Friday, March 31, 2006

Will Success at Gucci Be Sexy or Safe?


Milan - ON a drizzly February morning toward the end of the Italian fall shows, as editors from New York, Shanghai and Moscow were watching models snake down the catwalks, Francesca Tronchetti Provera, a mother of three, was shopping for pants at the Gucci flagship on Via Montenapoleone in Milan.

Given Italy's sizable interest in fashion, it's not hard to find people who know that Tom Ford no longer designs Gucci, but it's surprising to hear someone sound almost relieved that the style of his successor, Frida Giannini, doesn't immediately suggest an orgy or, as Mr. Ford once put it, an impulse to "pour hot wax over your lover and straddle him."

"It's more feminine and easier to wear," said Ms. Tronchetti Provera, 33, of Ms. Giannini's pretty tea dresses and horse-bit print silk blouses. "I like that she's going back to the way Gucci used to be. It's very Italian, it's joyful."

But is it sexy? Ms. Tronchetti Provera smiled. "It's sexy enough," she said.

Of course it would take a person of moderate taste not to see that "sexy enough" is probably the worst thing you could say about a brand that stands for maximal excitement. Whatever one may think of Mr. Ford's design abilities, this is the hook that convinced consumers in the mid-1990's they were getting something new and not their grandfather's loafers. Gucci's revenues shot up to $1.8 billion in 2001 from $500 million in 1995. Now Robert Polet, the new president and chief executive of Gucci Group, wants to see revenues top $3 billion by 2011. But can that happen if Gucci is just "sexy enough?"

For the moment no one at Gucci — or at PPR, the French retail conglomerate that owns Gucci — has to worry about that question. In 2005 Gucci's revenues hit a record 1.8 billion euros ($2.2 billion), driven in part by sales of Ms. Giannini's popular Flora bags (a style that Mr. Ford once rejected), and in the last year PPR's share price has risen to 99 euros from 74 euros, largely due to the performance of Gucci Group.

Beyond what the numbers say, however, there is a question whether Gucci still has the surprise and sense of vision it had under Mr. Ford, who left two years ago, a doubt that The Times of London raised recently when it asked in a headline, "Is Frida the one to save Gucci?" What makes people think that Gucci, which is enormously profitable, needs saving?

Fashion editors started complaining privately last fall that Gucci collections had lost their spark. The word they used to describe their dissatisfaction was "commercial." This did not mean they thought the clothes had gone down-market. It meant that, to sophisticates, they had no meaning.

To someone else — a woman, say, in Dallas or Hong Kong — the clothes might have tremendous value, and a number of young retailing executives said after Ms. Giannini's first collection, in September, that they thought her dresses and black satin shorts looked fresh and would appeal to a new generation of customers.

Still, the gap between Gucci's reputation as a hip brand and its reality seems to have widened. Burt Tansky, the chief executive of Neiman Marcus, dismisses the idea that Gucci has become commercial. Referring to Mr. Ford and Domenico De Sole, Gucci's former chief, he said: "It's not that the old group didn't do a decent job. But this new group seems less enchanted by the media and more focused on the customer. They're very, very efficient. Deliveries are better, and we're selling more and more."

PPR paid 7.2 billion euros (about $8.5 billion now) for Gucci Group, taking on debt to do so. Mr. Polet, who seems to get on as well with store executives as he does the designers in the group, like Nicolas Ghesquiere, the star at Balenciaga, is confident that Gucci can meet its revenue goal without resorting to short-term strategies. "We're not here to make a quick buck," said Mr. Polet, whose three-billion-euro target is based on an annual market growth rate of 4 to 7 percent.

But there are subtle signs that Gucci, under its new brand president, Mark Lee, is trying to broaden its reach. An executive who has worked for the company for a number of years and who declined to be identified because it would jeopardize his job, recently expressed dismay that the tone of advertising and marketing campaigns was now expected "to be light, happy, accessible." Mr. Ford preferred to agitate customers, largely through his ads, though his clothes could also look quite commercial.

Mr. Lee is clearly annoyed at such criticism. Three times in the course of an hourlong interview in Milan, he brought up the "commercial" tag, saying that it didn't fit the product. "What I object to is all the talk that we're trading down, when the opposite is true," Mr. Lee said. He pointed to new leather goods that emphasize costly Florentine handcraft and Ms. Giannini's use of fine jewelry in her shows. And he noted that ready-to-wear sales were up sharply in 2005, to 221 million euros, after four years of stagnant growth. "This is a fashion brand, and we intend to remain a fashion brand," he said.

With makers of $1,500 handbags experiencing what one analyst called "luxury nirvana," it's hard to know whether Gucci's gains are the result of distinctive design or unleashed consumer demand after several years of purse-pinching. Certainly a case can be made that, apart from this season's monster platform shoes, there isn't a killer accessory: no heart-stopping equivalent of Louis Vuitton's Murakami bag or the Chloé Paddington. (Though Fendi's buckle bag is looking more and more like a winner.)

Another indication that companies don't feel the need to dazzle the consumer to get her to buy is the tone of their ads. They're conspicuously subdued. In a Prada ad, a model appears to be resting up after a fall, maybe from her wicker platforms — until you realize that the metal device she's holding isn't a crutch but the handle to her wheelie bag. Gucci's ads ask us to believe that the luxury world is a happy place, full of girlfriends and sunsets, and maybe it is. But isn't fashion and sex supposed to be the attraction of Gucci?

Ms. Giannini arrived at Gucci as an accessories designer around the time that Mr. Ford and Mr. De Sole were fighting to save their jobs; they spent much of 2003 in contract negotiations with PPR, arguing that Gucci and its sister brands, including Yves Saint Laurent and Bottega Veneta, functioned better under their complete control.

PPR's founder, François Pinault, and his son, François-Henri, who is today chief executive of the French company, disagreed, and in 2004, Mr. Ford and Mr. De Sole left, with Mr. Polet, who ran Unilever's ice cream and frozen foods division, moving to Gucci Group.

Replacing Mr. Ford proved more difficult, and in a way bewildering. Although Mr. Ford's claim that Gucci needed a dictator could be viewed as self-serving (his salary at the time he left was $6 million, and he made tens of millions more from stock options), there was a historic basis for his contention. Gucci in the early 90's had suffered from a paralyzing management crisis. Essentially there were too many cooks in the kitchen. Once Mr. Ford became creative director, in 1994, he wouldn't brook interference from anyone, including Mr. De Sole, who had mediated Gucci family squabbles and had succeeded Dawn Mello as president. According to Sara Gay Forden's book, "The House of Gucci," the two men got into a furious shouting match when Mr. De Sole tried to attend a design meeting and was ejected. But with the lines clear, Mr. Ford felt free to design what he thought best.

Why, then, did Gucci's new managers ignore history and appoint three designers to replace him? By February of this year, only one, Ms. Giannini, 33, had survived an internal purge. Alessandra Facchinetti, initially in charge of women's fashion, was dismissed after one collection, and in January the men's designer, John Ray, resigned.

Mr. Lee, who was not involved in the decision to hire three designers, would say only that the choice of Ms. Giannini was "pretty obvious" to him. She was already responsible, as accessories designer, for 95 percent of the company's business. And while Mr. Lee has been involved in some aesthetic decisions, like a plan to remodel Gucci stores in a classical style, he said, "I certainly don't tell her what to design."

Ms. Giannini's fashion choices have been fairly safe. For her spring collection, she used flowery archive prints as well as a sleek, feminine look that recalled the 1940's. In her view, and perhaps in the view of many women her age, the moment for aggressive sexuality had passed, and she believed that Gucci ads that had featured a model's pubic hair groomed in the shape of a G were wrongheaded. "To be honest," she said last fall, "what Gucci had become — well, a footballer's wife is not the customer of my dreams."

Nonetheless, by her second show, in February, Ms. Giannini had swept aside the flirty dresses and shorts in favor of gold pantsuits and purses chained to handcuffs. These looks were closer to Mr. Ford's aesthetic but hardly novel. Editors didn't know what to think. "They were two completely different collections," said Franca Sozzani, the editor in chief of Italian Vogue, who, in the end, preferred the sexier fall show.

Like many analysts, Simon Irwin of J. P. Morgan in London, said he believes that Gucci management has done an excellent job, and he for one doesn't see a downside to reinterpreting archival styles. "Most of the archive hasn't been seen," Mr. Irwin said. But "the spring collection had a mixed review," he said. "I suspect there was a clientele for whom it didn't work, like the Asians and the Russians. Are they ready for a girlie look? Then we had a massive U-turn with the autumn show. People were confused. Where's Gucci going creatively? And did she actually deliver on her theme particularly well?"

A few days after the show, Ms. Giannini talked about the direction of Gucci. She was warm, candid and seemed self-assured. She said that in her mind the two collections reflected the same youthful attitude, though she acknowledged that she also wanted to answer complaints that her first show didn't offer enough evening wear. I asked Ms. Giannini if there were times where her instincts were affirmed by sales.

She mentioned the Flora bag line, which she proposed to Mr. Ford shortly after she arrived at Gucci. "He rejected it," she said, smiling. "It was too old for him. He said it reminded him of the period of Dawn Mello."

Mr. Ford came to see that Gucci's past represented the biggest obstacle to its future, and so he devised a new look based on his personal tastes. It's possible that Mr. Ford's brand of hedonism now looks camp to us, but it's doubtful that the answer is to go back to the archive or wheel out David Bowie. Now that Ms. Giannini is in control of all of Gucci's design, including men's wear, she may feel more confident and develop her own point of view. Certainly the critical and commercial success of Balenciaga has shown that Mr. Polet and François-Henri Pinault are far more hospitable to talent than the sophisticates thought they would be. But the example of Mr. Ghesquiere should also serve as reminder that it takes more than a happy, accessible nature to make a strong fashion. In fact, it usually takes the opposite.



