Friday, June 30, 2006

Roaming N.Y. streets, hunting for fashion

Scott Schuman is becoming a tastemaker, all thanks to his blog

By Bruno J. Navarro

NEW YORK - Like a fashion hawk, Scott Schuman — The Sartorialist — spots his prey amid the bustle of downtown Manhattan’s crowded sidewalks one recent Saturday afternoon.

“Hold on,” he says, taking off with digital camera in hand to catch up to a lanky gentleman in a navy blazer, charcoal pants and rust-colored head scarf.

Schuman takes his picture and they chat for a few moments. The man explains he’s wearing a Japanese waiter’s head-covering to protect his scalp from the sun, and then he shows off the label on his blazer.

Schuman returns to our conversation, smiling.

“What did the label say?” I ask.

Yohji — a famous Japanese designer,” he says. “It’s at least $1,200.”

It’s that kind of expertise — gained through a career in high-end fashion sales and marketing — that led Schuman, 38, to start his increasingly popular, photo-laden fashion blog.

Launched in October with little fanfare, The Sartorialist combines Schuman’s street photography of fashionable New Yorkers with his detailed style commentary.

“I was getting kind of inspired listening to ESPN Sports Radio,” he says of how he first came up with his blog concept. “People can call in and agree or disagree. That was the basis: I can put in what I thought was really inspiring and people can put in their two cents.”

Schuman’s approach is notable for its overwhelmingly positive tone, not too common amid a world of snarky blogs and catty fashionistas. His straightforward photography is easily accessible.

These days, the site is popular enough that his subjects will occasionally recognize its name when Schuman approaches them, especially in the tony Upper East Side neighborhood — and the fashion industry.

Not bad for a kid from Indianapolis, far from the world’s fashion capitals.

“I was reading GQ when I was 14 and I loved it,” he says. “Now I’ve lived in New York for 16 years, and there were guys I saw in the street who were more inspiring than the guys in the magazines.”

In New York, his sales and marketing career took him to such high-profile brands as Valentino.

“That’s why my writing is different,” he says. “I’m not a typical journalist.”

A fan at Saks
Schuman has also owned his own showroom, which he gave up two years ago to become a stay-at-home dad.

“He’s tapped into such a specific niche market of men who care about fashion,” says Michael Macko, vice president and men’s fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue. “It’s not necessarily all fashionistas.”

Macko came across The Sartorialist this past winter and found himself checking in regularly.

“Finally, I sent him an e-mail. I thought, ‘I have to introduce myself to him,”” he says.

The contact turned into an opportunity for Schuman, who will be featured in a window display at the flagship store in August — although exactly how is unclear, as Macko says he wants room for surprises.

“We’re going to bring the blog to life in the window,” he says.

Schuman is also being featured in an upcoming issue of Esquire magazine and recently jetted off to Milan, home of his favorite men’s designer, after being tapped by to blog from there for the city's fashion week.

“I’ve always loved Armani,” he says. “This is like a football fan going to the Super Bowl.”

Tennis shoe disrupts Albany's eternal flame

ALBANY (AP) - The city's eternal flame has withstood high winds and torrential rains for more than 30 years, but an errant tennis shoe proved too much of an impediment.

Firefighters shut down the flame briefly Monday so that they could pull out the charred sneaker.

"There was a situation," said Deputy Fire Chief David Eddins. "Someone had tossed a tennis shoe in it. We had to shut it off to remove the shoe."

The flame, which sits atop a 6-foot black, granite pedestal, has been burning in front of the Dougherty County Courthouse since 1973, placed there by the American Legion to memorialize the men and women who have fought in the nation's wars.

By today, Albany's eternal flame was burning once again.

"We're up and running and in good shape," said Eddins.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Breastfeeding mothers to stage protest at Asheville Mall

Susan Reinhardt
Asheville Citizen-Times

ASHEVILLE – Breastfeeding mothers are meeting at Victoria’s Secret in Asheville Mall this Saturday at 1 p.m., staging a protest fueled by the two women recently booted from the lingerie shop for nursing their young.

In Racine, WI, two moms have organized a nation-wide “Nurse In” at the popular stores across the country. In two separate incidents and stores, the mothers were trying to nurse their offspring and told to leave.

“I’m doing this because of the two women who were shopping there and told they couldn’t use the dressing rooms or nurse in the store but had to use the bathrooms,” said Tali Branco, 21, of North Asheville, mother of a six-month-old.

On June 21, Rebecca Cook of Burlington, WI entered the store to check out the sales racks. Her daughter wanted to nurses, thus Cook took her into a dressing room. When the saleslady told her a dressing room wasn’t open, Cook said she’s just breastfeed in the store.

The Victoria Secret employee said no, pointing her toward the mall’s restrooms.

She was told, in her words, that the “sight of her breasts might offend a customer.”

Tali Branco thought this was ludicrous.

“I find it especially absurd that Victoria’s Secret of all places is freaking out about exposed breasts since it’s pretty much what they sell,” Branco said. “You see more in their magazines and store windows than you do when a mother nurses.”

At corporate headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, spokeman Anthony Hebron, of Limited Brands which owns Victoria’s Secret, said the entire incident with the two women was an unfortunate mistake.

Breastfeeding in public is legal.

“”We have a long-standing policy which permits mothers to nurse in our stores,” he said. “We regret that recently our policies weren’t adhered to, but that did prompt us to make sure to re-educate our associates and let the public know.”

