as the name suggests, styled to layer. For a Northern audience, that means bulky utility parka on the outside, buttery cotton tees and sweats where fabric meets skin. It’s the best of both worlds without compromising either.

Oh, and lest I forget - speaking of “no compromises,” Marine Layer is the first store I’ve ever seen to offer a “Marge” in men’s shirting. No, that’s not Mrs. Simpson. As the portmanteau suggests, a shirt sized “Marge” is the perfect middle ground between sizes Medium and Large: skinny body, long arms, and shoulders sized for the person who has both.

I tried on a Marge long sleeve (above) and it is, without a doubt, the best-fitting shirt I’ve ever worn. Tall skinny dudes of the world, rejoice.  

 

Arc’teryx Chicago (1630 N Damen Ave)

Just a few doors down from Marine Layer, functionalized form awaits.

As track shoes are to loafers, Arc’teryx is to its “heritage” outdoors brand neighbors. In short: the Vancouver-based outdoors innovator is responsible for the modern outdoors performance industry. From the technology behind the jackets (GORE-TEX Pro; taped zips) to the look of the gear itself (just compare a Patagonia jacket before and after Arc’s 1990’s apparel debut), the “Dead Bird” reigns supreme.

Most impressive of all: it’s no slouch for style.Given Wicker Park’s *ahem* sub-Alpine elevation, the Arc’teryx Chicago store carries a full selection of the brand’s lifestyle line “24” as well as the elevated techwear line “Arc’teryx Veilance.” Both are jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and worth a visit to ogle alone. Where else will you find laser-cut seams and 3L GORE-TEX fabrics on a street-ready fishtail parka?

While neither line comes cheap, the brand’s devotion to materials research and construction quality means your purchase is both 1) lightyears ahead of the industry and 2) built to last that long, too. If you have the coin, please cop a Veilance jacket so I may live vicariously. A special thanks to Bryce for showing me some of the fabrics and technologies behind the new spring Veilance line.

 

The Wormhole Coffee (1462 N Milwaukee Ave)

If you yawned once today, you now have an excuse to visit Wicker Park’s most eclectic coffee shop. Walk down Damen to the six-point intersection, then hook a right down Milwaukee and walk until you see the black storefront with a gleaming white “WH” out front.

Then, enter the Wormhole.

The Wormhole Coffee is nostalgia distilled, then served up hot. In short: the saccharine memories stirred up by 80’s homages like “Stranger Things” are one-upped by a coffee break in Wormhole. Collectibles peak out of every shelf. Vintage movie posters line the walls.

There’s a DeLorean in the back.

Oh yeah – and the coffee’s phenomenal, too.

Grab a drink, settle in for a quick game of Duck Hunt on the NES by the couches, and let the childhood memories wash over you. My recommendation: try the Koopa Troopa latte, a mousse-and-peanut-butter concoction made with Halfwit Roasters espresso. It’s just adult enough to keep you grounded while your inner child comes out to play.  

 

Mildblend (1342 N Milwaukee Ave)

DSC_1340.jpg

Take that last sip at Wormhole, rejoin Milwaukee, and walk a few short blocks away from the six-point intersection to find Mildblend, the most whimsical high-end boutique you’ll ever visit.

Like a Parisian antique bookstore, Mildblend is more product than place. Everywhere you turn, there’s another stack or rack – a gratuitous visual clutter that is as charming as it is overwhelming. Lean in to any part of the maelstrom, however, and the world will snap into focus: just like that antique bookstore, what was once visual noise turns out to be made of treasures.

DSC_1333.jpg

Mildblend (specializing in raw denim) carries dozens of hard-to-find brands including Studio D’Artisan, Momotaro, and DENIM by VANQUISH & FRAGMENT. They are also one of the few US accounts of the Japanese outerwear brand Monitaly, who make some of the most artful (if slightly impractical) jackets on the market.

As long as you embrace the pure quantity of goods on display, Mildblend is sure to please.