SNEAKERHEADS get their laces in a twist every time a Jordan sneaker drops.

This time it's the Jumpman Jeter Official, which hits stores Saturday for $100 a pair.

A basketball shoe branded by a Yankee shortstop may seem out of step, but Derek Jeter - the only active baseball player to have his own shoe - has made it work. This is the sixth season of Jeter-inspired shoes for Michael Jordan's Jumpman collection.

Sneaker aficionado Bobbito Garcia explains the Jeter-Jumpman success: "Only 20 percent of people actually use basketball shoes for athletics. The other 80 percent just wear them to look cool."

Garcia, who hosts ESPN2's "It's the Shoes" - a "Cribs"-style peek into celebrity shoe closets - is also the author of tennie tome "Where'd You Get Those? New York City's Sneaker Culture: 1960-1987."

"Over the years, baseball hasn't been a category that's been influential to what's hot on the streets. But people have taken basketball sneakers and running sneakers out of the arena from what they were designed for," Garcia says.

The shortstop and the shoe are a dream team.

"Who doesn't wear Jordans? I hang out at a lot of basketball courts, and the Jordan phenomenon is across the board, all ages," Garcia says.

"Parents and kids both wear Jordans, and that's not often that happens. It's unequivocally the most desirable shoe," he says.

While the Jeters will hit the courts this weekend, sneaker freaks can get a heads-up on future kicks when season two of "It's the Shoes" airs Wednesday at 1 a.m. Guests include Kobe Bryant, Ghostface Killah and Joseph "Reverend Run" Simmons of Run-DMC - but the slam dunk is Garcia's juicy sneaker scoop: While shooting at the Brand Jordan HQ in Los Angeles, he got a peek inside the super-secret sneaker vault.

"Die-hard sneakerheads would have been foaming at the mouth. They only let us film one side of the closet - they have issues with bootleggers, so they didn't want us showing all the ill colors," he says.

Garcia says he's laced with anticipation over a green and orange pair that were in the closet. But for now, he says he's cool with pounding the pavement in the new Jeters.

"These look aiight - very aiight."

Thursday, March 30, 2006

through craig's specs

I'm looking for glasses like Craig Newmark of craigslist (above) wears. I saw a picture of his on my Costco magazine and thought they looked cool. Thing is, I can't find anything like those around here, not even at Costco.

If anybody see glasses like this anywhere that will fit someone with a big head like me, give me a holler.

UPDATE, 8:00PM: Chris suggested that I email Craig directly and ask him, and to my surprise, he personally answered back in about an hour. The frames are Alain Mikli, model a0309. I'll have to go to the Alain Mikli shop in New York to try them on in person.


Nothing of note today other than my new Allen-Edmonds shoes arriving.

I thought they were too big at first, as I was wearing thin socks when I tried them on. But I tried them on again with thicker socks and they worked a lot better.

Even with being factory seconds, they are exceptionally nice shoes.

O.K., Knockoffs, This Is War


FOR readers of Marie Claire, one of its most popular monthly features is Splurge vs. Steal, a column that shows an expensive runway look next to a knockoff costing a fraction of the price. But within the fashion trade the magazine column is roundly disliked, at least by designers whose work is included under the Splurge heading.

"I wish the magazine wouldn't encourage that kind of behavior," said Behnaz Sarafpour, after seeing an issue in which her $1,565 silk trench coat was shown next to a similar design for $159 from Jones New York. "I mean, thanks for the lovely picture, but no thanks."

Customers who crave inexpensive designer look-alikes at retailers like H&M and Zara or close-enoughs at Gap and Banana Republic or line-for-line copies of Oscar gowns by the label ABS may have little empathy for designers who denounce knockoffs.

Lesley Jane Seymour, the editor in chief of Marie Claire, which has included designer clones in Splurge vs. Steal by Banana Republic, Steve Madden and American Eagle Outfitters, said shoppers understand — and generally approve — how fashion offers them expensive runway originals alongside lower-price versions of the same styles.

But those inexpensive copies could be history if the Council of Fashion Designers of America has its way in a new anti-copying campaign in Washington.

Designers like Diane Von Furstenberg, Narciso Rodriguez and Zac Posen have been journeying there to lobby for copyright protections like those governing books, music and other creative arts. Mr. Posen was in Washington on Tuesday with Steven Kolb, the executive director of the council, who said a bill could be introduced in Congress as early as today by Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican.

Mr. Rodriguez designed the white slip wedding gown worn by Caroline Bessette Kennedy in 1996, a style that inspired innumerable brides to don copies, and Ms. Von Furstenberg's signature wrap dresses have been copied so many times that she may no longer wish to be associated with them. They are asking lawmakers to support a proposed fashion design anti-piracy act.

If passed, it could change the retail landscape in ways merchants and designers are only beginning to absorb. Major department stores with private labels, which often include close copies of designer looks, are divided on the proposed law because they also do business with the offended designers.

At the same time a prohibition on copying dresses, coats and the like would seem to open an impossibly murky debate over how to separate a duplicate garment from one simply inspired by someone else's work and part of a fashion trend.

But for the Council of Fashion Designers the issue is black and white. Rather than calling imitation the sincerest form of flattery, as they have done for decades, leading designers are acknowledging that inexpensive copies — which they label acts of piracy — have negatively affected the luxury business.

"Piracy in fashion is rampant," Mr. Rodriguez said, recalling a lunch meeting he had with senators last July, when he held up one of his $1,500 designs next to a newspaper advertisement for a nearly identical dress at Macy's, selling for $199.

Copyright law protects a creator of original material — like a songwriter or screenwriter — for her life plus 70 years. But clothing is not protected. In 1998 Representative Howard Coble, a Republican from North Carolina, introduced a revision to the copyright law that classified boat hulls as a design protected for 10 years. Citing the boat hull statute, fashion designers are asking for similar protection for clothing designs for three years.

Hypothetically that would mean that Allen B. Schwartz, the owner and designer of ABS, the leading brand in the $300 million business of Oscar knockoffs, would be restricted to selling copies of the embroidered beige Elie Saab gown worn by Halle Berry in 2003, not the latest Vera Wang yellow butterfly ruffles for Michelle Williams.

"That is the most ridiculous thing," Mr. Schwartz said. "There is no such thing as an original design. All these designers are getting their inspiration from things that were done before. To me a spaghetti strap is a spaghetti strap, and a cowl neck is a cowl neck."

A violet ABS dress with swooping satin panels along the hips and bust line, selling at for $169.99, is a prime example of the argument by designers that there is a difference between following trends and what they call piracy. Apart from the shade of purple, it looks identical to a dress costing more than $1,000 that Mr. Posen showed in his spring 2004 collection.

Designers say the high price of fashion is justified by the time and effort they spend researching fabrics, ideas and techniques. In their view it is unfair for people like Mr. Schwartz to profit from their work without a similar investment.

"They are stealing at the expense of creativity," said Valerie Salembier, the publisher of Harper's Bazaar, which devoted its January issue to counterfeit fashion. "It's not fair or reasonable or correct to steal that design from someone."

But Ms. Seymour of Marie Claire said there is room in stores for both originals and knockoffs. "If you go into any department store, you can take the elevator to one floor and see the designer look and then take the elevator to the next floor and see the interpreted look," she said. "It's like when you go to the Shop & Stop, you have the real Raisin Bran and then the generic raisin bran. Both have their buyers. Neither one has put the other out of business."

The National Retail Federation, the retailers' lobby, has not taken a position on the proposed legislation, said J. Craig Sherman, its vice president for government affairs. "We are staying neutral on the matter," he said. "We tend to take a position when there is a consensus in our industry on an issue. There is not a consensus on this issue."

The proposal also presents complications for designers who draw inspiration from the same sources. For instance, when "Memoirs of a Geisha" was released last year, obi belts and kimono sleeves appeared in more than one runway collection. This month Hussein Chalayan and Martin Margiela both offered fall collections that turned slipcovers and armchair upholstery into skirts and jackets. Inspiration, as designers say, is in the air.

"How do you copyright fashion design?" asked the designer Jeffrey Chow, whose $1,000 blush satin dress was shown next to a $245 duplicate by ABS in Marie Claire's November 2004 issue. But Mr. Chow sees only futility in trying to fight such copying. "It's not like a typeface or a song," he said. "There are no boundaries in fashion."

Stan Herman, the president of the Council of Fashion Designers, sees the matter as clear cut. "It's not as complex as everybody's making it," he said. "To take somebody's design and make a line-for-line copy, that should be stopped."

The reason clothing design is not protected under copyright or trademark law in the United States is that it is considered foremost as a utilitarian item, not an artistic expression or scientific invention. (Logos, however, and some design signatures — like the three stripes on Adidas track suits — are protected from copying under trademark statutes.)

But the designers' trade group argues that the legal principle exempting fashion from copyright protection — a 200-year-old idea that useful objects should be unregulated to encourage the growth of industry — is outdated in this era of sophisticated mass copying.

"The whole underpinning of that 200-year-old law of functionality was to promote creativity and innovation," said Alain Coblence, a lawyer hired by the Council of Fashion Designers and by fashion trade groups in Paris and Milan, which also promote the legislation. "Yet the situation is exactly the reverse because designers now must ask what is the incentive to innovate if you know your creation is going to be stolen within days and your designs are going to be used before you have a chance to use them for yourself?"

