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Posts Tagged ‘Brooks Brothers’

Three Manhattan streets, three different worlds

In beauty, cities, culture, design, life, travel, urban life, US on November 16, 2013 at 12:30 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

Manhattan, an island 13.4 miles long and 2.3 miles at its widest, contains — as American poet Walt Whitman wrote in 1855 in another context — multitudes.

English: Grand Central terminal in New York, N...

English: Grand Central terminal in New York, NY Français : Vue extérieure nocturne de la gare Grand Central Terminal sur l’ile de Manhattan, à New-York (États Unis d’Amérique). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I visited three of them this week.

Midtown/49th Street:

Anchored by several iconic buildings — the New York Public Library, Grand Central Terminal and the Chrysler Building — this is a neighborhood devoted to sober-suited commerce. GCT, opened Feb. 2 1913, is the commuters’ cathedral, thronged daily by thousands of workers streaming in on Metr0-North Railroad from the northern and eastern suburbs of Westchester, (including my husband, Jose), and Connecticut.

The station — which every tourist must see! — is a magnificent bit of Beaux Arts design, with enormous gleaming metal chandeliers, marble stairs and the famous central information booth topped with a clock.

Grand Central Terminal (Manhattan)

Grand Central Terminal (Manhattan) (Photo credit: Nouhailler)

The ceiling is a stunning peacock turquoise, studded with tiny lights and painted with gold constellations.

English: The ceiling of the Grand Central Term...

English: The ceiling of the Grand Central Terminal in New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This time of year, it also contains an indoor holiday market, whose vendors are carefully vetted and chosen. I look forward to it every year, and have gotten (and received) terrific, budget-friendly gifts from them.

New Yorker Chrysler Building, oberer Gebäudete...

New Yorker Chrysler Building, oberer Gebäudeteil, vom östlichen Teil der 42. Straße aus gesehen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Walk up Madison Avenue and it still feels like the 1940s, as you pass every possible iteration of elegant male garb: Brooks Brothers, Paul Stuart, J. Press, Mens Wearhouse, Pink shirts, Alden shoes.

I love Brooks Brothers, and have been shopping there since my early 20s when I’d fly in from Toronto and stock up on their cotton shirts. It has  the prettiest ladies’ room I’ve ever seen. Paul Stuart clothing is mostly for the wealthy/creative crowd — network television producers or the heads of ad agencies, but it is spectacular, with shoes like these men’s bitter chocolate suede loafers ($625) or these wool socks, in 10 terrific colors, for $44.50.

A picture of a display in Brooks Brothers

A picture of a display in Brooks Brothers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those few blocks have changed dramatically, not in outward appearance, but in their inhabitants — I once worked for the magazine in what was then the Newsweek building, a venerable magazine now dead. The headquarters of Conde Nast publishing were at 350 Madison when I first met editors there; now in their own building at 4 Times Square, they will move downtown to the newly-finished Freedom Tower, (built to replace the Twin Towers destroyed on 9/11.)

This is a part of town where the powerful meet one another in their private clubs, these few blocks a tightly-knit world of wealth, power and restricted access.  Those open only to graduates of Yale, Princeton, Harvard and Cornell all lie within steps of each other.  The Harvard club spans an entire city block, north to south. Step inside its doors (if you dare!) and you’ll viscerally understand the meaning of entitlement.

But walk along West 44th. Street to marvel at the windows of the New York Yacht Club, which resemble the rear windows of a galleon.

Two landmarks face one another at 49th and Fifth Avenue — St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Saks Fifth Avenue. Saks’ shoe department even has its own zip code, and offers a dizzying array of high-priced footwear. One pair of gem-encrusted, six-inch stilettos by Louboutin were offered at $3,200. The people-watching is great, from Russian oligarchs picking up multiple bags-full to the bare-legged beauty in her leopard coat and Gucci heels.

Uptown/70th. Street

The Upper East Side is a sphere of unapologetic wealth, law firm partners who use “summer” as a verb, (on Nantucket, the Hamptons, Martha’s Vineyard or Rhode Island,) of gleaming black Escalades ferrying hedge funders south to Wall Street and their quiet blond children to private school and their size 2 mothers to yoga or a hair appointment.