 

Kokorokoko (1323 N Milwaukee Ave)

As day follows night, all cool neighborhoods must naturally have vintage shops. However, that doesn’t mean all that organic growth is up to snuff. For the blue ribbon in recycled clothing, walk just a few doors past Mildblend and cross Milwaukee to find Kokorokoko. Whereas Wormhole presents a curated vision of 80’s nostalgia, Kokorokoko lets you drink from the firehose.

The layout is simple: collectibles up front, clothing in the back, neon everywhere. A massive t-shirt rack is organized by color; shoes and accessories are arranged in era-evocative dioramas. Pop hits blare over tinny speakers. Yes, there are fanny packs.

I spent the longest here out of any shop I visited, both searching for purchases (I left with an oversized Weird Al concert tour tee) and merely enjoying the hunt. The prices are reasonable; the selection, out of this world. If you’re in Wicker Park, you must visit.

 

Saint Alfred (1531 N Milwaukee Ave)

Last but not least: from Kokorokoko, head back up Milwaukee toward the six-point intersection and look for the unassuming white-on-black “A.” Just below it lies an unassuming white-on-black store front.

Just inside that lies Wicker Park’s premier sneaker store.

Saint Alfred (founded 2005) is a world-famous streetwear boutique that has gained notoriety for its killer collabs, notably with New Balance and Asics. On one half of the store, Saint Alfred stocks one of the largest sneaker selections in the city, with everything from Converse to Raf Simons x Adidas elbowing for shelf space. On the opposite wall, a selection of premium streetwear (HUF to Visvim and everything in between) rounds out the space.

Of course, in this era of hype cycles and sneaker campouts, I’d be remiss not to mention that Saint Alfred is also one of the few stores in the city to reliably score highly-vaunted releases like the Yeezy Boost. But, if you’ve been in the sneaker game long enough to remember a life before Yeezy, a visit to Saint Alfred is as much pilgrimage as it is quality shopping.

 

Stan’s Donuts (1560 N Damen Ave)

After a long day on your feet, it’s time for a just desserts. Directly between Saint Alfred and the Damen CTA station lies Stan’s Donuts, a specialty pastry shop that’s become world-famous for both its mouthwatering food styling (toppings on toppings) and its sheer volume of flavors on tap.

With the sun setting on a February night, I grabbed a cup of coffee and a divine Toffee Cake donut before catching my train back to The Loop. Just as I finished, two of Chicago’s finest walked and gleefully asked the cashier for “the usual.”

If that’s not a donut shop co-sign, then what is?

 

-----

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this shopping guide to one of Chicago's most exciting neighborhoods. 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.

 

Comment

New York Fashion Week: My Day Behind the Scenes

1 Comment

New York Fashion Week: My Day Behind the Scenes

The following article was originally published February 4, 2017 on SHEImagazine.com.

Last week, I skipped my Social Media Marketing class to run Instagram for a brand during their New York Fashion Week debut. And that was just the beginning. Here’s what happened on the craziest, most energizing day of my life:

-----

6:00am: The first of five alarms rings. Although I went to bed “early” by collegiate standards, I’m waking up even earlier. Outside my window, the inky indigo predawn filters through New York skyscrapers. Inside my window, I’m scrolling through social media, clinging desperately to my consciousness and praying my eyelids stay open. The second of five alarms rings. Time to go to work.

6:30am: One final check of my bags before I jump in the shower. Packing for this trip was more actuarial than inspired, and so, my prepared checklist guides this last count while my tired brain struggles to reboot. Camera? Check. Chargers? Check. Tripod? Check. We’re in business. Clothes laid out and bags properly combed through, I can finally groom myself.

6:45am: The third of five alarms rings. I step out of the shower and get dressed, exactly on schedule. By now, at least one neuron is awake and firing, and so my mind is free to direct itself toward priorities off the checklist in my pocket. Chief among those: man am I hungry.

7:00am: I grab an omelet, coffee, and a muffin right by the 1 Train. By some pure stroke of luck, I’m running enough ahead this morning to linger over breakfast. I unset alarm #4 ahead of its trigger point, open the WSJ app, and dive into today’s events. Before long, I’ll be ripped back into reality. For now, I have warm food and the glow of my smartphone.