Although designers have occasionally pursued cases of design piracy in court, only the most egregious cases have been successful. In 1980 a federal appellate court held that a pair of belt buckles by the accessories designer Barry Kieselstein-Cord were not ordinary buckles but had reached the level of creative art. (A dissenting judge argued, "Innovations of form are inseparable from the more important function they serve — helping to keep the tops of trousers at waist level.")

European laws have been more favorable to designers, although with tangled results. Yves Saint Laurent sued Ralph Lauren in 1994 in a Paris court over Mr. Lauren's design of a tuxedo dress. Mr. Lauren was found guilty of copying and fined roughly $300,000. At the same time a Saint Laurent executive was found guilty of denigrating Mr. Lauren's character and fined $90,000.

In 2002 the European Union adopted a more uniform regulation protecting designers from member countries. Mr. Coblence said the impetus for lobbying Congress now came from meetings with French and Italian designers who wanted similar standards applied to their work in the United States. He took the idea to the fashion design council, which readily signed on.

Copying has been embedded in American fashion since the beginning of mass production of ready-to-wear designs. From the 1930's to the 60's, buyers from American department stores would attend haute-couture shows in Paris and purchase original patterns, taking them home to be mass-produced. Regular couture clients like Babe Paley and Nan Kempner used to arrive in limousines, along with women who took the subway, at Orbach's on West 34th Street to see its twice annual "couture adaptation" shows.

But Mr. Coblence and American designers argue that the globalization of fashion needs a different perspective on copycats from their glamorized portrayal in the 1963 movie "A New Kind of Love," in which Joanne Woodward went to Paris on such a buying trip.

Some trademark lawyers believe they have a case. "People now have more disposable income," said Deborah Wilcox, a chairwoman of the intellectual property practice of Baker Hostetler in Cleveland. "You don't need to clothe yourself just for warmth. This is one area that has stood out that has not had protection that seems close to other areas that do have protection."

Gela Taylor, one of the designers of Juicy Couture, whose luxury sweat suits have been much knocked off, said she planned to visit Washington from Los Angeles next month to push for the bill.

"I don't think anybody's naïve about this," Ms. Taylor said. "Fashion is a strange and ephemeral thing. But this proposal is for people who are not inspired by anything but looking for an easy way to make money."

Cargo–Ergo Sum:

I Shop, Therefore I Am So Bummed!

By: Tom Scocca, Gabriel Sherman
New York Observer

In the ideal world of shopping, there are no failed products; there are only failed consumers. “My feeling is, we were ahead of our time,” said Ariel Foxman, editor of the suddenly defunct Cargo magazine.

Mr. Foxman was on the phone from his 15th-floor office at 4 Times Square on March 28, 24 hours after Condé Nast editorial director Tom Wallace called him in to terminate the two-year-old magazine.

“I was shocked,” Mr. Foxman said. “I think the first question I asked Tom was ‘What will happen to our readers?’”

Yes, the readers …. When Cargo was launched, following the success of its all-products, no-stories older sister, Lucky, the question was whether it could properly be said to have readers at all. Cargo would be the magazine distilled—debased?—to its commercial essence: pages to flip, full of products to sell, with no wordy feature hole to break the flow.

Yet Mr. Foxman, 32, believed there was something to it, something real.

“It was never a men’s shopping magazine,” Mr. Foxman said. (Each issue included a sheet of page-marking stickers reading “BUY” or “SAVE.”) “It was a magazine that helped guys figure out the things they would need.” (September 2005: “These jeans reverse from a dark blue rinse on one side to a light gray-blue on the other.”) “It never identified with metrosexuals.” (November 2005: “I would love to find a cleaner, less painful depilation process—and maybe sugaring will do the trick.”)

Cargo could never quite find its identity. Was it gay or straight? Aspirational or achievable? Should the cover have an average Joe, a woman shirtless under a vest, a man shirtless under a vest, or Jeremy Piven? Should the readers wear their collars “not flipped up please” (May ’05) or so that the “collar pop gets noticed” (March ’06)?

“This is a lifestyle magazine, and we looked at the world through the prism of product and services,” Mr. Foxman said. “I know there are 400,000-plus readers out there whose life is organized around ways they spend their money and time. That’s modern. What’s modern is ahead of its time.”

Cargo in certain ways was ahead of its time: It reported the absinthe revival, for instance, nine months before The New Yorker did. Mr. Foxman’s “prism of products and services” has become, for the magazine-reading and -writing population, the dominant point of view: an unselfconscious materialism—not in the old popular sense of greedy acquisitiveness, but in the sense of acquisitiveness as a state of being. One’s existence is constituted in commercial objects. New York magazine constructs a sociology around the phenomenon of grown adults wearing $250 jeans; Cargo simply profiled the jeans.

When the iPod Nano came out, Cargo commemorated the event by printing a list of 1,000 download-available songs—a complete Nano’s worth, pre-selected for readers’ purchase, in alphabetical order by title. “0702 Round and Round—Ratt, 0703 ’Round Midnight—Miles Davis, 0704 Roxanne—The Police.” Stuff to buy is stuff to buy.

Some of the stuff was weird enough or disturbing enough to linger: a plywood laptop bag, a bamboo ski helmet. A March 2006 page of men’s briefs—$225 totem-printed short-shorts, filmy $80 Pradas—was a sort of shock object that could cause viewers to flinch or giggle uncontrollably.

And the Cargo argot had a way of sticking in the mind’s ear. In attempting to revive the double-breasted jacket for everyday wear, the magazine insistently dubbed it the “DB.”

Advertisers were less entranced. According to the most recent Publishers Information Bureau figures, ad pages declined in February by 32 percent compared to the same period the last year. The magazine got notably skinnier.

But at the magazine, staffers said business had seemed to remain as usual. As late as last week, Cargo had extended job offers to a new Web editor and a senior editor. It was scheduled to relocate from its 15th-floor space, split with Bon Appétit, to the eighth floor.

And last spring, in a seeming vote of confidence in Mr. Foxman, Condé Nast secured the loan for him to buy a West Village apartment, according to city records.

But on March 27, Mr. Wallace summoned the staff to the conference room and told them that the market did not support publishing the magazine. The May issue, with Jonathan Rhys Meyers on the cover, will make it to newsstands; the June edition, a week from closing, will not be published. The 40-person staff will be out of work by March 31.

Qualified staffers are eligible to apply for open positions within the company. According to a source with knowledge of the proceedings, staffers will get three weeks’ pay for each full year of service, and will get three months of continued health insurance.

Condé Nast had already closed another shopping title, Vitals, back in September. And with the successful launch of Men’s Vogue, Cargo’s niche in the men’s market appeared to get even tighter.

“The decision about Cargo was not made based on Men’s Vogue,” Condé Nast spokesperson Maurie Perl said. “They were made independent of each other.”

In some ways, Cargo operated very much like a Condé Nast book. According to current and former staffers, the magazine shared the profligate sensibilities of its brethren, in the spirit of the late editorial director Alexander Liberman.

“There was no feeling you would reach a bottom with the budget,” a former staffer said. “Some people treated it like a blank check.”

For a spread on ski gear, then, the magazine did a photo shoot in the mountains of New Zealand. A casual-wear spread was photographed on the streets of Shanghai. One former staffer recalled a last-minute decision to add more plasma TV models to a spread for aesthetic reasons at the request of then Condé Nast editorial director James Truman—requiring Cargo to buy them retail and review them on deadline.

But in other respects, Cargo was out of sync with Condé Nast’s sensibilities. It could never find a cover strategy, and when it settled on the tried-and-true celebrity cover, the subjects were more B-list than usual Condé fare: Matchbox 20 front man Rob Thomas (November 2005), Olympic skier Jeremy Bloom (February 2006) and Mr. Piven (March 2006).

“The celebrity focus has to do with attracting new readers to the magazine,” Mr. Foxman said. But, he said, “the business plan is a lot more sophisticated than that.”

Mr. Foxman said he hasn’t made plans yet for his post-Cargo life, and is sifting through fan letters and preparing for a family vacation in Florida.

“As an editor, you are the reader’s advocate,” Mr. Foxman said. “We remained an advocate for our readers, and what the readers wanted. Today I’m getting e-mails from perfect strangers from across the country saying that they read in the newspaper that Cargo is closing and how disappointed they are.”

Condé Nast has announced that Cargo subscribers will receive GQ for the remainder of their subscriptions. Through a spokesperson, GQ editor in chief Jim Nelson welcomed Cargo’s bereft readers.

“We’ll work hard to earn the loyalty of those new readers, and hopefully we’ll be able to give them something of what they looked for and came to respect in Cargo,” he said.

The March edition of GQ features an item urging men to consider wearing “subtle pleats on slim cut-pants” such as a $425 pair from Miu Miu. Another page instructs readers “How to Pull Off Workwear (Without Looking Like a Tool)”: “If you buy one of Carhartt’s iconic zip-front jackets, get it a size smaller than you normally would—it’ll be trim and snug, the way you want it.”

SouthPark mall's latest tenant is local


CHARLOTTE - SouthPark mall is getting a new tenant, but it's a well-known Charlotte name.

Paul Simon Co., a 31-year-old men's apparel retailer, will move its Morrocroft store to the new Village of SouthPark under construction at the corner of Sharon Road and Morrison Boulevard.

The new 4,000-square-foot store, about 1,000 square feet larger than the Morrocroft location, will be across from a Crate & Barrel to open this fall.

Paul Simon Co.'s men's and women's apparel stores in Myers Park Shopping Center will continue operating from there.

At the Village of SouthPark, owner Paul Simon will be facing a battery of national retailers, but he's not intimidated.

The SouthPark area store operated in the mall for 10 years before moving to Morrocroft. "We're excited to get a little more exposure," he said.