Nike turns 'Chucks' into fashion footwear

Timeless Converse sneaker gets a major makeover in wake of acquisition

By Stephanie Kang
The Wall Street Journal

Few shoe styles have been alive longer than Converse's Chuck Taylor All Star, the canvas-and-rubber basketball sneaker that legions of hard-core fans have elevated to an antifashion icon.

For almost 75 years, Converse has sold "Chucks" in a limited range of colors and just two basic styles -- low tops and high tops. Simplicity has been part of their appeal, especially with teens eager to show their disregard for mainstream trends and high-price athletic shoes. Sales were hotter some years than others, but they never fizzled out, making Chucks and their steady sales a prized franchise in a fickle business.

Recently, though, sales of the All Star have been heading north on a fast track, the result of a whirlwind marketing effort this past year that brought more than 1,000 types of Chucks to retail chains such as Foot Locker and Journeys, as well as to high-end boutiques like Barneys New York. The standard high and low tops still cost only $38, but pricey variations include gold-metallic Chucks ($72), knee-high shearling-lined Chucks ($175), pin-striped Chucks ($55) -- even Chucks designed by menswear designer John Varvatos ($95). "Limited edition" snakeskin high top Chucks sell for $1,800.

Converse's transformation from fashion rebel to fashionista is largely the work of Nike Inc., Converse's parent company since 2003. The Beaverton, Ore., shoe giant is known for smothering acquisitions with the Nike name and swoosh logo: In 1995, after buying Canstar Sports, the maker of Bauer hockey equipment, Nike changed the company's name to Nike Bauer Hockey and stamped the swoosh on hockey sticks and skates -- much to hockey fans' irritation. In the industry, the strategy became known as "Beaverizing."

With Converse, Nike is staying well below the radar: It put its research-and-development archives and its storied marketing muscle at Converse's disposal, but there isn't a swoosh in sight at Converse's North Andover, Mass., headquarters. Neither the Nike name nor logo appears on Converse shoes.

"We looked at ways we can help them without being too invasive," says Mark Parker, Nike's chief executive. In addition, Nike has raised Converse's advertising profile: Converse spent $17.6 million on ad media in 2005, according to TNS Media Intelligence, more than quadruple its 2004 spending and a quantum leap beyond its pre-Nike ad spending of $163,500 in 2001.

So far, the move seems to be working. Converse's 2005 athletic footwear sales in the U.S. hit $400 million, or 1.5 percent of the market, a threefold market-share increase since 2001. That's still tiny compared with Nike's 35 percent. But year-to-date, Converse's sales are up 12 percent, compared with a 5 percent increase for athletic shoes overall, according to the consulting firm Sports One Source.

Some devotees of the old Chucks see the Nike hand at work, and they don't like it. Jeremy Wineberg, a former manager at Paliskates, a Pacific Palisades, Calif., skate shop, says the limited-edition Chucks don't have the older models' appeal. "What's happening is that Converse has now gotten greedy," he says. "That's why those are not as cool."

David Maddocks, Converse's chief marketing officer, says the All Star's "universal appeal and democratic image" explain why Converse can sell so many varieties. "We serve the market by merchandising this franchise to a globally diverse customer base and meeting their demand," he says.

Nike realizes it risks overdoing it. "It's such an iconic shoe that we're trying to be careful not to overextend it," Parker says.

The effort to revamp Chucks comes as Nike digests several acquisitions, including surf brand Hurley International and Exeter Brands Group, the maker of the lower-price Starter line of apparel and footwear. It will in some ways predict how well Nike can maneuver in the athletic-shoe market's lower-end and in niche segments, where the swoosh historically hasn't tread.

Chuck Taylor All Stars helped Converse, founded 98 years ago, dominate the athletic-footwear industry for generations. Introduced in the early 1930s, the basketball shoe was named for a legendary Converse salesman, who played for pro basketball teams such as the Akron Firestone Non-Skids. Taylor traveled from town to town, running basketball clinics and getting the best local players to wear Converse. By the 1950s, Converse was the dominant brand in pro basketball.

But basic Chucks became obsolete in basketball, displaced by rivals such as Adidas and Pro-Keds in the 1970s. The brand fell further behind in the 1980s, when Nike put a potent mix of shoe technology and big-budget marketing behind Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan, changing athletic shoes and sports marketing forever. Chuck Taylors seemed to be permanently on the bench.

But even as Converse lost favor with pro players, it stumbled on a new fan base off court: Rockers Joey Ramone and Kurt Cobain were among the first slacker heroes to wear Chucks, influencing the footwear of millions of anticorporate rebels for years to come. An unsuccessful push into performance footwear and apparel helped to send Converse into bankruptcy proceedings in 2001. An investment group bought the rights to Converse and would resell the company in 2003 to Nike for $310 million.

Nike prompted Converse to create an internal guide to its brand identity and heritage, complete with pictures of James Dean, Julius "Dr. J" Erving and kids wearing Chuck Taylors and other Converse shoes. More importantly, Nike opened the doors of its creative product labs. Now, Converse's tiny, 12-person design team works part of the year with Nike engineers, designers and biomechanic experts to come up with new products.

One result is that Converse is back on pro basketball courts again, and this time the performance shoe -- Converse's Wade, named for Miami Heat superstar Dwyane Wade -- is selling. Next season, Converse is set to launch "All Star Revolution," a shoe inspired by the Chuck Taylor look but stuffed with the kind of cushioning and technology that is standard for performance shoes.