7:30am: The fifth of five alarms rings. In T+2, I’m waiting for a downtown 1 Train.

7:50am: Above ground on 14th Street Station. Bags in tow, this young man goes West.

7:59am: Arrive at Samsung’s 837 NYC space on Washington Street, one minute in advance of “be at the venue by 8am.” A Samsung security guard checks my name off a list and hands me a wristband. I do not, however, receive any bonus points for being early.

8:00am: Five hours ‘til showtime. I meet up with the DYNE team, receive my headset and my instructions. I’ll be running Instagram, Facebook, and Facebook Live during the show itself, but for now, I am an extra set of hands. The earpiece buzzes to life, and like that, I’m in motion.

8:15am: Task #1: set every device in the space to DYNE’s website. Armed with an NFC chip (more on this later), an hour of touch screen swipe-to-type becomes 10 minutes of “tap device, then find the next.” This is some seriously cool tech.

8:30am: I meet Nabill and Sheroid, two of the other guys helping DYNE out with the show. We shoot the shit, complain about the snow outside, then it’s back to work. Nabill and I float around with our DSLR’s, getting as much content as possible for later web use; Sheroid, a fashion designer himself, talks to the stylists to see if they need a hand. Even during this self-directed work time, the three of us are on alert for the slightest buzz of the earpiece. If God calls, we (collectively referred to as “I need somebody”) must answer. It is equal parts tense and invigorating.

9:30am: I get the Samsung devices I’ll be using to cover today’s show. Since we are in the 837 NYC space (Samsung’s gorgeous experiential retail footprint, just north of Meatpacking), anything “i” is strictly verboten. BJ, Dyne’s marketing manager, logs me into the company’s official social accounts before handing off my Galaxy. This is happening.

10:00am: I test out Facebook Live video using the Galaxy and my tripod. Live video is all about timed “fire and forget”: set up, hit play, change angles every so often. For this test, I set the camera up backstage and put 5 minutes on my watch. As the video played, I could still move around with my DSLR – or, when it came to show time, the “Instagram Live” phone currently occupying pocket #3 on my Nike ACG cargoes. I’m not sure “carry 3 phones and a mobile battery” is what Errolson had in mind when he designed these pants, but hey, if the slipper fits.

10:05am: Live test ends. Just as I move the tripod, my earpiece sparks to life: “I need someone to run and grab cases of water.”

10:10am: Nabil, Sheroid, and I are speed-walking towards Google’s algorithmic output for “grocery store near me.” Not that we’re late or anything – it just happens to be 20 degrees with reduced visibility. With Maps as our eyes and hands tucked in pockets, the 3 of us walk 6 blocks to grab 4 cases of H2O. Nabil: “At least the water will be cold when we get back.” Silver linings, indeed.

11:00am: We get back just in time to catch the 11:00 show rehearsal. Chris, Ryan, and the entire DYNE team run through technical details as the Samsung team begins prepping the venue for the real deal at 1pm. Mr. Jeremy Ellis (the beatmaker for The Roots) holds it down, mixing live in front of rows of not-yet-styled models. For a dry run, this is explosive. T-3 hours until show time.

11:15am: It’s a little after 8am on the West Coast, and DYNE’s Portland-based audience should just be settling into the morning. I fire off my first round of 3 Instagram photos – all exclusive, behind-the-scenes shots, exported from camera to Phone 2 via Nikon’s wireless utility. If the 30 foot video screen didn’t sell it, today is all about the tech. With that, phone 2 goes back into its pocket, and back comes the DSLR.

11:20am: As the models are dressed and styled, Ryan directs a lookbook shoot with a snow-covered skyline in the backdrop. From my perspective, this weather could not be better. For a technical sportswear brand launching a Fall/Winter collection, an icy cityscape as backdrop just can’t be beat.