Paul Simon Co.'s advantage is personal service, Simon said. "We really hone in on a particular customer. We really know our demographic," he said. "Sometimes we have three generations, and we have had four shopping here."

The new store will have a made-to-measure department and include a coffee bar and lounge with amenities such as high definition television.

Fryday & Doyne Architecture/Interior Design designed the interior with elegant stone, glass and wood elements. It also includes high ceilings to increase natural light for selecting fabrics, colors and textures.

The Village of SouthPark store is to open in spring 2007.

Trans World starts switch of Sam Goody mall stores

Alan Wechsler
Albany Times Union

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Trans World Entertainment Corp. will soon begin changing the names of mall-based Sam Goody stores to FYE, the company's signature retail store.

A week ago, the Albany-based music, video and games retailer won approval in U.S. Bankruptcy Court to buy 400 stores from Musicland Holding Corp. for $104 million. Musicland owns Sam Goody and Suncoast stores.

Trans World will keep 345 of the stores open around the country and close 55.
Sam Goody has about 90 mall stores. Trans World will hold off on changing the name of the free-standing Sam Goody locations, said Chief Financial Officer John Sullivan.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Poll: Americans See, Hear More Profanity

By JOCELYN NOVECK, AP National Writer

This is a story about words we can't print in this story.

You probably hear these words often, and more than ever before. But even though we can't print them — we do have our standards — we can certainly ask: Are we living in an Age of Profanity?

Nearly three-quarters of Americans questioned last week — 74 percent — said they encounter profanity in public frequently or occasionally, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll. Two-thirds said they think people swear more than they did 20 years ago. And as for, well, the gold standard of foul words, a healthy 64 percent said they use the F-word — ranging from several times a day (8 percent) to a few times a year (15 percent).

Just ask Joe Cormack. Like any bartender, Cormack, of Fort Dodge, Iowa, hears a lot of talk. He's not really offended by bad language — heck, he uses it himself every day. But sometimes, a customer will unleash the F-word so many times, Cormack just has to jump in.

"Do you have any idea how many times you've just said that?" he reports saying from time to time. "I mean, if I take that out of your vocabulary, you've got nothin!'"

And it's not just at the bar. Or on TV. (Or on the Senate floor, for that matter, where Vice President Dick Cheney used the F-word in a heated argument two years ago.)

At the community college where Cormack studies journalism, students will occasionally inject foul language into classroom discussions. Irene Kramer, a grandmother in Scranton, Pa., gets her ears singed when passing by the high school near her home.

"What we hear, it's gross," says Kramer, 67. "I tell them, 'I have a dictionary and a Roget's Thesaurus, and I don't see any of those words in there!' I don't understand why these parents allow it."

For Kramer, a major culprit is television. "Do I have to be insulted right there in my own home?" she asks. "I'm not going to pay $54 a month for cable and listen to that garbage." And yet she feels it's not a lost cause. "If people say 'Look, I don't want you talking that way,' if they demand it, it's going to have to change."

In that battle, Kramer has a willing comrade: Judith Martin, who writes the syndicated Miss Manners column.

"Is it inevitable?" Martin asked in a recent interview. "Well, if it were inevitable I wouldn't be doing my job." The problem, she says, is that people who are offended aren't speaking up about it.

"Everybody is pretending they aren't shocked," Martin says, "and gradually people WON'T be shocked. And then those who want to be offensive will find another way."

Perhaps not surprisingly, profanity seems to divide people by age and by gender.

Younger people admit to using bad language more often than older people; they also encounter it more and are less bothered by it. The AP-Ipsos poll showed that 62 percent of 18 to 34-year-olds acknowledged swearing in conversation at least a few times a week, compared to 39 percent of those 35 and older.

More women than men said they encounter people swearing more now than 20 years ago — 75 percent, compared to 60 percent. Also, more women said they were bothered by profanity — 74 percent at least some of the time — than men (60 percent.) And more men admitted to swearing: 54 percent at least a few times a week, compared to 39 percent of women.

Wondering specifically about the F-word? (For the record, we needed special dispensation from our bosses just to say 'F-word.') Thirty-two percent of men said they used it at least a few times a week, compared to 23 percent of women.

"That word doesn't even mean what it means anymore," says Larry Riley of Warren, Mich. "It has just become part of the culture." Riley admits to using the F-word a few times a week. And his wife? "She never swears."

A striking common note among those interviewed, swearers or not: They don't like it when people swear for no good reason.

Darla Ramirez, for example, says she hates hearing the F-word "when people are just having a plain old conversation." The 40-year-old housewife from Arlington, Texas, will hear "people talking about their F-ing car, or their F-ing job. I'll hear it walking down the street, or at the shopping mall, or at Wal-Mart.

"What they do it their own home is their business, but when I'm out I don't need to hear people talking trashy," Ramirez says. She admits to swearing about once a month — but not the F-word.

And Donnell Neal of Madison Lake, Minn., notes how she'll hear the F-word used as a mere form of emphasis, as in: "That person scared the f--- out of me!" Neal, 26, who works with disabled adults, says she swears only in moments of extreme frustration, "like if someone cuts me off when I'm driving, or if I'm carrying something and someone shuts the door in my face." Even then, she says, she'll likely use "milder cuss words" — and never at work.

The AP poll questioned 1,001 adults on March 20-22, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

For those who might find the results depressing, there's possibly a silver lining: Many of those who swear think it's wrong nonetheless.

Like Steven Price, a security guard in Tonawanda, N.Y., who admits to using swear words — including the F-word, several times a day — with colleagues or buddies, "like any old word."

Price, 31, still gets mad at himself for doing it, worries about the impact of profanity (especially from TV) on his children, and regrets the way things have evolved since he was a kid.

"As I get older, the more things change," says Price. "And I kind of wish they had stayed the same."

Dubious greetings

Hallmark’s rejects not forgotten

Associated Press Writer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Some were sent away for being too profane, others for making snide comments at inopportune times. Now the greeting cards that never made it to the stores hang solemnly on a wall at Hallmark Cards Inc.

For employees at Hallmark’s Shoebox division who make their living writing humorous greetings, only a small fraction of their work does end up as cards for birthdays, holidays and special occasions. The best of the rest are brought to their final resting place — a giant fabric “NO” along one office wall.

“It could be that it’s highly inappropriate. It could be that it feels like too much of an internal joke,” said Sarah Tobaben, an editorial director for Shoebox. “We want to write for the mainstream while taking some appropriate risks.”

Hallmark introduced its Shoebox line of irreverent cards 20 years ago this spring and says it has sold more than 2 billion since. Most days since the line’s inception, card writers have been given an assignment to develop ideas for a specific category. They typically write them on blank 3-inch-by-5-inch index cards, folded to resemble a miniature greeting, and then they’re tried out on co-workers in a roundtable read-off.

“I think sometimes the air gets sucked out of the room by something I’ve written,” said Dan Taylor, a Shoebox stylist — the highest title bestowed on card writers. “It’s actually beyond silence.”

Those that elicit no laughter are eliminated; in all, an estimated 10 percent to 20 percent make the first cut. Editors whittle surviving ideas even further to come up with the line. Bill Gray, another Shoebox stylist, said in his 18 years writing cards he’s come up with about 80,000 ideas, of which 13,000 made it past his peers and about 7,000 ultimately became cards.

Those that have earned a chuckle but not a nod to become a card are marked “FBN” for “Funny, But No” — a designation that has become a sort of badge of honor among writers.

“It starts with funny,” Taylor said. “That’s good.”

With rejects roughly outnumbering winners 10 to one, there are plenty of FBNs to go around.

Among the losers is a holiday card that announces on its face, “Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without peanut brittle.” Then, inside: “Or Jesus.”

And the drawing of a couple cuddling on a living room couch with a friendly bearded man, wearing a robe, sandals and a turban. The woman blurts: “Honey, this Afghan your mom gave us is really warm!”

Then there’s a questionable get-well card with a big happy face on the front. On the inside, it reads, “Hi! Welcome back from your coma!”

Tobaben said rejecting the ideas doesn’t mean they’re not funny, it just means editors were skeptical of their selling power. “It comes down to, ‘Would I send this?’ ” she said.

Editors say the lines on what is appropriate are continually redrawn. No subjects are deemed completely off-limits, but Hallmark’s line provides clues of some boundaries.

Off-color language is seldom used. Politics are typically avoided. And national security has become a more delicate subject since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“Almost everything is offensive to someone,” said Rachel Bolton, a company spokeswoman. “But we try not to cross the line into blatantly offensive. That’s not what most people want.”

Marn Jensen, a creative director at Hallmark who oversees lines including Shoebox, said consumers have shown an interest in humor that is more positive than may have been popular five or 10 years ago, when sarcastic, biting, even mean-spirited messages sold well. She said that shift hasn’t been easy for writers.

“It’s a little trickier to be funny and positive and happy and light,” Jensen said.

Still, Taylor said he and his colleagues put all good-taste restrictions aside and simply brainstorm.

“It’s better to just write the funniest thing you can think of,” he said.

Sometimes, those ideas banished to the FBN graveyard are resurrected, but it’s a rarity. And while writers sometimes have a hard time saying goodbye to a favorite entry, Gray is unsentimental about his fallen friends.

“They’re just jokes. If the ones I write today don’t make it there’s always tomorrow,” he said. “I forget them pretty fast once they’re done.”


Here’s a sample of Hallmark’s rejected greeting card ideas:

Front: “Spread some holiday cheer.” Inside: “Or drink alone. Who am I to judge?”