The streets are quiet, clean, manicured, filled with elegant townhouses, including that of soon to be ex-mayor Michael Bloomberg, at 17 E. 79th.

My former school, The New York School of Interior Design, is on 70th. street, and Neil’s Coffee Shop, 50 years old, sits at the corner of 70th and Lex, a great place for a burger or a cup of coffee in a classic china cup.

20131114105242

I loved NYSID. Classes were small, mostly female and the rigor of studying interior design seriously was sobering indeed. We had to memorize every floor, wall and furniture style from ancient Egypt to 1900 for a class called Historical Styles. (We, of course, nicknamed it Hysterical Styles, as we struggled to remember the difference between a cassone and a bergere.)

I whiled away a sunny afternoon among the one-per-centers — the woman calling Fed Ex to price the cost of overnight shipping her workout gear from San Francisco, the bright blond in a black mink shawl with a too-tightly-stretched face, the father and son carrying lacrosse sticks into their $114,000 Mercedes SUV, the weary sigh of a woman waiting a second too long for the valet to bring around her car.

I stopped into Creel & Gow, which sells quite extraordinary objects — like this diorama of a walrus.

20131114151038

Love this description of the UES, from the blog, Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York:

One of the things I like about the Upper East Side is that it remains so much itself. It’s not trying to be another neighborhood and it’s not trying to be cool. It’s filled with all kinds of tacky, expensive shops, and none of them are ironic. The rich people there, walking around in full-length furs, look like New Yorkers, and not like Europeans or Midwesterners trying to look like Europeans in New York.

There are also lots and lots of ancient white ladies toddling around, complaining about life, with their hands heavy with diamonds and their eyelids painted pink. They have great faces, and you can watch them go by from the window at Neil’s.

Essex Street

This is where it all began, where wave after wave of European immigrants landed in the narrow streets and crowded tenements of the Lower East Side.

Graffiti, Lower East Side, NYC

Graffiti, Lower East Side, NYC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, the LES is hipsterville, dotted with places like Babycakes, which sells vegan, gluten-free cupcakes, cookies and madeleines (made beneath the original pressed-tin ceiling) or candle-lit restaurant Dudley’s, where I perched at a curved marble-topped bar and enjoyed a tart cocktail made by a handsome red-haired bar-tender from small-town Ohio. There is even a small hotel here, The Blue Moon.

But come here for one of the city’s most moving recreations of urban life, the Tenement Museum, which powerfully explains the daily experience of the immigrants who lived here at the turn of the 19th. century.

Now that the temperature here has plummeted, the connective tissue between these disparate worlds — the status-agnostic subways and buses — is filling up with the homeless, of which New York has a shocking 50,000. They sit with their cardboard signs, pleading silently or asking out loud, apologizing or not.

In the eight years that billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg — who often weekended in the Caribbean — was in power, the number of homeless New Yorkers rose by 65 percent; 21,000 children slept in shelters in January 2013, a new and sorry record.

It has become, increasingly, a city divided.

In praise of male elegance

In beauty, behavior, business, culture, design, domestic life, Fashion, life, men, Style, urban life, US, work on November 25, 2012 at 12:12 am
English: Lithograph of Brooks Clothing Store, ...

English: Lithograph of Brooks Clothing Store, Catherine Street, New York City, in 1845 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Loved this recent story about how (some!) American men are dressing better, in The New York Times:

Men are notoriously averse to shopping…

So why do men appear to be shopping for themselves in record numbers?

Men’s wear sales are surging at double-digit rates. Suits, sports coats and outerwear, nearly all bought by men themselves, are leading the gains, according to Steve Pruitt, founder of the fashion and retail consulting firm Blacks Retail. Blacks projects that men’s suit sales will be up 10 percent this fall and holiday season, and sports jacket sales will be up 11 percent, while women’s ready-to-wear sales remain flat.

“Men are the new women,” Bret Pittman, director of J. Crew’s Ludlow Shop in TriBeCa in Manhattan, told me when I stopped in recently for a tour of the new store, the prototype for a line that will feature men’s suits and tailored clothing.