The Nike influence also has helped Converse offer customized Chucks. Customers go online to personalize a pair of Chucks, choosing a color or a pattern, like skull-and-bones, for the shoes' laces, rubber soles, racing stripe, tongue or canvas body. Initials or words -- available in a choice of two fonts -- can go above the heel. "Every part of the business has benefited" from the collaboration, says Jack Boys, Converse's CEO. "I'm sure glad we're part of the team," he adds. "Nike is a little scary. ... If you get in their way, they can squash you like a bug."

Consumers Today: Time-Starved, Fed Up, Yet Demanding Less Than You Might Think

By Fred Crawford

It seems almost un-American not to strive for perfection in every possible way. But a new study conducted by AlixPartners confirms that striving for perfection in all areas of retail is, in fact, a counterproductive way to deal with today’s time-starved, fed-up consumers.

The 2006 AlixPartners Consumer Sentiment Index asked 6,000 consumers to rank individual retailers within 13 retail categories, from books to sporting goods. The results were startling. In fact, the study detected several marked shifts from the past in consumers’ wants vis-à-vis product, price, service, access and overall shopping experience. Such as:

Product: “Good” Is Good Enough
Long gone are the days of consumers clamoring for only the “best” in terms of product. Thanks to Six Sigma and other quality-improvement processes making quality differences minuscule (and making more store brands acceptable, even chic), consumers clearly stated “good” is good enough. What came through loud and clear, however, is they want to be able to pick from a wide assortment of merchandise and that the advertised merchandise be in stock.

In fact, if there’s one overriding trend today, it is indeed the ever-growing time-compression facing Americans. There aren’t enough hours in the day for most modern Americans, and the last thing they want to do is waste time making a fruitless trip to your store.

Price: “Honest” Is Replacing “Low”
Time-compression also is largely behind the changing definition of “price.” As even price-leader Wal-Mart’s recent decision to retire “Mr. Smiley” (their happy-face symbol for low prices) attests, today’s time-starved consumers are becoming much more interested in what might be called “honest” pricing.

That, of course, means value for the money, but it also means not having to hunt for the actual price of the product. In fact, “well-marked price” ranked #2 among all consumer wants in the survey. The upshot: If “shelf-pricing” is in your company’s repertoire, think very carefully about how it’s implemented.

Access: Layout, Layout, Layout
Again largely due to time-compression pressures, Americans are “chore-stacking” more than ever before—meaning they’re willing to pay a little more for some products, as long as they don’t have to leave your store and it’s easy to find all the products they need there.

In other words, the age-old retail aphorism “location, location, location” has morphed into “layout, layout, layout”—with issues such as wide, uncluttered aisles, effective in-store signage and an overall pleasant environment taking precedence. And one needs only to look at the success of Kohl’s in the study—a retailer that is veritably reinventing the department store—to see the truth in that.

Service: Back to Basics
Consumers today no longer expect—or even desire—customized service when they shop. They know they can get what they want faster if they self-serve. But, as the study reveals, consumers want the merchandise out where they can see and handle it themselves and, to a deafening degree, they’re saying they don’t want to be made to feel like a criminal just because they need to return something.

Experience: “Respect Me”
R.I.P. "shoppertainment." Consumers today, according to the survey, are no longer impressed with in-mall faux rain forests, glow-in-the-dark miniature golf and the like. They’re not looking for entertainment when they shop; they just looking for a little simple R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Consumers’ #1 desire was—guess what?—“courteous employees.”

Who’s Not Making the Grade?
Which retailers, according to the study, are having a hard time meeting these new consumers demands? It’s no secret, of course, that Radio Shack, Kmart, and 7-Eleven are having problems. But you might be surprised to know that BJs was rated “below expectations” in four of the five categories. That Borders stood out in nothing. That Office Max got its ink-jet cartridge cleaned by Staples and Office Depot. That Family Dollar and Big Lots lost their lunch money to Dollar General and Dollar Tree. That Ace and Menards fared poorly, even as True Value scored some significant victories. That virtually the entire Grocery and Sporting Goods categories are struggling (with one fascinating exception, Academy Sports). That J.C. Penney’s scores have been up and down like a yo-yo. And, last but not least, that Gap Inc. is probably “leaving shareholder money on the table” with the widely differing scores among its Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic stores.

In Search of Strategic Excellence
The bottom-line message for retailers in this new study is this: If you aren’t—truly—dominating in one or two of these five categories today or in the near future, watch out! In fact, a negative trend can hit the financials in as little as 12 to 18 months. Yet, by the same token, the consumer isn’t really expecting you to excel in all five areas. Instead, pick two of the five to truly differentiate from the competition, and be willing to simply meet expectations in the remaining three. But, make sure the two you pick are the ones that really matter most to your particular customers.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Serious Study: Immaturity Levels Rising

Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

The adage "like a kid at heart" may be truer than we think, since new research is showing that grown-ups are more immature than ever.

Specifically, it seems a growing number of people are retaining the behaviors and attitudes associated with youth.

As a consequence, many older people simply never achieve mental adulthood, according to a leading expert on evolutionary psychiatry.

Among scientists, the phenomenon is called psychological neoteny.

The theory’s creator is Bruce Charlton, a professor in the School of Biology at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, England. He also serves as the editor-in-chief of Medical Hypotheses, which will feature a paper outlining his theory in an upcoming issue.

Charlton explained to Discovery News that humans have an inherent attraction to physical youth, since it can be a sign of fertility, health and vitality. In the mid-20th century, however, another force kicked in, due to increasing need for individuals to change jobs, learn new skills, move to new places and make new friends.

A “child-like flexibility of attitudes, behaviors and knowledge” is probably adaptive to the increased instability of the modern world, Charlton believes. Formal education now extends well past physical maturity, leaving students with minds that are, he said, “unfinished.”