11:50am: After half an hour of odd jobs, my earpiece is back: “Alex, meet me on first floor.” I now have a duty. Since delivery will take too long in the snow, I’m the lunch gopher. I take Jeremy’s order, turn my earpiece to high, and book it to the West Village to pick up lunch. Even 5 blocks out, my walkie-talkie is coming through loud and clear. Moe, DYNE’s master manager and all-around operations guy, calls out both a warning and a rally cry: “One hour til showtime!”

12:05pm: Juggling lunch orders and my own once-banned “i" device, I send up round 2 of behind-the-scenes photos, this time, including a callout: “Watch the show live on Instagram at 1pm EST.” One hour ‘til showtime, indeed.

12:30pm: I fist-bump Jeremy from The Roots. Intern (literally) delivers.

12:40pm: I find my checklist from earlier, grab my backpack, and start loading up for go time. Tripod? Check. Mobile batteries? Check. Phone? Check. Phone? Check. You get the idea. Everywhere backstage, both models and DYNE staff are loading up devices with the NFC (or, Near-Field Communication) tech at work.

In short: the NFC chip in each DYNE garment pushes a signal to your phone that activates a web experience, tailored specifically to the item you’re wearing. Unlike Bluetooth, NFC doesn’t require you to “buy in” to a battery-wasting signal, either – just placing your phone on your clothing’s chip activates the mobile experience for each. For a running jacket, the NFC experience may be local weather radar and a curated workout playlist. For others, it may literally drag you through a Flux Capacitor into a shiny, technocratic future – at least, that’s how it feels.  

12:45pm: BJ, Moe, and I touch base on expectations for coverage as models, stylists, and 100 other moving parts swirl around the whole of backstage. Eugene Tong (THE Eugene Tong) rushes by, while Chris gives everything a final nod. The energy is intoxicating, and best measured in kilotons.

Camera on neck and gear in hand, I head down to the stage to set up angles. On my way from third floor to first, I catch a glimpse of the Fashion Week crowd lined up outside. Even with the storm, dozens have come early to be the first to experience DYNE. Exhale, dude. This is it.

12:50pm: “Ten minutes, people. Ten minutes.”

12:55pm: Models are in place. Jeremy Ellis is in place. I’m in place. Blue lights glow; orange lights burn; a thirty-foot video screen blasts video of DYNE in action. I set up the Facebook Live phone on the tripod stage left, the IG Live phone stage right, and take some test shots with the DSLR. Then, for the first time today, I simply sit and wait. In five minutes, this will all take place.

12:59.99pm EST: “Showtime.”

1:00pm: And we’re live.

1:10pm: Switch angles.

1:20pm: Switch angles.

1:30pm: Switch angles.

1:40pm: Walk the floor with the Instagram Live phone. I’m having the best problem I’ve had all day: there are too many people here to get the phone close enough to the models for full-portrait coverage.

Ryan Babenzien sticks me on his IG story, and for a brief moment, the world sees Instagram Liveception. Front and center: my exhausted grin and messy hair. After a 6am wakeup, there are many reasons to be thankful I’m behind the camera.

DSC_0647.jpg

2:00pm: “That’s a wrap. Great work, everyone.”

DSC_0599.jpg

Chris takes a bow, joined by his wife and family. Kayt, BJ, Moe, Ryan, and the rest of the DYNE team surround him from just off-stage. From my view in the pit, today was pure adrenaline; for them, the people who made on stage possible, it was so much more. Months of work, hours of prep, and one final sensory overload: world, meet DYNE F/W 17.

2:01pm: I fire off one final round of Instagram posts, and can't help but start smiling.

 Photo: Nabil Miftahi ( @nvbilll )

Photo: Nabil Miftahi (@nvbilll)

IMG_6374.PNG

 

I haven’t stopped since.  

 

Special thanks to Chris, BJ, Moe, Kayt, and the entire DYNE team for inviting me out. I was not paid to be there - I volunteered my time and paid my own way to support a brand I believe is the future of sportswear. The memories, however, came free of charge.