As I write this, two gift-wrapped boxes await Jose in my closet, from Paul Stuart and Brooks Brothers, with more sartorial goodies en-route for Christmas. He went to the dry cleaner’s tailor today to get three pairs of corduroy trousers altered — after I insisted. (The tailor agreed.)

A well-dressed man is a rare and lovely sight. If this is becoming a trend, I’m all for it.

Madison in the mid-40s, in Manhattan, is where you’ll find Brooks Brothers on the south end of the block and Paul Stuart — a 74-year-old shop named for the founder’s son — at the north end…keep heading north and you’ll find 111-year-old J. Press, all shops with classic, elegant, well-made clothing.

Brooks has everything from a smart black umbrella with a real bamboo handle, (a reasonable $60), to suits, shoes, pajamas, cologne, hats and leather briefcases. Their small shoe department has wonderful things, from dressy to casual. Paul Stuart, whose styles and colors are far more European, is not for the faint-of-heart or thin-of-wallet — a pair of socks is $48 and their sweaters and jackets roam to the four figures. Their cheapest shoe, a stunning black suede Italian loafer, is $562.

But some things are affordable, and fun — silk pocket squares and their knotted fabric cuff-links for $12. I love the quiet, old-school atmosphere and the jewel tones, in virtually every item, that are their trademark.

Elegance is an acquired taste.

My father, at 83 exploring Hong Kong as I write this, still dresses with great style, as he always has, which gave me a decided interest in dating — certainly marrying — a man who appreciates it as well. I still remember exactly what Jose wore on our first date 13 years ago, very much enjoying that he had bothered to dress up for the occasion; when I see guys in their 30s or beyond still schlubbing around in sneakers and caps and hoodies, like a bunch of 12-year-olds with no dough and less imagination, I sigh.

Male elegance has a few basic, classic components:

Fit

American men seem to have no idea that tailors even exist, as so many wear trousers, (even on their wedding day!), that puddle hopelessly atop their shoes. Too many clothes, certainly the cheaper ones, are laser-cut in China, with little or no attention to proper fit. Read GQ or Details or The Sartorialist for examples of how do it right.

Material

Learn the difference between cotton, polyester, nylon, wool, cashmere and rayon, calf leather, cordovan, suede. Read labels and feel the materials under your hand. Once you can tell the difference between cashmere and merino, (and your budget has no room for new cashmere), hit consignment and vintage shops for affordable options.

Color

Many men have absolutely no idea what colors look well on them, or awful. The color of your hair, (or lack of same), eyes and skin tone should all affect your choices  — including hats, scarves and eyewear. If you’re very pale, a white shirt and light gray suit are probably not the most attractive choices. Jose, being Hispanic, has a skin tone that allows him to wear some fantastically bold color choices and look terrific in them. A decent salesman or woman in a better quality men’s store can help. Men whose wives or partners have a great eye could do worse than let us help you edit your choices.

Grooming

Huge. The nicest pair of leather shoes will look like hell if you let the heels wear down, (hence the expression, well-heeled), don’t polish them frequently and forget to use heavy, solid wooden shoe trees after each wearing. Regular haircuts — including nose, ear and eyebrow trim for the over-40s — make a serious difference. Keep nails short and clean, and hands moisturized. A subtle cologne is a wonderful lagniappe.

Footwear

Financial Times columnist Peter Aspden recently described the challenge of finding weekend shoes:

By far the trickiest part of weekend dressing is footwear. Look: there is no smart casual in footwear. Smart is what you wear to work. Casual is trainers: comfortable, fashionable. A chairman of the Royal Opera House once declared that he never wanted to sit next to anyone wearing trainers. He was ridiculed. It was a seminal cultural-podiatric moment. We are the generation that invented trainers, and now we had earned the right to wear them, whenever, wherever.

Joe Ottaway, personal shopping consultant at Selfridges, grimaces. “I’m not a great trainer [note: Britspeak for sneakers, running shoes] fan,” he says. He admits that weekend footwear can be a thorny problem. “What is important is to find something that is age-appropriate.” It seems, not for the first time, that I have missed a key trend in men’s fashion. “The age of the well-dressed, well-groomed man is coming back.” And it means, beyond a certain age, no trainers. What age might that be? “25,” says Ottaway.