“The psychological neoteny effect of formal education is an accidental by-product — the main role of education is to increase general, abstract intelligence and prepare for economic activity,” he explained.

“But formal education requires a child-like stance of receptivity to new learning, and cognitive flexibility."

"When formal education continues into the early twenties," he continued, "it probably, to an extent, counteracts the attainment of psychological maturity, which would otherwise occur at about this age.”

Charlton pointed out that past cultures often marked the advent of adulthood with initiation ceremonies.

While the human mind responds to new information over the course of any individual’s lifetime, Charlton argues that past physical environments were more stable and allowed for a state of psychological maturity. In hunter-gatherer societies, that maturity was probably achieved during a person’s late teens or early twenties, he said.

“By contrast, many modern adults fail to attain this maturity, and such failure is common and indeed characteristic of highly educated and, on the whole, effective and socially valuable people," he said.

"People such as academics, teachers, scientists and many other professionals are often strikingly immature outside of their strictly specialist competence in the sense of being unpredictable, unbalanced in priorities, and tending to overreact.”

Charlton added that since modern cultures now favor cognitive flexibility, “immature” people tend to thrive and succeed, and have set the tone not only for contemporary life, but also for the future, when it is possible our genes may even change as a result of the psychological shift.

The faults of youth are retained along with the virtues, he believes. These include short attention span, sensation and novelty-seeking, short cycles of arbitrary fashion and a sense of cultural shallowness.

At least “youthfulness is no longer restricted to youth,” he said, due to overall improvements in food and healthcare, along with cosmetic technologies.

David Brooks, a social commentator and an op-ed columnist at The New York Times, has documented a somewhat related phenomenon concerning the current blurring of “the bourgeois world of capitalism and the bohemian counterculture,” which Charlton believes is a version of psychological neoteny.

Brooks believes such individuals have lost the wisdom and maturity of their bourgeois predecessors due to more emphasis placed on expertise, flexibility and vitality.

luxury and elegance

(inspired in part by a leisurely night walking down Fifth Avenue in New York City when the streets were still)

You know what the most luxurious thing in the world is? Time.

With the generally materialistic nature of this blog, you’d probably expect me to say something different or more tangible than “time.” But it’s the truth.

Here I sit, fresh from a meeting at Big Green, setting into the schedule for my new job still, recovering from a trip to Manhattan this weekend, lamenting I haven’t had much time to be social of late, and wondering “where has all the time gone and how do I get more”

The answer isn’t simple, as any astute person will tell you. Time is finite and irreplaceable. You can manage your time better, but you’ll never truly have more. Time is elegant, for even if you don’t use it wisely, it’s always just enough and nothing more.

Contrast this with what most people think is elegant and luxurious. It’s funny how we waste our time coveting things that have evanescent monetary value and status but aren’t important in the long run. Real luxury and true elegance is having the time to savor what we have spiritually, emotionally and physically.

When we can truly appreciate what we have, the blessings keep on coming.

I’m not trying to be profound, but I just thought about it and decided I’d share.

from Hollywood to Portland (on the wings of Mercury)

Two more Al Cabino sightings. steve's blog's resident internationally renowned sneakerographer sure gets around...

Dear Hollywood

and a new piece in the alternative weekly The Portland Mercury

Disrupting My Comfort Zone

Note from Steve: My friend Amy at Some Small Sense brought this article from NPR written by Oscar-winning movie producer Brian Grazer to my attention. Considering that she posted this in response to an earlier post I made about a lack of self-assuredness, this was an extremely appropriate, helpful and thoughtful thing to read. As Amy said, "Hey, if a famous movie producer can do it, so can we."

by Brian Grazer
from All Things Considered, June 26, 2006

I was 45 years old when I decided to learn how to surf.

Picture this scene: The north shore of Oahu -- the toughest, most competitive surfing spot on the planet. Fourteen-foot swells. Twenty tattooed locals. And me, 5-foot-8-inches of abject terror. What will get me first, I wondered, the next big wave or the guy to my right with the tattoo on his chest that reads "RIP"?

They say that life is tough enough. But I guess I like to make things difficult on myself, because I do that all the time. Every day and on purpose. That's because I believe in disrupting my comfort zone.

When I first started out in the entertainment business, I made a list of people I thought it would be good to meet. Not people who could give me a job or a deal, but people who could shake me up, teach me something, challenge my ideas about myself and the world. So I started calling up experts in all kinds of fields: trial lawyers, neurosurgeons, CIA agents, embryologists, firewalkers, police chiefs, hypnotists, forensic anthropologists and even presidents.

Some of them -- like Carlos Castaneda, Jonas Salk and Fidel Castro -- were world-famous. Of course, I didn't know any of these people and none of them knew me. So when I called these people up to ask for a meeting, the response wasn't always friendly. And even when they agreed to give me some of their time, the results weren't always what one might describe as pleasant.

Take, for example, Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb. You've heard of him? However, he'd never heard of me. It took me a year of begging, cajoling and more begging to get to him to agree to meet with me. And then what happened? He ridiculed me and insulted me. But that was okay. I was hoping to learn something from him -- and I did, even if it was only that I'm not that interesting to a physicist with no taste for our pop culture.

Over the last 30 years, I've produced more than 50 movies and 20 television series. I'm successful and, in my business, pretty well known. I'm a guy who could retire to the golf course tomorrow where the worst that could happen is that my Bloody Mary is watered-down.