 

1 Comment

2017 Detroit Auto Show - Day 2: The Future of Mobility

Comment

2017 Detroit Auto Show - Day 2: The Future of Mobility

This article was originally published Wednesday, January 11, 2017 on SHEIMagazine.com.

For the auto industry, Bob Dylan’s Nobel prize couldn’t have come at a more symbolic time: slowly but surely, the world’s largest carmakers have pivoted decades of strategy to solve entirely new problems. At this year’s 2017 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, MI, an apprehensive excitement pulsed the show floor. Volvo’s DriveMe pilot; Chevy’s Bolt EV; everywhere one turned, the awesome wonder of an autonomous, electric-drive future seemed inevitable.

While V12 revs still blared over loudspeakers, their throaty howls seemed as compensatory as they were triumphant. Maximized touring cars had had their day; now, it was the turn of a new breed.

Bob Dylan said it best: "the times, they are a-changin’." This is the future of mobility.

 

CHEVROLET

  Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

In a world full of hype and headlines, tangible progress isn’t just an exception – it’s a paradigm shift. After less than one year on the market, Chevy’s Bolt EV (GM’s first mass-production Electric Vehicle, unveiled at last January’s show) is shaping up to be just that leap.

The Bolt is a compact, all-electric hatchback with room for 5, priced starting right around $35,000 after tax credits. It also boasts a 200 mile range, and a respectable 6.5 second sprint to 60mph.

Most significantly of all, it’s actually in production.

While dreams of tomorrow are all well and good, a sustainable, EV-only future society can only be achieved one way: through making electric cars. Here, Bolt truly shines. Unlike other headline-grabbing EV’s in its segment, the Chevy Bolt – a reasonably-priced, sensible electric hatchback with room for groceries and the dog - is available for purchase at dealerships nationwide.

If it weren’t for the Bolt’s sky-high trophy count (2017 North American Car of the Year, CNET RoadShow’s Vehicle of the Year, Car and Driver 10Best Winner), that fact alone would be worthy of praise. Instead, celebrate this: there are finally consumer-friendly electric vehicles available to the public at large. Even without a manual, the Chevy Bolt EV is a paradigm shift for mobility.

 

VOLKSWAGEN

  Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

Nearly a year and a half after Dieselgate, Volkswagen appears to have doubled down on its renewed commitment to sustainability. Case in point: the I.D. BUZZ concept, a self-driving electric Microbus unveiled Monday during VW’s press conference.

Touted as the world’s first “electric multi-purpose vehicle equipped with a fully autonomous driving mode,” the I.D. BUZZ features a roomy hardwood-and-plastic cabin with space for 8 passengers and their luggage. The interior is playful, intuitive, and surprisingly plush. For example, the two big leather bucket seats typically reserved for driver and copilot can be rotated so passengers face each other when autonomous driving is engaged.

  Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

Considering VW’s promotional reel showing bearded and flannelled urbanites using the I.D. BUZZ to facilitate “city limits” getaways, details like the modular cabin go a long way towards selling the concept.

While engaging in purpose and not shy for looks, it remains to be seen whether Volkswagen’s I.D. BUZZ will ever make it to production. Given the sparse nature of the concept (and VW’s storied history of whipping out refreshed Microbus concepts to liven up a slow news day), there’s a good chance the I.D. BUZZ remains buzz.

  Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

 

AUDI

Audi’s groundbreaker: an SUV the size of the continent. Oh yeah – and it’s a hybrid, too.

Unveiled Monday morning, the Audi Q8 is a full-size luxury SUV that will first reach the market in 2018. Even with a swept, sporty roofline, the Q8 is formidable: it’s columnade grill, frameless doors, and Robocop taillights are as angular as they are aggressive.

  Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

Better yet, since the Q8 is built on Audi’s new lightweight Q7 platform, this full-size is no slouch for speed. Under the hood, a 333hp engine is mated to a 100kW lithium ion battery, sending the Q8 to 60 in a mere 5.4 seconds (or, if you choose to engage the hybrid drive responsibly, to a combined range of 621.4 miles at full stocks.)

Did we mention that it’s a hybrid?

  Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

The true significance of the Audi Q8 comes from its target segment. It’s no secret that Americans buy full-size luxury SUV’s – the success of the Range Rover Sport, Cadillac Escalade, and others are all testament to this love. However, what’s just as apparent is the pollution these same SUV’s cause: many get less than 20mpg combined in their standard trim. Given the runaway sales of its smaller SUV’s like the Q5, Audi’s new Q8 could be the competitive pressure needed to clean up one of the industry’s least-sustainable sectors.

  Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

 

BMW

  Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

For a company that made its name on straight-six performance engines, BMW appears an unlikely candidate for the role of “EV innovator.” Yet, in the five years since BMW i (the brand’s plug-in electric-only branch) was launched, the Munich-based luxury brand has staked its claim as the segment leader in EV development. With a stable of plug-in vehicles that includes the i3 compact car, i8 supercar, and countless “iPerformance” variants of mainline models like the X5, it’s safe to say that BMW’s electric credentials are more than secure.

As this year’s press conference headline was the all-new 5-Series sedan, BMW wasted no time in utilizing the platform to its fullest. Moments after the big reveal, the brand revealed the first-ever electrified 5-Series: the 530e iPerformance sedan, a plug-in hybrid built on the brand-new sedan platform.

Compared to the old 5-Series, this new platform is eons sportier while retaining its dignified business-like interior. For those seeking both the feel of a BMW sedan and the warm fuzzies that come with saving the planet, the 530e iPerformance appears a perfect compromise.    

 

VOLVO

To understand Volvo’s world-changing DriveMe XC90, first see the world through selfless eyes. “There’s a wider aspect to the driver-car relationship than simply the person in the driver seat,” said Dr. Robert Broström, Volvo’s Senior Technical Leader, User Experience.

The Swedish luxury brand has built its name worldwide through an uncompromising focus on safety – not just for its customers, but for the world at large. Volvo famously introduced the first three-point seatbelt in 1959, only to release the patent to the public that same year. Then-Volvo managing director Alan Dessell is quoted as saying: “The decision to release the three-point seat belt patent was visionary and in line with Volvo’s guiding principle of safety.”

So, when it came time to pilot technology that could potentially end auto accidents as a whole, Volvo appears predestined to succeed. Simply put, security is luxury: no matter how plush the leather, time spent worrying about the other aspects of that driver-car relationship (especially the ones you love in the backseat) could never be luxurious.

  Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

Enter DriveMe.

Starting January 9, 2017, Volvo will undertake the largest-ever real world test of self-driving technology. Around the Swedish city of Gothenburg, 100 families will receive Volvo XC90 SUV’s equipped with the “Volvo Autonomous Brain,” a hidden sensor package that allows for – when the conditions are right – true autonomy.

  Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

Not “Lane Assist”; not “Autopilot”; bonafide, Level 4 autonomous driving.

According to Broström, the DriveMe test represents the “logical next step” towards Volvo’s “Vision 2020” pledge, an initiative that aims to reduce the number of people that die or are seriously injured in accidents involving Volvo cars to zero over the next three years. Authentic self-driving would remove both error and stress from the driving equation, aligning perfectly with Volvo’s mission of providing safety, serenity, and luxury through its vehicles.

  Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

Ambitious? Certainly. Yet, coming off one of the strongest 2016’s in the industry (S90 unveiled, Uber partnership announced, XC90 wins North American Truck of the Year), Volvo appears poised to - and laser-guided towards - shaping the future of mobility. 

 

Comment

Lexus Premieres New LS Sedan in Fiery Fashion

Comment

Lexus Premieres New LS Sedan in Fiery Fashion

In 1989, Lexus shocked the world by daring to do what no luxury brand had ever done: speak German with an accent. That year, Toyota Motor Corp launched the Lexus line at the North American International Show with the first-ever LS 400 sedan.

It was big; it was plush; it was reliable.

In short: the best of both worlds.

Now, over 25 years later, Lexus has returned to Detroit with another headlining premiere: the launch of the latest generation of the Lexus LS sedan, the car that started it all. The 2018 Lexus LS sedan was unveiled Monday morning at the Lexus press conference.

  Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

The packed crowd of journalists and guests was treated to an audio-visual spectacle detailing the new LS’ design inspiration (hint: slow-motion; pyrotechnics) before the car itself was driven up through the crowd onto a fashion week runway for all to ogle.

Oooooooooh.

Ahhhhhhhhhh.

Ohhhhhhhh.

Then came the specs. First, the new LS will feature a first-in-class 10-speed automatic transmission. While this sounds excessive at first, anyone who’s experienced the smoothness of the 8-speed ZF transmission used in recent Jeep models will attest to experience (and mileage) bump the big ‘box provides.

Second, conforming to industry shifts away from maximized V8’s in sedans (a la Cadillac’s CT6), the new LS will tout an upgraded twin turbo V6 under the hood. Lexus promises 415bhp (0-60 in 4.5 seconds) from the engine – more than enough for highway overtaking, with powerband left over in case the other guys blinks.

  Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

Last but not least, there will be an option to add a 24-inch full color heads up display to the driver’s side of the cabin. As in, a two whole feet of augmented reality mere inches from your face. Lexus has never been one to fall behind on cabin gadgets, and this latest flagship sedan seems bent on asserting just that.

Wrap this all in a low-slung, wide body, and you’ve got a potent combination of looks and comfort; performance and luxury; Germany and Japan. The 2018 Lexus LS is still far from supersport sedan territory, but like an NFL lineman bulging out of a Saint Laurent suit, it is sophisticated, athletic, and sure to turn heads.

  Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

In short, it – both the car and the presentation – was a visual feast. In long, read more about the show (and see tons more photos) by checking out our Day 1 Auto Show coverage here

Comment

2017 Detroit Auto Show - Day 1: Luxury, Fashion, and Spectacle

Comment

2017 Detroit Auto Show - Day 1: Luxury, Fashion, and Spectacle

This article was originally published Tuesday, January 10 on SHEIMagazine.com

 

Luxury, in all forms, is defined by the emotion it stirs. If Louis Vuitton didn’t provoke grandeur, their bags would be mere leather and twine – and raw materials aren’t worth two months’ rent.

The same holds doubly true for cars. After all, this isn’t just two months’ rent we’re talking about: if you want a customer to spend north of six figures when a used Camry would do just fine, only aesthetic pleasure will overcome cold, hard rationality.  

When it comes to the business of luxury cars, the automotive world has evolved to borrow tactics from the fashion industry in order to stir emotion on a seismic scale. When done right, this apparel-automotive crossover doesn’t just move the audience; it immerses them. At this year’s 2017 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, MI, three automakers combined the best of both fashion presentation and luxury car prestige to create truly spectacular emotional experiences.

 

Mercedes-Benz

  Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

Mercedes-Benz doesn’t just borrow from the fashion industry – it creates it. The world’s oldest luxury car brand has long sponsored Fashion Weeks around the world, lending both its capital and its unshakable image to runways from Australia to Berlin. It’s no surprise, then, that the German brand knows how to create spectacle.

At this year’s Auto Show, Mercedes opened with a bang: an 8-piece jazz ensemble caught the beat, and the show began. Like any proper catwalk, a parade of shapes, colors, and designs soon followed. Mercedes showed four vehicles in total, ranging from the gregarious GLA45 AMG (a hatchback with a spoiler!) to the altruistic Concept EQ (an all-electric SUV!), the athletic E-Class Coupe (athletic commuter!) to the beautiful-if-objectively-terrifying AMG GT C Edition 50 (550hp supercar! Exclamation point!).

  Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

One by one, some of the most gorgeous vehicles on the planet took the stage before retreating behind the curtain. Then, after each had curtsied, all four took the stage for a grand finale. All the while, the band played on.

  Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

Compared to its other Teutonic contemporaries, Mercedes stood out because it didn’t just show – it entertained. Thanks to CAD software and robotic manufacturing, having beautiful cars alone has (thankfully) become table stakes for the premium market. What matters then becomes the intangibles those cars symbolize: the image, the lifestyle, the ownership experience. Just as Burberry engages its customers with varied collections that fill every need in their life with a desirable, iconic brand, so does Mercedes. Just change the scarf for a turbo.      

 

Cadillac

  Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

As an established sponsor of New York Fashion Week, it’s no surprise that a resurgent Cadillac eagerly embraces the values of the fashion world. This year, America’s luxury brand stole the show with a front-and-center feature of the Escala concept car. Positioned directly in front of the hall’s main entrance, the Cadillac booth rises like an iceberg, a massive video wall draped in stark white replete with light hardwood accents. Levitating above the water line is Escala: a sleek, grey, architectural four-door with lines as stunning as they are few.

While “put the thing on the stage” is hardly innovative, Cadillac’s Escala wows thanks to the elegance and confidence of its presentation. Like an Armani Privé show, Cadillac’s latest concept doesn’t lean on bright colors or bawdy showmanship to get its point across. Instead, it stands on stage alone: bold, sharp, a testament to the skill of its designers. It is, in many ways, automotive couture. The Escala shines because of – not in spite of – its understatement.

Still need convincing? Check out 3000 more words below.

  Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

  Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

  Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

 

Lexus

  Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

To many suburban families, Lexus and luxury are synonyms. The very phrase “Lexus crossover” evokes an image of comfort and affluence that comes with mid-life security: whiz-bang interiors, school carpools, designer handbag. When Toyota launched the Lexus brand at the 1989 Detroit show with the first-ever Lexus LS 400, it was a competitor brand with a mission to win over these same luxury customers. Over the three decades since, Lexus has catapulted up the sales charts by sycophantically focusing on the values it has come to symbolize: innovation, function, and unyielding luxury.

So, when it came time for Lexus to launch the newest generation of their flagship LS sedan, they simply returned to their roots.

“Simply.”

  Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

Just like the designer handbag on the arm of that same Lexus persona, the only proper way for a luxury brand to refresh an icon is through sheer spectacle. Lexus’ 2017 Detroit show was no exception.

With all the might (and budget) of the Toyota Motor Corp, Lexus constructed a light-and-sound experience for the ages. Bass boomed; strings swelled; a jet black catwalk straight out of Milan Fashion Week bisected the speechless audience. After a brief speech telling the history of Lexus LS, the theater plunged into darkness before a sinister orange glow crept across a 180° video screen.

Suddenly, the room was crackled and hissed – a ring of fire flashed across the screens as smoke filled the air by the stage. On screen, a faceless figure forged flame into fenders. From these molten strokes, a shape formed: the iconic Lexus spindle grill. From this grill, came a body; and from this body, came the molten silhouette of the all-new Lexus LS. Then, silence.

For all the crowd knew, the fire on the screen was real: judging by their breathless awe, the oxygen in the room must’ve burned away.

Finally, with the room approaching vacuum, a single shape pierced the thermobaric silence: from the back, up a ramp, and down the catwalk, drove the world premiere 2018 Lexus LS.

  Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

Stunned gasps became camera shutters, and once more, the room was aglow.

  Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

Fashion critics may pan spectacle without purpose, yet when done well (and for a deserving-enough occasion), there is nothing like it. Fendi’s recent show on Trevi Fountain comes to mind: an iconic luxury brand celebrating the city that made it an icon with an experience not soon forgotten by those lucky enough to attend.

  Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

While Lexus had to forge its own environment from a convention center floor, the effect was felt all the same. And, considering the significant role Detroit has played in catalyzing Lexus’ U.S. growth, it’s safe to say the Motor City was the ideal venue for such an effect.

  Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

-----

In an era of “Autopilot” modes and ride-sharing apps, it is more essential than ever for luxury car makers to stir emotion. Considering the fashion industry’s historic ability to create aesthetic experience, it’s no wonder that luxury brands like Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, and Lexus align with some of fashion’s most awe-inspiring tactics to create breathtaking experiences.

The result? Art in motion, both on stage and off.

 

Comment