Front: “My ex-girlfriend had a cat named Love because she said that’s what it gave her.”
Inside: “So I called it Bloody Forearms. Hope no one gets you a cat for your birthday.”

Front: “I wanted to give you a body piercing for your birthday.”
Inside: “But I didn’t think I could get you drunk enough to where you wouldn’t feel the stapler!”

Front: “Did I hear wedding bells?”
Inside: “Or was that the natural disaster siren? Sometimes I get them confused. Whatever it was, it was loud. Congratulations ... or take cover!”

Front: “Marriage is a bond that is unbreakable except by two-thirds of the population.” Inside: “But it’s you top-third couples that give the rest of us hope.”

Front: “When I think of you, Mom, I swell with pride.” Inside: “At least I hope it’s pride. Otherwise, I’m pregnant again.”

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

N.C. Mom Accused in Kidnap, Impersonation

By MARTHA WAGGONER, Associated Press Writer

ROANOKE RAPIDS, N.C. (AP) -- A mother charged with abducting her two children was accused of posing as a man while on the run, and authorities say the heavyset woman with cropped hair and a slight mustache even had the kids calling her "Daddy."

Shellie White, 30, said it was all a misunderstanding, claiming in a jail interview with The Associated Press that she never tried to hide her identity or change her appearance.

White was arrested in Roanoke Rapids on Friday, more than two years after she allegedly took her children from Arizona. Investigators said she and another woman were living together as the children's father and mother.

In a statement, the U.S. Marshals Service said White had "radically changed her appearance to that of a man."

"She even went so far as to tell her children, aged 3 and 5 at the time, that she was their father," the Marshals Service said. "When she was arrested, the children, now aged 6 and 8, asked why they were arresting their Daddy."

Authorities said that White had posed as her husband and had used other male aliases while on the run.

She is 5-foot-9 and 280 pounds, wears her hair closely cropped and has a slight mustache and stubble. She blamed the facial hair on a hormone disorder. White said she had considered a sex-change operation, but decided against it because of the cost and denied it was part of any scheme to avoid police.

White said she made no effort to persuade her children she was their father. She admitted telling her 6-year-old son to tell children at his school she was his father, but said that was only because they teased him about her appearance.

White's 8-year-old daughter, Erica, said the children had to refer to White as a man "because he told us to call him Daddy and dads are mostly 'hes.'"

White was living with a woman named Holly Sirois. When they first met, the children called White their "Mommy," Sirois said. "But progressively, over time, they started calling her Dad," she said. "I don't know why they started doing it. They just did."

Sirois said that when she and White were out in public, people assumed they saw a man and a woman.

White agreed to be returned to Arizona to face charges of custodial interference. Her ex-husband, Ernest Karnes, said he and White had joint custody of the children at the time of their disappearance.

He and his current wife flew from their home in Globe, Ariz., to North Carolina on Sunday to seek custody of the children, Dustin, now 6, and Erica, 8. They picked up the children Monday in Roanoke Rapids and planned to return to Arizona on Wednesday.

White denied she stole her children and insisted she had legal authority to move with them.

Authorities were able to trace the children to various schools, but always came up empty because White "wouldn't keep them in a school no more than maybe six months," said Sheriff's Detective Johnny Holmes of Gila County, Ariz.

Karnes said the break came when a bill collector led detectives to the home in Roanoke Rapids, about 85 miles northeast of Raleigh.

"I was eating dinner," Karnes said. "I dropped my plate. They said 'We've got her.' ... I'm pretty sure at that point, I broke down crying."

Target to Launch New Bath & Body Department

Chain Store Age

MINNEAPOLIS - Target Corp. said it plans to launch a new bath and body department nationwide this month. Target Bath & Body will have an expansive collection of new and exclusive products and accessories and will feature tester units and category signage in an easy-to-shop environment.

Papa John’s Offers Pizza 24/7 via On-Line Ordering

Chain Store Age

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Papa John's is the first national pizza company to offer 24/7 on-line ordering. Customers logging on to its site can now plan ahead and order by specifying the date and time of delivery or carryout order, up to 21 days in advance.

The company's research and test results confirm that many customers like to order in the morning or shortly after arriving at work to take care of their meal planning for the day. Before launching this 24/7 platform, on-line ordering was only available during restaurant operating hours.

In 2005, Papa John's on-line orders grew by 50% from the year before. Papa John's spent more than $1 million to convert its on-line ordering system to one that would accommodate orders 24/7.

goodbye dave

I had to let another one go.

My obsessive-compulsive friend Dave has worked on my last nerve so I blocked him on IM last night. This is the same friend from “Do my Timberland boots make me look hip-hop?”

I've tried to help him through his personal problems and tried to be a friend to him, but all I get is nonsense and obstinence in return.

I don’t need an abusive idiot telling me what to do. That's exactly what he was trying to do. He likes to tell people off and instead of him treating me like a friend, he'd rather seethe in his room and try to make moral pronouncements about the world and beat me down if my opinions varied from his in the least.

I had become fearful of even going on IM because I knew that no matter what time it was, Dave would be there. Waiting. Watching. Judging.

So at first I took him off my buddy list. He still kept writng. I tried to be short with him. He couldn’t take the hint. I discussed what was wrong at length. No phase of understanding. No modicum of empathy. Just anger and martyrdom.

So I blocked him. And he signed on under another name and watched me, presumably all night, talk to my other friends. He waited for what he thought was just the right moment and tried to confront me with it.

That was the last straw. The second IM identity was blocked as well.

I’m done.

If you read this, Dave, have a nice life. Please just leave me alone for now. I don’t want to talk about this any further.

Conde Nast to close Cargo magazine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Conde Nast Publications said on Monday it will stop publishing Cargo magazine with its May issue.

The magazine publisher said it believed the market would not support its business expectations for Cargo, a buyer's guide for men featuring the latest in men's fashion, culture, technology and cars. It was launched in March of 2004 with a ratebase of 300,000. The magazine now has a ratebase of 400,000.

Subscribers to Cargo will receive GQ magazine for the remainder of their subscriptions.

say goodbye

The barricades are up, and the desecration (expansion and renovation) of Dillard's SouthPark has begun. (upper photo by RiverwoodCLT, lower photo by me)

New grown-ups love old '80s cartoons

Matt Friedman
Columbia News Service

Not long ago, a 26-year-old woman went wild when she met Samantha Newark, the voice of a glam-rocking cartoon character named Jem who captivated little girls in the 1980s in the show "Jem and the Holograms." The fan jumped up and down. She laughed.

"She actually started to cry," said Newark, now a singer/songwriter in southern California. Newark is getting used to evoking strong emotions from many former little girls--and some former little boys--who grew up in the last great age of cheesy TV cartoons, before children got networks of their own with fancy production values. "Pretty much every person who finds out that I was the voice of Jem flips out," Newark said.

As today's young adults leave college or toil away at jobs with uncertain futures, many are retreating to the familiar bosom of childhood nostalgia. As this new generation--not quite X, not quite Y--comes of age, their obscure pop culture heroes are beginning to inch aside the baby boom favorites that still dominate America's cultural conversation.

Fans in their 20s are spending big bucks on their childhood fixations, buying out-of-print "Jem and the Holograms" DVDs for as much as $100. They're hosting conventions dedicated to their favorite cartoons. Writers are dropping references to '80s characters into the new shows they're creating for the Cartoon Network, knowing they will strike chords with the young guys (mostly) who tune in.

At Love Saves the Day, a store that sells retro collectables in Manhattan, you can still find Elvis lunchboxes and Daffy Duck toys. But another bunch of posable figures that might draw a blank with the boomers are ever so gradually claiming shelf space.

Here are the ThunderCats, a team of part-cat, part-humanoid aliens who fought evil on a planet called Third Earth during their syndication from 1985 to 1987. He-man, a Norse-looking prince who first aired in 1983, looks poised to jump off his shelf and resume battling the evil Skeletor. And don't forget She-ra, He-man's sister from another dimension who fought on behalf of the 10-and-under female demographic in 1985 and in reruns for many years after. In a store that's sort of a retirement home for kids' shows, these figures are its youngest senior citizens.

Kevin Stecko feels the '80s cartoon wave coming on strong. The 28-year-old from Adamsburg, Pa., runs the Web site. He began in 2000 by selling only He-Man, ThunderCats and Transformers T-shirts. Now, he sells more that $3 million worth of shirts each year that feature '80s cartoon icons, including My Little Pony and GI Joe. Stecko himself was a huge He-man fan as a kid.

"When I watch it now, it's absolutely horrible," Stecko said of the show, a mix of corny dialogue and cheap animation. "But something about it captured my imagination." And now, he said, "It's basically a way back to a simpler time."

The rediscovery of the cartoon heroes was fueled by the DVD releases of "Transformers" in 2002, "Jem and the Holograms" in 2004 and "ThunderCats" in 2005. The first "Jem and the Holograms" annual convention was held last year in Minneapolis.

Jean Marie, a 26-year-old sales clerk at a comic book store in Manhattan, often gets together with friends to celebrate '80s nights. They watch DVD cartoons and popular kids' movies like "Labyrinth" from 1986, featuring David Bowie as the Goblin King. Marie says her mother threw out most of her childhood toys, but now she collects original and reissued action figures. She has about 1,000, including ThunderCats and She-ra.

Marie likes to buy doubles. "When I have kids I want to give the other one to my child," she said. She has about 13 crates packed full and piled high in her bedroom. "If there was an earthquake, she'd be trapped," said her friend, Meaghan Curran, 20.

Alex Weitzman, a 23-year-old recent college graduate and aspiring voiceover actor from Orange, Calif., considers the late '80s and early '90s to be the "second renaissance" of animation. During that period, there were huge movie hits, including "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin." There were also memorably well-drawn television shows, including "DuckTales" and "Batman: the Animated Series."