Accessories

Have fun! These include gorgeous silk pocket squares, (this one is $8 in jewel tones), lovely knee-high colored socks, cuff-links, a sterling belt buckle, a slim (possibly vintage) watch, great eyewear, a well-made hat, a snazzy duffel or backpack or briefcase. Frenchmen almost always add a fab scarf or muffler to their outfits, and there are many options out there; I like this striped one from Barney’s, by Paul Smith.

Take time, if being stylish appeals to you, to browse a few high-end shops, on-line or in person, to see what’s available. The king of this is British designer Paul Smith; a visit to his Fifth Avenue shop is always fun and inspiring.

Ladies, does a well-dressed man catch your eye?

Do you — gentlemen — pay attention to such matters?

Coming to New York? Go here!

In business, cities, culture, Style, travel, urban life, US on May 28, 2012 at 12:11 am
English: Interior of Oyster Bar Restaurant, in...

English: Interior of Oyster Bar Restaurant, in Grand Central Terminal, New York City, USA. Photographed by Daniel Case 2006-12-29 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve lived in New York since 1989, in a suburb just north of the city. Ironically, I often introduce my city-dwelling friends to places they’ve yet to discover there.

I spent the weekend in the city, borrowing a friend’s apartment while they are away.

It’s a holiday weekend here and the city is filled with tourists — maybe even some of you!

Here’s my short and highly personal list of things I think worth discovering, some well-known, others much less so; you’ll notice these are mostly adult-only.

Many are old-school, 100+ years old and still going strong.

Feel free to add your suggestions!

Bars

The Pegu Club: elegant, a long gorgeous wooden bar, delicious old-school cocktails, on Houston. (pronounced HOW-ston street.)

Temple Bar: been there forever, marked only by a small white lizard light in the wall. The best bar for a sexy first date, it’s tiny, dark, cosy, grown-up.

King Cole Bar: in the St. Regis Hotel, on Fifth Avenue. Do NOT arrive in jeans, hoodie, sneakers. Dress up and enjoy the fantastic mural by Maxfield Parrish behind the bar.

Old Town: I love this place. Opened in 1892, its wooden booths and super-steep staircase are a step back in time.

McSorley’s Ale House: Originally open only to men, this scruffy spot in the East Village has been around since 1854.

Fanelli’s: Cut glass doors, tiny tables, a back room, a mix of tourists, businessfolk, NYU students, this one’s been going since 1863.

The bar at Fanelli’s

Dublin House: Dive bar!

Restaurants

Brabant Brasserie: Why eat Belgian food in NYC? Because it’s delicious, well-served and well-priced. I ate there three times in three weeks after discovering it this year. The East 50s are a food desert, so this is a real find for the area.

Lucky Strike/Pastis/Schiller’s/Balthazar: All owned by the same man, and all sharing a stylish weathered charm. Settle in at the bar with a magazine and a cold beer and watch the beautiful people (at Balthazar and Pastis) in those oversized antiqued mirrors.

The Red Cat: One of my favorites. Welcoming, good food, a pretty room, an old-timer with charm.

Toloache: We love this place! I’ve been coming here since it opened and its chef not yet well-known. A two-level room with an enormous mural of tile, gorgeous cut-tin hanging lanterns, welcoming service and such great food. This is Mexican food at its delicate, small-portioned finest. Good before the theater; right at the corner of 50th. and Eighth Avenue. (pronounced Tolo-ah-chay.)

The Oyster Bar: In the bowels of Grand Central Station (see below,), sit beneath Guastavino’s curved tile ceiling and enjoy an oyster pan roast or fish stew. Check out the overhead lights with their fleets of boats — shown in the photo with this post. Born in Valencia, Spain, Guastavino invented this handsome form of curved ceilings, patented in the U.S. in 1885.

The Hungarian Pastry Shop: Fuel up here with hordes of Columbia University students with an espresso and strudel. Then cross the street and visit the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

La Grenouille: Oh, go on. It’s wickedly expensive, but this is one of the classic New York City experiences: quiet, slow, delicious. It’s set into a former townhouse and opened in 1962. Huge floral arrangements, waiters in waistcoats. The real deal.