So why do I continue to subject myself to this sort of thing? The answer is simple: Disrupting my comfort zone, bombarding myself with challenging people and situations -- this is the best way I know to keep growing. And to paraphrase a biologist I once met, if you're not growing, you're dying.

So maybe I'm not the best surfer on the north shore, but that's okay. The discomfort, the uncertainty, the physical and mental challenge that I get from this -- all the things that too many of us spend our time and energy trying to avoid -- they are precisely the things that keep me in the game.

coming soon: a new kenney's (site)

It's been about 25 years since I had a meal at Kenney's, the late, great Roanoke-based regional fast food chain descended from Biff-Burger, but I still crave the taste from time to time.

Long time steve's blog readers may remember my nostalgic ode to Kenney's in November 2004, and a mention of my friend Twig Gravely's great nostalgia site (which unfortunately has gone offline).

Twig wrote on June 23rd to happily inform me that a new, enhanced Kenney’s – Biff-Burger website will soon be online, so I'm passing along the good news. It's not ready yet, but you can see a preview here.

It's not the same as some fresh, crispy Kenney's fried chicken, french fries, and fried biscuits hot from the kitchen, but it's definately a fun way to revisit the past.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Lord & Taylor to Be Sold for $1.2 Billion


Lord & Taylor, the 180-year-old New York department store chain whose flagship location in Manhattan established Fifth Avenue as a mecca for American retailing, is to be sold to a private equity firm, the companies said today.

The buyer is a partnership between the principals of two real estate companies, Apollo Real Estate Advisers and the National Realty and Development Corporation. The seller is Federated Department Stores, the owner of Macy's and Bloomingdale's. The price is about $1.2 billion.

For now, at least, the new owners say they plan to continue operating the chain's 50 stores, including the one on Fifth Avenue. There had been widespread speculation that that store and some others in very valuable locations would be immediately closed and resold.

Still, real estate rather than the power of a venerable brand name seems to be at the center of the deal. Lord & Taylor, once a preeminent department store that supplied couture to New York's white-glove set, lost much of its prestige over the past 25 years as it tried to appeal to a broader range of consumers. But its giant limestone and granite store at the corner of 39th Street and Fifth Avenue is worth an estimated $300 million to $400 million, and it also has stores in prime locations in wealthy suburbs like Manhasset and Scarsdale, N.Y.

"I am not sure we want to operate Lord & Taylor without a Fifth Avenue location," Richard Baker, president of the new firm, called NRDC Equity Partners, said in an interview at his Manhattan office this afternoon. "We might."

More likely, he said, would be reducing the size of the 600,000-square-foot flagship, which is about triple the size of a typical Lord & Taylor location. "It would perform better if it were smaller," he said.

The future of the Fifth Avenue store has been the subject of intense speculation in the retail industry, with executives saying that chains like Nordstrom, which now has no store in New York City, would be interest in taking it over.

The sale of Lord & Taylor is the latest example of investors snatching up fashion companies as the retail industry undergoes a wave of consolidation. In the past year, private equity groups have bought Neiman Marcus and Tommy Hilfiger, and several are said to have their eyes on Jones Apparel, the owner of Barneys New York.

NRDC Equity Partners has quickly emerged as a major player in the retail industry, with bids for Toys R Us, the Pathmark grocery chain and Burlington Coat Factory in the past year. It first major retail acquisition was Linens & Things in February.

Federated, which acquired Lord & Taylor last year when it bought May Department Stores last year, said Lord & Taylor did not fit into its strategy for turning Macy's into a national brand. The company will convert all of the old May regional department stores, including Marshall Field's in Chicago and Hecht's in Washington, into Macy's stores in September.

Mr. Baker and his team expressed confidence in the management team in place at Lord & Taylor, including the chief executive, Jane Elfers, who will keep her job after the acquisition. Over the past three years, Lord & Taylor has tried to climb back up the fashion ladder, introducing clothing labels like Ellen Tracy and Lauren by Ralph Lauren, to attract more style-conscious shoppers.

Mr. Baker said the closing of rival department stores over the past decade has created a broader customer base for Lord & Taylor.

"Consolidation," he said, "equals less competition."

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Kmart special on Picasso?

Retailer to sell off its collection of fine art

Greta Guest

Detroit Free Press

TROY, Mich. - Who knew discount retailer Kmart Corp. had a vault, much less one filled with more than 1,000 works of fine art, including works by Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol?

The retailer plans a public showing and summerlong sale of the art starting Friday at its former headquarters in Troy. The retailer started selling office furniture through liquidation sales last month.

Kmart merged with Sears, Roebuck and Co. last year and moved its headquarters to Hoffman Estates, Ill., where Sears was based.

Kmart started in Detroit as dime store S.S. Kresge in 1899. It moved to Troy in 1972 and bought most of the art for its new headquarters.

Most of the art, including watercolors, photography, sculpture and tapestry, will be available for immediate sale, said Michael Weissman, the curator handling the sale for National Retail Equipment Liquidators.

The higher-end pieces, such as a Picasso tapestry and a signed Andy Warhol poster, are expected to be sold through an on-site bidding process.

The discounter also has a Blue Light Special room where art can be had for $10 to $200 for an oil painting.

"We are trying to provide a balance. We are selling as many $1,000 items as we are $50 items," Weissman said.

Weissman said most of the artwork, including a 15th-Century Chinese Ming Dynasty watercolor on silk, was acquired by Kmart in the 1970s.

"It was kind of a golden age of this company. They were kind of patrons of the arts in some ways," he said.