But many of the shows that garner affection lacked technical elan, to say the least. He-man, She-ra, ThunderCats and Jem were created in part to hock toys. Jem, for instance, went off the air after Mattel released a rock star Barbie to compete and Jem dolls stopped selling. Perhaps 20-somethings still cherish most what their parents scorned.

Weitzman says he is like many of his friends, uncertain about his job prospects and security. He says he enjoys the cartoons because they take him back to the times when "your mom brought back the food." He added, "You didn't need to worry about getting a house because you just had a house."

Matt Thompson, the co-creator of "Sealab 2021," a quirky cartoon series that currently airs at night on the Cartoon Network, knows the appeal of retro cartoons to his audience. He's currently working on a new show called "Frisky Dingo," which he says will reference '80s cartoons to appeal to his prime viewing demographic of young males.

"I'm pulling a lot of references from GI Joe, and I'm doing it on purpose," Thompson said. "I'm constantly watching what I think the next generation watched."

But it's far from certain that kids' shows from the '80s and '90s will have the same staying power as those of earlier generations.

Before cable television, when there were fewer channels, family members watched the same programming. "Even if (a show) wasn't aimed at you, you saw it," said Bob Thompson, director of Syracuse University's Center for the Study of Popular Television and no relation to Matt Thompson. "Everyone was feeding from the same cultural trough."

During the childhood of today's 20-somethings, cable television entered a majority of American households for the first time. Parents and children, Bob Thompson said, were more likely to watch different shows.

Nevertheless, the sheer size of what some call the "echo boom" generation means that their longing for childhood favorites will be fed by nostalgia merchants for years to come, according to writer and cultural historian Thomas Hine.

"You're a member of the largest generation since the baby boom," Hine said. "You're getting flattered for that reason."

The Heart of Honky-Tonk

Buck Owens and Bakersfield, In the Middle of Our Country

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer

Buck Owens, who died early Saturday at his ranch north of Bakersfield, Calif., at 76, was on the crest of a late-blooming second act when he came to the Birchmere in 1989. One of country's biggest, most charismatic stars in the 1960s and early '70s, he'd stopped recording and touring for a decade before his No. 1 fan, newcomer and neo-traditionalist Dwight Yoakam, helped pull him back into the spotlight with a chart-topping duet of "Streets of Bakersfield."

It was in Bakersfield's blue-collar juke joints that Owens and his onetime bass player Merle Haggard had fine-tuned a hard-core honky-tonk sound informed by the energy and edge of rockabilly and rock-and-roll and defined by their authoritative, emotion-drenched vocals. Dubbed the "Bakersfield sound," it was a flat-out rejection of the smoothed-out, string-laden, pop-driven "Nashville sound" that ruled in the '50s as country music eschewed its rural roots to go uptown.

When Owens stepped away from performing in 1979, one of the main reasons had been that country music was once again softening in its eagerness to court pop and rock crossover audiences.

Fortunately, Owens wasn't hurting financially. As he'd piled up the hits -- including 20 No. 1's and 30 more that entered the Top 10 -- Owens had made smart investments in real estate, music publishing and management, a recording studio and television station -- as well as a pair of radio stations, one in his adopted home. Problem was, listeners were calling and asking those stations to "play less Buck Owens, Dwight Yoakam, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Jr. and other artists like that," Owens recalled with glee during his 1989 stop here. Apparently those listeners had no idea who owned the stations.

So, Owens asked, "Do I play raucous honky-tonk music, raw with that edge and gusto, or do I take the edge off, soften up the songs, change the instrumentation and be something that I ain't?"

For the man whose first No. 1 had been the insistent "Act Naturally," to be something he "ain't" was never an option. "We ought to get those people rockin' chairs, put 'em out back with some old Eddy Arnold records and say, 'Here you are, baby, now turn my radio station off. Don't be listening to me. I don't want to play for you.' "

"Act Naturally" (written by Johnny Russell) was about a poor soul who envisions becoming a big movie star by being cast as "a man who's sad and lonely, and all I gotta do is act naturally. . . . Might win an Oscar, you can never tell."

Ironically, it would be the smaller screen of television that impacted Owens's life, and not necessarily for the better. In 1969, he'd already scored his most important hits -- "Love's Gonna Live Here," "I've Got a Tiger by the Tail," "Together Again," "Waitin' in Your Welfare Line," "Before You Go," "My Heart Skips a Beat" -- when he teamed with singer-guitarist Roy Clark to host "Hee Haw," a country-style "Laugh-In" that mixed music and corny hayseed humor. CBS, embarrassed by the "hillbilly" connections of that show and sitcoms "The Beverly Hillbillies" and "Green Acres," dumped "Hee Haw" after two years, but it continued in first-run syndication until 1993 -- the longest-running syndicated show in television history.

Sadly, "Hee Haw's" popularity, in many ways, would diminish Owens's musical credibility, which he conceded in his Washington visit.

"Early on, I was doing three songs in an hour, and at that time all my songs were hits. It slowly gravitated to the point where I did a hell of a lot of comedy and hardly any music," Owens recalled. "But they paid me a lot of money to do that show, so I more or less looked the other way, winked and thought, 'Well, I don't have to be out in some lonely little hotel room tonight, I'll take the money and run.' "

In fact, he kept clowning on what he called "a show of fat old men and pretty young girls" until 1986.

Born Alvis Edgar Owens in Sherman, Tex., Owens grew up in Mesa, Ariz., mostly because that's where the family trailer broke down in 1937 during the Dust Bowl migration. As a child, Owens worked cotton and maize fields, taking the name Buck from a well-liked mule and proving almost as stubborn in teaching himself various musical instruments, although it would be guitar that provided Owens's calling card and entry into the music business.

By the late '40s, Bakersfield, a booming farm and oil town heavily populated by Texas and Oklahoma transplants, had developed a thriving honky-tonk scene, and Owens moved there in 1950 to try to make a better living.

It was the Bakersfield jukes that shaped his hard-driving sound, which he once described as "like a freight train coming into your living room." To be heard in noisy venues, bands had to play loud and long, with an emphasis on danceable music.

That's when Owens replaced the hollow-body Gibson electric favored by country guitarists with a relatively new solid-body Fender Telecaster that gave him a sharper, tougher, twangier sound. "You played what it took to bring the people in," he explained. "They wanted rhythm, they wanted to dance. . . . That's more or less where the frenetic-type energy comes from in my songs."

At a time when country singers were expected to go to Nashville and sing over tracks laid down by stolid session players and saccharine string sections, Owens insisted on recording on the West Coast with his own band so there would be no difference between the sound of his records and the sound of his shows. Named the Buckaroos by short-term bassist Merle Haggard, they were considered the best little band in country music, in great part because of guitarist, fiddler and high harmony singer Don Rich, whose death at 32, in 1974 in a motorcycle accident, devastated Owens.

By the end of the decade, country music had changed again, or as Owens might have put it, "gone soft" again, and he wanted no part of it.

Thankfully, Yoakam invited Owens to join him onstage at a local county fair in 1987. The next January, they sang "Streets of Bakersfield" on the Country Music Association's 30th-anniversary television show, and the subsequent recording became Owens's first No. 1 single in 16 years.

Unlike many of his peers, Owens didn't focus on the drinking or fighting side of honky-tonk, but on matters of the heart. His longest-running No. 1 hit, "Love's Gonna Live Here," was not about maudlin regret over lost love but insistent affirmation of its return. His greatest ballad, "Together Again," was a joyful celebration.

That song's enduring grace was emphasized when Owens and Emmylou Harris enjoyed a 1979 duet hit with "Play 'Together Again' Again." Owens even revisited "Act Naturally" in 1989 with Ringo Starr, who'd sung it as a Beatle in 1964, a year after Owens's original topped the charts.

Still, even as new audiences got to see Owens not as the former "Hee Haw" star but as a pioneer and master of hard-country and honky-tonk, he never regained the heights he'd known. And Owens seemed quite fine with that, enjoying his status at 60 as a living legend and elder statesman, mentoring a new generation of singers and pickers in uncompromised art.

In 1996, the same year Owens was voted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, he opened Buck Owens' Crystal Palace, a restaurant, nightclub and museum complex on Buck Owens Drive in Bakersfield. Most Friday and Saturday nights, Owens played two shows there.

Yesterday, a Crystal Palace phone recording still listed Buck Owens and His Buckaroos as appearing on the weekend. In Bakersfield, it might be down to memorabilia and collectibles now, but for more than four decades, Buck Owens was a main attraction like no other.

Monday, March 27, 2006

a pop quiz

Mitch tipped me off to the Personal DNA quiz. I'd say my results are fairly accurate:

You are a Generous Director.

About You:You are a Director:

As a DIRECTOR, you combine an unusual openness and passion for beauty and style with confidence and a down-to-earth sensibility that allow you to realize your vision.

You are practical and pay attention to the details that others tend to miss.

By focusing on what is real and concrete, you achieve more than those who always have their heads in the clouds.

When it comes to what really matters in your life, you are confident in your ability to succeed.

Having beautiful things in your life gives you pleasure and satisfaction - you have a keen eye for style.

Even when problems present themselves, deep down you know you will overcome these challenges.

When routines get too familiar, you become bored and start looking for ways to spice things up.

You are open to new types of experiences – you are not afraid to take a risk on something new.

You have a highly developed sense of taste – you know what looks good on you, in your home, and in the world at large.

You prefer to have time to plan for things, feeling better with a schedule than with keeping plans up in the air until the last minute.