Museums

The Tenement Museum: This is truly a don’t-miss, if you want to understand something of this city’s history, and how America came to be. Tenements were narrow apartment buildings with shared bathrooms where many working-class immigrants settled after arriving in New York, fresh off the boat from Europe. The museum re-creates the period look of three families’ homes. Moving, emotional, this place isn’t — like most museums — a celebration of wealth and power.

The Japan Society: I so love this place. The building has an interior garden and pond. Their current exhibition, of Japanese Art Deco, is fantastic — on until June 10. The block also holds the UN’s church, a stunning 1960s period piece right next door.

The Neue Galerie: I’m crazy for Secessionist art, which is what you’ll find here in an exquisite Beaux Arts mansion. Have a coffee or lunch in its lovely Cafe Sabarsky and read a newspaper tucked into one of the classic wooden reading rods. Heaven! (pronounced Noy-uh Galerie)

New-York Historical Society. Check out their current exhibition — on beer-making in the state, with samples at the end! — on until September 2. Here’s a review of it.

Stores

Bergdorf Goodman: Such gorgeous stuff. (The Men’s store is across the street) The Fifth floor is marginally more affordable. Great shoe department. Eat in the cafe and sit in one of their adorable balloon chairs with the ladies-who-lunch. Elegant, old-school, fantastic views.

Macy’s: Still has wooden escalators. This place is enormous and exhausting, but offers a tremendous selection. Its red star on every shopping bag is a tribute to R.H. Macy, the former 19th. century whaler who had a red star tattooed on his hand before going into the retail biz.

Who doesn’t need a pop-up ES Building and a few taxis?

J. Crew: Not a New York company, but well-loved by the classicists/preppies among us. Cardigans, ballet flats, great shirts and T-shirts in the softest of cottons. The flagship at 44th and Madison is worth a stop. Men and women’s clothing.

Chelsea Market: This converted biscuit factory at 15th. and 10th Avenue is now an afternoon’s worth of fun: fantastic food shops, bakeries, florists, chocolate, a bookstore, a flea market. Love this place!

Aedes de Venustas: If you love exotic and unusual fragrances, this is not to be missed. Christopher Street has lots of lovely shops and this one offers brands you’ve never heard of. (No idea how to pronouce this one!)

Grand Central Station: This glorious Beaux Arts building, from 1905, has a brilliant turquoise curved ceiling with the constellations painted on it in gold. It’s where commuter trains arrive from New York and Connecticut. Renovated in the 1990s, it now houses a terrific array of shops and an excellent food court downstairs with Italian, Mexican and Indian food, among others. Posman Books is a fantastic indie bookshop; Cursive offers lovely gifts and Papyrus has gorgeous stationery. Try the Junior’s cheesecake. Yum!

Paul Stuart: OMG. Stroll through, quietly humming “If I were a rich man”….Triple-ply cashmere in jewel colors, gorgeous jackets, shirts, shoes. I want it all. An affordable piece are their knotted silk cuff-links. Men’s mostly, some women’s.

Brooks Brothers: I’ve been shopping at B-squared since I used to smuggle their cotton shirts back into Canada. Classic, great quality, this is an old-school piece of New York. Nothing is wildly fashionable, but the look is elegant and understated. You can find almost anything you need here, from a great-looking umbrella with a bamboo handle to a dopp kit to a silk scarf or a polo shirt for your 8-year-old nephew. Men,women, kids.

Tiffany: Oh, all right. I never go there because the tourist crowds are insane. But the place is gorgeous and the upper floors offer more affordable options. A sterling Tiffany keyring, $125, is a pretty cool souvenir.

ABC Carpet and Home: Not cheap, but well worth a visit, if only to the main floor. Lots of lovely items, from candles to stationery to china.

Edith Machinist. Go! One of the city’s best vintage stores, on Rivington Street in Nolita. Tons of great shoes, boots and purses. I scored a silk Genny dress (from the 1980s) for $180 five years ago…That was a bloody fortune in my world, but I’ve gotten a ton of wear out of it. Love this place.

Fishs Eddy: So fun! Pick up some glassware or a platter decorated with New York designs. Cheap, great quality.