Richard Fedorowicz, an appraiser at DuMouchelle Art Gallery in Detroit, said it isn't unusual for a major corporation to have an extensive art collection.

"Corporate art collections can be in the millions of dollars. A lot of the collections go for things that are more modern," he said. If Kmart has "an actual Ming piece, yes that is more unusual."

Fedorowicz said a liquidation sale is probably not the best venue for items such as the Picasso tapestry or the Ming Dynasty watercolor, which is probably worth thousands.

"They could get a lot more bidders by putting those items up for auction with an auction house that has an international clientele," he said. "There's nothing like just having it all out there for everyone to see."

The display will include astronaut Alan Bean's photography autographed by more than 20 U.S. astronauts and Kmart memorabilia dating back to the turn of the century.

One of the biggest pieces of memorabilia has to be the massive solid oak table where Kmart's board of directors met. It seats 30 and is expected to be sold in September.

"You can imagine people signing big deals there all the time," Weissman said. "Martha Stewart signed her deal there."

Stewart was signed as Kmart's lifestyle spokeswoman in 1987.

Brian Satovsky, 36, a mortgage broker from Birmingham, said he plans to attend the sale this weekend to see what kind of bargains he can pick up.

"You know they have nice stuff, and I assume it will be marked down quite a bit."

Satovsky said he is curious about former Chief Executive Officer Chuck Conaway's desk.

"I think some of Kmart's former stockholders might want to buy that desk and blow it up in the parking lot."

Conaway was at the helm when Kmart filed the largest retail bankruptcy in history in January 2002, making the retailer's stock worthless.

The gallery will have six showings per month from June through September. Each month will feature a different style or work. The sale started last weekend, but the bid process for higher-end pieces starts this weekend.

All showings will be held on the fourth floor of the former Kmart headquarters, 3100 W. Big Beaver Road, Troy.

Kmart sold the 40-acre headquarters site at Big Beaver Road and Coolidge Highway to Madison Marquette last year. The company plans to demolish Kmart's building and redevelop it into a mixed-use project.

Tiffany to Open on Another Avenue of Dreams: Wall Street


NEW YORK - After more than 135 years, Tiffany & Company is taking some of its diamonds, silver and robin's-egg-blue boxes and opening a second store — downtown on Wall Street.

Tiffany plans to open its second shop in New York City around the corner from the New York Stock Exchange, at 37 Wall Street, a 25-story Beaux Arts building that once was the home for the Trust Company of America. Gold earrings and platinum necklaces will be on discrete display beneath 35-foot ceilings, 10 feet higher than those at Tiffany's famous flagship store on Fifth Avenue at 57th Street.

Downtown may be the citadel of capitalism, but the shopping has long been a bit dowdy, especially in the financial district. Until now, that is.

Earlier this year, Hermès, the French leather goods retailer, announced plans for a store at 15 Broad Street, practically next door to Tiffany. Hickey Freeman, the fancy men's haberdashery, is over at 111 Broadway. And BMW opened a showroom at 67 Wall Street.

"When three Fifth Avenue retailers sign leases below Chambers Street within a year, you know downtown's retail renaissance has begun," said an elated Eric Deutsch, president of the Alliance for Downtown New York.

The lease signed yesterday by Tiffany — the store is open in the fall — is the latest expression of the profound changes taking place in Lower Manhattan, as thousands of apartments spring up along Wall Street, between Broad and Water Streets. Tiffany's shop will sit on the ground floor of an office building being converted into 373 luxurious rental apartments by Orin Wilf of Skyline Developers.

Hermès will open next year in a 42-story building converted into 383 apartments by the designer Philippe Starck.

Developers have been racing to convert or build new residential buildings in recent years, with the numbers of apartments climbing to 20,871 this year from 13,046 in 2000, according to the downtown alliance. In turn, the number of residents downtown jumped 60 percent, to 36,733, between 2000 and March of this year.

The financial district suffered some defections after Sept. 11, as Lehman Brothers and other companies fled to Midtown. But the office buildings are beginning to fill up with law firms or expanding banks.

Christine Emery, the real estate broker who worked on the Hermès deal, said that Lower Manhattan was attracting high-end retailers because of its well-heeled working population and residents, its classic architecture, proximity to the East River or the Hudson, and plans for new transit centers.

"We're going back to our roots," said Beth O. Canavan, Tiffany's executive vice president for retailing. "The resurgence that's happening downtown makes it an important place to be."

But sales are also down at Tiffany's flagship, according to the company's latest financial reports. The jeweler may also want to be closer to those investment bankers who do not live on the Upper East Side.

Tiffany actually got its start downtown, opening a shop at 259 Broadway in 1837.

As the city grew, Tiffany began the slow retail migration uptown, with a stop in Union Square after the Civil War, before landing in 1940 on Fifth Avenue, at 57th Street.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Saks Thinking Small

Note from Steve: Check out Amy's reaction to this story at Some Small Sense.

Fashion retailer said it will reestablish its petite women's department

Saks Fifth Avenue (New York), stung by the reaction of short women across the country, has said it will reestablish its petite women's clothing department, which the company had quietly dropped several months ago because of poor sales.

According to The New York Times, the decision -- a victory for millions of women shorter than 5-foot-4 -- came after Saks received scores of letters from smaller shoppers who complained that they could no longer find clothing that fit and that they felt alienated in a store that had dressed them for decades.

Beginning this fall, the company said, it would once again carry petite sizes from popular labels like Dana Buchman, Eileen Fisher and Lafayette 148.

Ellen Tracy, which ceased producing petite sizes after Saks eliminated its department, said yesterday that it would now re-enter the business for spring 2007.