You have a strong sense of style and value your personal presentation - friends may even seek your style advice from time to time.

If you want to be different:
Occasionally let yourself dream a little more, even if it doesn't seem practical or efficient.


How You Relate to Others: You are Generous:

Your awareness of those around you, along with your nuanced perceptions of the world at large, makes you the GENEROUS person that you are.

You value time to yourself and understand how rich your private world can be—you know that you don't have to go wild to have a good time.

You are excited and energized by ideas and often enjoy things more through observation than through experience.

This tendency gives you an appreciation for different perspectives and opinions about the world.

Being as aware of others as you are doesn't mean you find it easy to trust them immediately—this is something that happens more slowly for you.

Despite this, you are aware of the complexities of many situations and are reluctant to pass judgments on others.

Although you have fewer friendships than some people, those that you have are meaningful and are important to you.

You value spending time alone—it is while reflecting on the world around you that you often learn something new about yourself or begin to understand something that's been bothering you.

If you want to be different:
Given how attuned you are to others' thoughts and feelings, you might find that trusting people more is a way to broaden your perspective even further.

While you know how much can be learned from observing the world around you, remember that much of life can be lived by experiencing it, not just by understanding it.

march 16 article - blenheim in print

I mentioned this article a while back, but I just got a chance to scan it today.

Apostrophe 's': We'll add it to everything

By Jamesetta Walker
The Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, MS

Your spouse ended up at St. Dominic's after passing out when he saw your receipts from JCPenney's. He came to and reminded you there won't be any money to buy much-needed groceries at Kroger's.

Could that scenario really happen? I guess so, if there were such a place as a St. Dominic's, a JCPenney's and a Kroger's.

There aren't any such places. For some reason or another, there is a chip in the brain of a lot of us to add possession to the name of a business.

McRae's, however, was indeed named McRae's. Now, new signs have gone up and awareness letters have been mailed to customers.

McRae's is no more. The department store's new name is Belk.

It will take about 50 years for 50 percent of us to let go of the name McRae's. And for about 40 percent of the rest who attempt to go with the new name, the store still won't be called Belk.

It will be Belk's.

I was well into my 30s when I paid enough attention one day to the sign at a fave drug store.

I gasped. "I've been calling it Eckerd's all my life!" Plainly and simply enough, it was just Eckerd.


The possessive that tickles me most is one I first heard while living in Ohio. Some co-workers would say they shopped at Wal-Mart's.

Where on the moon is Wal-Mart's?

While I find the "S Factor" to be an interesting observation of culture, grammarian Gerry Cain of Ridgeland says the lack of attention to correct wording is more serious.

"I get frustrated," the former teacher and principal says. "(People) don't look.

"I believe people aren't as concerned with correct grammar or punctuation just as much as they are not concerned with our morals and our dress anymore."

Cain joined the local chapter of High Noon Toastmasters three years ago. The international group is dedicated to helping individuals improve speaking skills.

Although she deemed herself to be a pretty polished speaker, Cain said she was surprised at some of her language infractions. Change has been gradual.

"It has taken me three years. It hasn't happened overnight."


No joking: Once particular language becomes ingrained, it can take a while to shake.

And oh, I really do hope my hubby won't have to go to St. Dominic after seeing the JCPenney bill, because I do understand the kids need Pullups from Kroger and we need medicine from Eckerd.

Wait, hasn't Eckerd been CVS for a couple of years now?

Some women are head over heels for shoes

By Laura Elder
The Galveston County Daily News

GALVESTON, Tx. - When island resident Stephanie Vasut sees a fabulous pair of shoes, her pulse quickens and adrenaline flows.

“Shopping for shoes gets me so excited,” Vasut said. “I see a pretty pair of shoes and I get all worked up.”

Vasut is enamored with Jimmy Choo, a designer who can fetch $400 to $1,100 for a pair of shoes.

“When my husband sees those pale purple boxes, he gets all nervous,” Vasut said.



Vasut, 35, certainly isn’t the only woman to get pumped up about pumps or psyched about slingbacks.

Whether for Payless or Prada, last year consumers spent $20 billion on women’s footwear, according to The NPD Group. (That’s about equal to Honduras’ gross domestic product).

So what makes someone drop $92 for a pair of Nine West wedges or $4,500 for Louis Vuitton ostrich leather boots? Is it the hunt, the fairytale promises of prince-snagging slippers or just pure fun?

Meghan Cleary, author of “The Perfect Fit: What Your Shoes Say About You” (Chronicle Books, 2005) has some notions.

“My basic theory is that shoes, more than any other accessory we might put on our body, really indicate a woman’s state of mind and mood in the moment,” Cleary said. “You could be a Mary Jane girl on Tuesday morning and a stiletto girl on Friday night.”


What’s Your Shoe?

Some turn to astrology for answers. Cleary turns to “shoestrology,” on which her book elaborates.

Wear stilettos? “You move through the world with an über-confident horsey walk and are often found on a city street, hailing a cab while talking on your phone … ” said Cleary in her book. She also blogs about shoes on her Web site,

How about sneakers? “The sneaker girl is all about cool, but very accessible cool. Normally seen dashing about town, you always know the coolest music and films …”



Shoes are about form, function and architecture, said Cleary, a Manhattan resident. Their designs are fun to look at.

“It’s like a nice car you look at and say, ‘How fast does that go?’’’

A pair of shoes can be mood altering, she said.

And so can shopping for them, said Mary Chambers, director of planning and development for League City.

Dorothy used a pair of ruby slippers to get out of Oz. Chambers, 43, uses shoes for a different kind of escape.

“I go into the store and look at the shoes and try them on, and it really helps me leave everything behind,” Chambers said. “I like that aspect of it.”


The Shoedown

At one time, Chambers owned 120 pairs. She scaled back because of a knee problem.

Chambers searches for pairs in unusual colors and has a weakness for Michael Kors and Stuart Weitzman.

But her husband doesn’t always share her enthusiasm for shoes, she said. So she’s gotten good at hiding the evidence of a spree.

“The stores where I shop know I do not want the box so I can take them in the house in the bag,” she said.

Once, her husband offered to help her organize her shoes with clear boxes and labels. It seemed like an innocent gesture, but Chambers said she was suspicious. She saw it as an attempt to manage her shoe shopping.

“I nipped that in the bud,” she said.

The couple resolved the shoe showdown by each agreeing to stick to an allowance, she said.


Cinderella Story

Susan Reynolds, author of “Change Your Shoes, Change Your Life,” (Polka Dot Press, 2005) connects a woman’s passion for shoes to the Cinderella myth.

Reynolds said she isn’t referring to the Disney version, where Cinderella lands her prince with a glass slipper. Reynolds is talking about Cinderella stories dating back 1,100 years that have been told in 700 cultures.

In those tales, it’s often a shoe that helps the heroine find her true worth. That the story is found in so many cultures is telling, Reynolds said.

“To me it’s a primal urge,” she said. “It has to do with transformation and how you see yourself and what kind of ground you’re standing on. There’s a lot of symbolism in shoes.”


A Long Tradition

Texas City resident Jennifer Eggleston comes from a long line of shoe shoppers. Her mother and grandmother are legendary, she said.

Eggleston shops at stores such as DSW, where ad campaigns, playing on wildlife documentaries, have portrayed women shoe shopping as hunters moving in on their prey.

What is it about shoes?

“It’s hard to explain,” said Eggleston, 28. “I think the accessories make the outfit.”

Eggleston’s 4-year-old daughter Bella has inherited her mother’s love of shoes. When shopping for a spring break trip recently, Bella decided she needed five pairs of sandals in various colors.

“When I can’t buy shoes for myself, I turn around and buy them for her,” Eggleston said.


Bills Or Heels?

Vasut said she isn’t as extravagant as it may seem. She donates her shoes to charity and isn’t obsessed with quantity.

Her husband is a physician at the University of Texas Medical Branch. The joke among his colleagues is that he works overtime in the emergency room to pay for his wife’s heel habit.

Vasut said she knew she loved shoes when her parents sent her money to pay bills in college.

“Do I pay the electric bill or go get some shoes?”

She got the shoes.

The Return of the Weirdest Guy in School


ONE rainy afternoon last summer, 12-year-old Annie Ballaine was doing what comes naturally to preteens on days when neither school nor sunshine is readily available: she was soaking up as much television as possible. Flipping through the channels, she came across the sight of a chubby, excitable boy of indeterminate age, dressed in a red plaid shirt and blue jeans, profusely thanking a pizza delivery man who had arrived at his apartment with a large cheese pie that contained, the boy claimed, a missing sneaker he had lost five months ago.

It was then that Miss Ballaine, now a sixth grader at St. Ann's School in Brooklyn, became a fan of "The Andy Milonakis Show." And while she may not be familiar yet with terms like "surreal," "absurdist" and "Dadaesque," she could sense that there was a quality about this program — and especially about its energetic, diminutive star — that she had never seen on television before. "It was really unusual what he did," she said. "He was doing things that other people wouldn't do to be funny."

Miss Ballaine is not part of the target demographic for "The Andy Milonakis Show," an offbeat, rapid-fire comedy series aimed primarily at males in their late teens and early 20's (and which has its second season premiere on MTV2 this Friday). But like many other members of her generation who both secretly and openly admire the program, and who have assimilated its nonsensical repertory of punch lines and satirical rap songs as if it were a second language, she doesn't need anyone to explain to her what's so funny about an adult (if not quite a grown-up) who looks and behaves like a kid.

As most of his intended viewers already know, Mr. Milonakis, a native of Mt. Kisco, N.Y., is not actually a child. He turned 30 in January. But he has a growth hormone condition that is responsible for his baby-faced appearance.