C. O. Bigelow Apothecary.  If you can’t find it here, you don’t want it. Founded in 1838, it offers lots of great fragrances, Roger & Gallet soaps, Marvis toothpaste, even lovely jewelry and headbands. But no photos allowed! The staff is a little ferocious, but go anyway.

Porto Rico Coffee & Tea. I never fail to leave PR without a pound of Earl Grey tea or a mug or some allsorts or a pound ($9.99) of freshly-ground cinnamon or pumpkin spice coffee. Huge burlap sacks overflow with coffee beans and enormous battered tea tins line the walls. Pick up an iced cappuccino 0r, as I did this weekend, a fab string bag for your goodies, in a rainbow of colors, for a big…$5. Best part? Two large benches outside to sit on and watch Bleecker street parade by. This place has been in biz for 105 years. I hope it lasts another 105 more!

Don’t miss this one!

Yaso. Most stores in pricy Soho come and go with lightning speed — this one has been here since the 1980s. Women’ clothing only, the style is European, edgy, minimal, in linen, wool, silk. Clothing in neutrals: gray, black, cream, brown, tan with some great jewelery and scarves. Be prepared to spend — you won’t find much less than $175-350+ but these are investment pieces you’ll wear and enjoy for years to come.

Global Table. Run! If you love beautiful glasses, dishes, trays, anything tabletop.

Here’s a list of 38 indie stores here, 13 of which are in Brooklyn, from RackedNY. The list is brand-new. I have to confess, I don’t think I’ve been to any of them…But I’m not a huge shopper, have very specific taste and am larger than a size 12, which probably means a lot of their stuff isn’t for me. But accessories, yes…

Since When Are Latinos “Alien”?

In behavior, culture, domestic life, family, immigration, life, love, men, news, politics, urban life, women on April 26, 2011 at 11:21 am
Percentage of Hispanic or Latino residents by ...

The percentage of Latinos by county.Image via Wikipedia

With a green card that formally and officially names me as a “resident alien”, I’m the certified foreigner in our household, not my Hispanic partner of eleven years who is first-generation American, of Mexican descent, but who is resoundingly and red-bloodedly American.

He wears khakis and polished black loafers, loves to golf, reads business magazines like Fortune and Forbes. He works at The New York Times, arguably one of the most establishment of employers, and has for decades. He drives a Subaru, drinks gimlets, takes the commuter train to Grand Central Station every weekday with legions of lawyers and media guys and non-profit executives.

He’s just one of the guys — even if he keeps a bag of pozole in the freezer and a beloved black pottery pot of his Mom’s from New Mexico, where he was born and raised.

But that’s about it. Issues of race and identity are much less compelling to either of us than the usual mid-life, mid-career questions:

When and where will we ever be able to retire? What’s for dinner? What are we doing this weekend?

Which is why I found this Wall Street Journal op-ed, by Janet Murguia, decidedly odd:

Like others who brought demographic change to America, our presence has stirred anxiety among some of our fellow Americans. A century ago, people expressed the same concerns about waves of immigrants from Italy, Ireland and Eastern Europe. It was understandable—but it also turned out to be unfounded. As the number of Latinos grows, our fellow Americans need to overcome the natural human anxiety that accompanies change and look for common ground…

It’s time for people to stop thinking about Latinos as “foreigners,” “aliens,” or “others” and start thinking of us as their fellow workers, classmates, colleagues, worshippers, neighbors, friends and family.

I’m clearly missing something here. I don’t see someone Latino and make any specific assumptions about their education or income or legal status.

We’ve attended meetings of NSHMBA, the National Society of Hispanic MBAs.

When I hit my local grocery store, in suburban New York, an aisle is devoted to Latino favorites, many made by the successful firm of GOYA, founded in 1936.

My local car wash is run by a man from Colombia,  a successful and hard-working man who employs other Latinos in his community.

Two of the most talented young recent college graduates I know are a photographer and a journalist; he’s won major national awards and she’s heading off to the Los Angeles Times soon for a job there.

When I see Hispanics and Latino(a)s, I see my in-laws, friends, neighbors and colleagues, all of them hardworking, talented, ambitious — and American.