Saks said that petite sizes would be carried in 32 of its 55 stores in November and that it would hold trunk shows around the country in October to welcome the petite clients back.

Andrew Jennings, president of Saks, said that the retailer "had heard loud and clear the expression of concern from shoppers" about the elimination of the petite department. Saks scrapped petite sizes, which generated $35 million a year, in January because it found that many shoppers preferred to buy clothes in the misses department - which is larger and offers a wider variety of fashions - and have garments tailored to fit their smaller proportions.

This time around, the retailer will try to inject more energy in petite clothes, emphasizing sportswear, knitwear and day dresses, rather than focusing heavily on classic-looking suits for work.

The decision further reflects the strategy of new ceo Stephen Sadove to recapture the business he felt the retailer lost under the leadership of Fred Wilson. Earlier this month, Saks announced it would revive the once-profitable, more conservative private label fashion merchandise Wilson got rid of. Critics said Wilson alienated older - and in this case, smaller - customers with his emphasis on skin-baring urban fashions.

Saks Fifth Avenue Takes a Step Back in Search of Its Future

New York Times

Of all the changes that unfolded at Saks Fifth Avenue under the tumultuous three-year reign of Fred Wilson, none left shoppers and investors scratching their heads more than the elimination of Real Clothes, a popular in-house clothing label.

Introduced in 1985, the line of affordable, casual apparel for women grew into a $60 million business before Mr. Wilson abruptly dropped it last year, saying the line did not fit into his vision of Saks as a luxury retailer that appealed to the young, fashion-hungry consumer.

Now, in one of the most visible efforts to reverse Mr. Wilson's course, the chief executive of Saks Inc., Stephen I. Sadove, is introducing a replacement for Real Clothes, called Saks Fifth Avenue Private Collections, set to be announced today.

The store-brand clothing lines, the first of which are to reach stores in August, offer an early glimpse into Mr. Sadove's turnaround strategy for the struggling Saks Fifth Avenue chain — a strategy that contrasts sharply with, and in some cases is directly opposed to, that of Mr. Wilson, who was ousted as the head of Saks Fifth Avenue in January.

Mr. Sadove is trying to court — some might argue placate — the loyal 35- to 55-year-old Saks customers who became alienated by Mr. Wilson's emphasis on younger, urban, skin-baring fashions.

The first of the new in-house brands, for example, features updated classics like a Victorian-inspired navy blue velvet jacket and an off-white, embroidered wool coat. The company calls it "more timeless than trendy."

Mr. Sadove is still emphasizing bold designer clothing, but he is taking a big-tent approach to fashion. In meetings, he talks about striking a balance between two kinds of shoppers — "Soho" (who crave skimpy, up-to-the-minute looks) and "Park Avenue" (who want to be on trend, but dressed in flesh-concealing clothing.)

By contrast, Mr. Wilson compared Saks to a BMW, famously telling analysts that the retailer must distinguish itself from Neiman Marcus (the "Cadillac" in this particular metaphor) by becoming the "high performance" car of luxury retailing that, like a BMW, appealed to 30-something consumers.

Under Mr. Sadove, Saks is even devising its marketing with an eye to a more traditional customer. In two weeks, when the retailer unveils its annual fall marketing campaign, tentatively titled "Want It," it is expected to emphasize popular Saks fashions with understated marketing — a stark contrast with last year's "Wild About Cashmere" theme under Mr. Wilson, which featured fake goats in the store and was mocked by fashion critics.

The marketing and merchandise shift reflects the very different personalities and backgrounds of Mr. Sadove and Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson, a former executive at the luxury conglomerate LVMH and the clothing label Donna Karan, came to Saks from the world of fashion.

Mr. Sadove, once head of the hair care company Clairol, a division of Procter & Gamble, arrived from the consumer goods industry.

Bud Konheim, who has worked with both men as president and chief executive of Nicole Miller, said Mr. Sadove "is much more tactical thinking" than Mr. Wilson, whose management "rested on personality rather than strategy."

Comparing the two executives' approaches, he added: "Radical is not what anybody wants right now and Steve understands this is about evolution, not revolution."

"The Saks mainstream is what they need to get back," Mr. Konheim said, "and Steve gets that."

Reached at his home in California, Mr. Wilson declined comment.

The introduction of the private collections comes as Mr. Sadove faces several challenges. Saks, which is trying to transform itself from a sprawling department store business into one focused on luxury, is searching for a buyer for its midpriced Parisian department store chain.

In addition, the company remains under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is looking into allegations of improper accounting practices at its Saks Fifth Avenue division, relating to fees charged to its suppliers for defective or unwanted merchandise.
In all, there are to be three clothing lines within the Saks Fifth Avenue Private Collections — Signature (modern career wear, from $250 to $700), Classic (updated sportswear, with an emphasis on knits, from $178 to $1,000) and Sports (relaxed separates, including yoga wear and T-shirts, from $98 to $350).

Signature, the first of the new private-label Saks lines to reach stores, features three distinct looks — "regal Victorian," inspired by British menswear, with woolen fabrics and colors like plum and lavender; "urban sophisticate," taking its cue from the tuxedo, with poplin ruffled blouses and plaid suits, and "majestic elegance," a bit more glamorous, with embroidered taffeta skirts and silk chiffon blouses in dark blue.

Classic and Sports are to reach stores in November.

Joseph Boitano, senior vice president and general merchandise manager for women's clothing at Saks, said the new lines "have a point of view, which is very important."