What science cannot as easily explain is how Mr. Milonakis has been able to preserve his youthful curiosity well into adulthood, and channel it into skits — some as short as a few seconds and none longer than a few minutes — that seem to originate from a mischievous child's fascination with the world around him: What would happen if I tried to inflate a Twinkie with a bicycle pump? If I put a battery in my mouth, will my face light up like a pinball table? Is toothpaste an appropriate ingredient for a sandwich?

Even Mr. Milonakis, who cites experimental comedy series like "Monty Python's Flying Circus" and "Mr. Show With Bob and David" as his influences, is not entirely sure where his hyperactive sensibility comes from. "I like a lot of crazy comedy," he said, speaking from the Grand Street apartment that serves as both the set and production offices of "The Andy Milonakis Show." "But when it comes to creating it, I don't know why I do what I do. I tend to go for the really weird, bizarre stuff. I actually have to tone it down for the show."

"Weird" is by far the most versatile and frequently employed word in Mr. Milonakis's vocabulary; it is weird to him that when he writes a scene that calls for a talking pizza, he now has a team of artists and designers at his disposal that will build one to his specifications. "They're like: 'Should it have pepperoni eyes or salami eyes? Should its mouth be one big sardine or a can of sardines?' " Mr. Milonakis said. "I'm like, 'It's not rocket science.' "

And it is weird to Mr. Milonakis that he should find himself the star and the creative force of a hit cable series, when just four years ago he had no television credits at all. "There are thousands and thousands of people who are out there, killing themselves to read one line in a commercial," he said. "I'm lucky that I skipped a lot of that heartache and everyday struggle."

Like several other breakthrough personalities of recent months, Mr. Milonakis got his head start on the Internet. While working as a computer technician, he was also posting his homemade, no-budget shorts on the Web site in one skit, he mourns the death of a pet named Dr. Curly, which turns out to be a package of sliced deli meat; in another, he performs an off-key, off-color song on his guitar entitled "The Superbowl Is Gay."

The latter segment caught the attention of producers at "Jimmy Kimmel Live," who showed the video during the late-night talk show's post-Super Bowl debut in January 2003. And Mr. Kimmel personally took Mr. Milonakis under his wing, occasionally employing him as an announcer and correspondent on the show, and helping him develop his own series for MTV. (Though its first season ran on MTV, "The Andy Milonakis Show" will now appear on its sister channel MTV2.)

For Mr. Kimmel, it was crucial that the project retain the "latchkey kid meets 'Pee-wee's Playhouse' " spirit of Mr. Milonakis's Internet shorts — the feeling that they are taking place in an apartment, and a universe, that Mr. Milonakis inhabits alone. "The magic of those bits is that they aren't slick, and that it looks like he put a camera on top of his refrigerator and filmed himself," said Mr. Kimmel, who has a 14-year-old daughter, a 12-year-old son, a 6-year-old nephew and a 4-year-old niece — all fans of the "The Andy Milonakis Show." "I think every kid does a show in his bedroom and announces himself and comes and says, 'I'm the greatest singer in the world!' It strikes a chord in people."

But after setting up shop in a Lower East Side neighborhood, producers quickly discovered the value of populating "The Andy Milonakis Show" with locals; its ensemble now includes Ralphie, Mr. Milonakis's hulking sidekick, and Rivka, an elderly woman who wears two pairs of glasses simultaneously, as well as countless indigenous shopkeepers, Hasidim and retirees. "This has got to be the first sketch-comedy show where the average cast member is over 65 years old," said Jonathan Kimmel, the program's head writer and Jimmy Kimmel's brother.

Mr. Milonakis's television apartment (on loan to producers from another local family) also played a role in the development of the show's voice, particularly the children's bedroom littered with broken action figures, musty stuffed toys and vintage board games, where writers are often sent to brainstorm ideas. ("It's always the stupidest stuff that inspires you," Jonathan Kimmel explained.)

And inspiration is an especially precious commodity at "The Andy Milonakis Show": It took approximately 240 skits to fill out its first eight-episode season — not counting the handful that MTV rejected as too bizarre. "I've fought for stuff in the past that they said they didn't like on paper, but we're like: 'Can we shoot it anyway? We really believe in it,' " Mr. Milonakis said. "And after we shoot it, we win them over."

As the show prepares for its transition to MTV2 (where its nonconformist streak will likely be a better match with the anarchic children's show parody "Wonder Showzen" than it was with, say, the reality series "Laguna Beach"), not much has changed: the new season will still feature Mr. Milonakis's man-on-the-street interviews, as well as at least one rap video celebrating the virtues of pudding.

But some of the grown-ups in the room have more ambitious hopes for the series and its potential to further MTV's long-term goals of bringing its content to the Internet and beyond. "This show in particular, because of where it came from, is tailor-made for busting it out into this new world of short-form entertainment on the web and wireless," said Tony DiSanto, an executive at MTV Networks and the head of programming for MTV2. "I'd love being able to download a show I produced onto my iPod."

And Jimmy Kimmel, an executive producer of the show, said he believed that the program would finally demonstrate the viability of the Internet as a broadcast medium to rival television. "I don't know when people are going to come to grips with that," Mr. Kimmel said. "They still think it's some weird little thing that's somewhere between a stand-up comedy club and a telephone call. But I bet as many people have seen Andy doing that Super Bowl video as have seen 'Desperate Housewives.' "

But do not mention any of this to Miss Ballaine, who firmly believes that "The Andy Milonakis Show" is a program made for her and her peers and not just an element of a cable network's multimedia strategy. "I think it's more for kids, because it's a comedy and it's silly," she said. "But grown-ups can watch it if they want."

That assessment is fine with Mr. Milonakis, who has come to appreciate his adolescent devotees more than his would-be adult fans. "I love when young kids come up to me, because it's so much cuter when a little 7-year-old is just in awe," he said. "A lot of 24-, 25-year-olds, they just want to manhandle me: 'Yo, you gotta do that bit! Yo, do a rhyme, right now!' There's a lot of idiots in the world," he added. "I'm sure I don't have to tell you that."

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Street Couture



The relationship between high fashion and street wear goes back a long way. In a recent book called "The Essence of Style," by Joan DeJean, there is an anecdote from the spring of 1677, when "an inexpensive gray serge cloth" worn by Parisian shopgirls was adapted by "ladies of the court" who liked the fabric's look and incorporated it into their elegant wardrobes. This is how it has seemed to work ever since — right up through the archetypal example of the "grunge" style associated with the Seattle music scene appearing on the runways, courtesy of the designer Marc Jacobs (then working for Perry Ellis) in the early 1990's. In other words, the streets are raided for ideas and inspiration that get reworked in a couture context — "the aura of wealth and luxury," as DeJean wrote of the 17th-century version of the high-low mash-up.

All of this implies tension between street populism and couture exclusivity. But in the last few years, as some sneaker shops have come to resemble highfalutin art galleries, it has been a little less clear who is borrowing what from whom. Consider, for example, Supreme. It's a thoroughly downtown apparel brand with a shop on Lafayette Street in Manhattan and is associated with the culture of skateboards. On the other hand, the devotion and the pickiness — or, if you prefer, the snobbery — of the Supreme consumer compares with that of the high-end fashion consumer. (Vogue once ran a "tale of two boutiques" article pointing out the similarities between buyers of Supreme and Chanel.) And its products extend well beyond T-shirts and sneakers: Supreme's current line includes $130 sweatshirts with quilted details and $180 jackets in a custom plaid. Even GQ's "Style Guy," while musing that he may be the only gray-haired customer to frequent the store, called a pair of the skate brand's khakis, of all things, his "absolute favorite."

When the first Supreme store opened in 1994, James Jebbia, its founder, didn't really know, he says, much about the skateboarding crowd but was intrigued by its rebelliousness and creativity. He worked hard, then and now, to be true to that scene, right down to hiring local skaters to work in the store. "A lot of the kids from downtown New York are very, very particular," he says. This was his target: the tough, skeptical audience that wanted, say, clothes you could get only if you were in the know. These kids were more like a couture consumer than a mass one. And thus he is hardly alarmed to see his brand being mentioned in mainstream glossy fashion magazines. In fact, Jebbia considers Supreme a lifestyle brand along the lines of the French clothier A.P.C. — and, actually, Marc Jacobs.

Supreme now has three stores in Japan (where the distinction between street fashion and high fashion is at its murkiest) and one in Los Angeles. Things have changed quite a bit since the mid 1990's, of course. A huge number of brands — from big corporations or individuals with three T-shirt graphics and a blog — are now chasing the discriminating street-couture consumer. In an environment of hyperfickle customers, Supreme's longevity may be the most surprising thing about it. Jebbia seems a bit weary of outsiders regarding the scene as some sort of racket based on nutty kids who will stand in line for hours to buy a limited-edition T-shirt. He points out that the interior of his Los Angeles shop was designed by Harry Allen & Associates, the same firm that did the celebrated Manhattan boutique Moss. "We're a proper company," he says, sounding slightly exasperated. "We wouldn't be in business if it was just T-shirts." Of course, every new Supreme line does still include T-shirts, often met with demand that far outstrips the intentionally limited supply.

But it's the consistency and quality of the more substantial, higher-end pieces that he says he thinks have helped Supreme survive in a volatile business; he is still focused on that picky core customer, who these days is more demanding and harder to impress than ever. "We're not trying to make stuff for the masses," he says, but rather for "the few who know what's up." And so, after decades (or maybe centuries) of seeing their rebellious creativity hijacked, the marginal outsiders, for once, have managed to co-opt the elites — by appropriating their exclusivity.