Yet when Jose and I started dating, after he found me on-line, (under the truthful headline “Catch Me If You Can”), friends started pelting me with absurd cliches:

“Does he dance salsa?” “Does he wear a guayabera?”

Excuse me?

This is a guy whose Times colleagues dubbed “the preppy Mexican”…which left him nonplussed. Was this a compliment? Can’t Mexican men wear Brooks Brothers and Barbour and LL Bean?

I lived in Cuernavaca, Mexico for a few months when I was 14 and have been back to Mexico many times. I speak Spanish and it feels like home to me in some strange way. I have never understood why brown skin and a Hispanic surname offer license for all sorts of appalling stereotypes.

I’m aware there are millions of illegal aliens of Hispanic descent in the U.S. — while millions more, legally resident, also work hard, pay taxes and yearn for the same successes we all do.

Do you date or live with or did you marry a Hispanic or Latino(a)?

How, if at all, has this changed your life or your ideas?

The Ladies (and Men) Behind The Labels; A Few Labor Day Kudos

In business, Style on September 7, 2009 at 9:28 am
Lion cubs playing in the Serengeti

Image via Wikipedia

Do you know of Martin & Osa, a national chain of 28 clothing stores, elegant casual wear, a bit like J. Crew, usually found only in malls? I figured the name was made-up, since J. Crew isn’t a real person. Not so.

This fall, the Martin & Osa stores are finally honoring their namesakes, Martin and Osa Johnson, a husband and wife team whose books and films brought the world into the homes of Americans long before television. The stores are now carrying their best-selling book “I Married Adventure”, whose original zebra-patterned cover remains a favorite accessory in shelter magazine layouts. Their museum is in Chanute, Kansas and their website explains:

From 1917-1936, the Johnsons set up camp in some of the most remote areas of the world and provided an unmatched photographic record of the wildernesses of Kenya, the Congo, British North Borneo and the Solomon and New Hebrides Islands. Their equipment was the most advanced motion pictures apparatus of the day, some of it designed by Martin Johnson himself.

It seems a little sad to me that, in a nation often obsessed with designer labels, some of their best and most interesting backstories are lost to history, while multi-million dollar PR machines make sure we know the latest, not-so-great “stars” vying for our dollars. Lane Bryant, once a popular line of clothing for plus-size women, is named — mistakenly — for Lena Bryant, a Lithuanian immigrant whose name was misspelled by a bank official when she went for a loan. Widowed after the birth of her son by her second husband, David Bryant, a jeweler, in 1898 she sold her diamond earrings, bought a sewing machine and started making lingerie in Manhattan for pregnant women. I love her spirit and determination.

Nancy Talbot, who died August 30 at the age of 89, created a successful catalog and chain of red-doored stores selling a quality, Nantucket-y, classic look nonetheless affordable for many women.  At worst boring, at best classic, well-priced and durable, the clothes and accessories have a democratic spirit, bringing a clean, crisp style to a  mass market. There really were Brooks Brothers, the sons of the founder of that store, begun in 1818. As many know, the Lacoste crocodile on that 70-year-old sportswear line, named for a famous French tennis player, Rene Lacoste, honors his nickname, “le crocodile.”

And, in the town just south of where I live are the headquarters of Eileen Fisher, whose comfortable, simple clothing makes up an embarrassingly large part of my wardrobe, from my go-to washed silk LBD to a charcoal wool winter coat I look forward to wearing every year. There’s an inherent modesty to the clothing I like that reflects the ethos of the woman who designs it. I saw her recently, sitting at the table next to me at a restaurant beside her offices. I tried not stare, but it was so odd, and pleasant, to see the real person behind a brand so well-known and, by some, so well-loved.

This long weekend, I’m finishing up a terrific biography of Coco Chanel, a ferociously ambitious orphan whose name is still synonymous with Parisian chic, many decades later. She was clearly not a terribly nice woman, but what a survivor! A new film, Coco Before Chanel, starring Audrey Tautou, opens in theaters this month, focused on her early years in business.

I wear Prada and Gucci, but only their perfumes, and not because of the brand names, but because people I don’t even know very well happily sniff me, asking, “What is that wonderful scent?” If that’s as close as I get to wearing a Big Name Label, OK by me. It’s their stories I find most interesting anyway.

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