Mr. Boitano said the sports collection effectively replaced Real Clothes — with higher quality and design — while the signature and classic line "are new businesses for the company."

"It's a step in the right direction," said Bill Dreher, an analyst at Deutsche Bank Securities. "When Saks moved away from the ladies who lunch and private-label it was a major mistake."

For Saks, the private collection is a return to an earlier strategy that yielded impressive results. Real Clothes built a loyal following because shoppers could not find it anywhere else and it improved Saks's profit margin because the retailer controlled the manufacturing and marketing, eliminating the fees it pays to designers like Elie Tahari and Ellen Tracy.

Building Saks's profit margin is a major priority for Mr. Sadove. In 2005, Saks's profit margin was 0.6 percent — meaning Saks made 60 cents for every $100 in sales, according to Deutsche Bank. That compared with a profit margin of 6.5 percent at Neiman Marcus and 4.96 percent at Federated Department Stores, the owner of Bloomingdale's.

In an interview shortly after he became chief executive, Mr. Sadove said Saks had not failed to match the merchandise at Neiman Marcus but, instead, had failed to contain costs. "The performance gap is productivity per store and profitability," he said.

Saks's operating income dropped to $22.3 million in 2005 from $118.8 million in 2004, with executives blaming, among other things, higher costs. But while private-label clothing is likely to improve profit margins, the open question is whether it will excite Saks shoppers.

Emanuel Weintraub, who heads a retail consulting company that bears his name, said the luxury consumer was hungry for brand-name designers — an appetite that is being amply filled, he said, by Neiman Marcus.

"When you are a luxury buyer, you expect fabulous products at fabulous prices," he said. Private-label clothing at prices ranging from $200 to $700, he said, is unlikely to meet that criteria.

Mr. Boitano said the Saks brand "has credibility to our customers" and the private collections were created with the highest-level design and quality. If a Saks shopper "is able to find a wonderful jacket with wonderful workmanship" under the Saks label, "she would love to own this."

what, me happy?

This is an unusually happy personal post for me. Nothing in particular is going right, but at least nothing is going wrong.

I just got done paying my bills online. I don’t know what genius came up with the concept for this service, but it couldn’t be easier. My bank offers it for free. It’s sure a lot easier than writing checks and mailing this stuff myself.

I also found out that the new Zaha Hadid exhibition will be at the Guggenheim Museum when I go to Manhattan on Saturday. This will be a great chance to see a different part of town and check out the work of one of the hottest architects in the business in a legendary setting.

To top it all off, my co-worker B.T. and I are going to surprise Angie (our mutual friend) by both going to lunch with her. Should be fun.

That’s all. But isn’t it nice to actually see me happy?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Polo Penney's

Ralph Lauren reportedly developing an exclusive fashion line for J.C. Penney

Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. (New York) is reportedly considering an exclusive partnership with J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (Plano, Texas), in which the fashion designer would develop a wide range of products in men's, women's, children's and home for the mid-price department store chain.

The deal reportedly could be signed next year.

Penney's, in the midst of a turnaround, has been attempting to develop more exclusive merchandise to attract younger, more fashion-minded customers.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

yada yada

I make horrible small talk. It’s something I’ve always struggled with. What do you say when you don’t know someone well or want to keep the conversation light (because deeper stuff would ruin the situation).

Working for a living, specifically having to meet and talk to dozens of new people a day like I have at Big Green and the City, has helped allay my fears somewhat. Even if you’re not a people person, just being there and doing your job forces you to be more social.

Still, once I go home form the day, I’m totally spent when it comes to social interaction. I don’t feel like talking. But waiting on me is another set of acquaintances and friends, who are probably increasingly pissed with me because I don’t have anything interesting to say at the end of the day. They mean well, as do I, but sometimes it just doesn’t make for pleasant conversation.

It’s funny. I go to work and get on the computer and phone, get off work and go home, and get on the computer and phone. Sleeping and shopping are the only breaks. Oh, yeah, and the physical labor around the house that increasingly gets pushed to my corner because my parents are aging and my brother is either gone or doesn’t give a fuck.

I’ve found one of the best (only?) ways to cope is to go far, far away whenever I can. Being on a bus for a few hours headed to New York or Baltimore or Pigeon Forge clears my head and gives me something extra to look forward to. I need this. Badly.

This is one of those posts that doesn’t have a unifying theme, and I apologize, but this is what’s on my mind today.

Billboard Bookends for Times Square


THE Reuters sign and the Nasdaq Tower in Times Square are two of the most valuable advertising spaces in the world.

Now, with a deal to be announced today, advertisers can rent both spaces at once — and create a virtual roadblock on the south side of the square.

It is a partnership that the two companies hope will leverage both ad spaces to stand out even more in a sea of advertising.

Reuters and Nasdaq made the deal late last week, just as advertisers are beginning to roll out more outdoor advertising to take advantage of warmer weather and higher foot traffic.

But Reuters and Nasdaq, whose buildings face each other across Broadway and Seventh Avenue at W. 43rd St., are in a unique position to combine their advertising assets.

Advertisers will have the option of running the same ad on both signs, or even half of the ad on one building and the other half on the other building. Or the two signs could work in tandem. "It just made a lot of sense to put the two together," said Bruce E. Aust, the executive vice president of the corporate client group for Nasdaq. "You're getting two of the most dynamic towers in Times Square." The companies dubbed the deal "Times Square, Squared.

"We're neighbors, we look at each other's buildings all day every day, we got to talking and realized the power of the two together was probably more powerful than the power of them separately," said Walker Jacobs, a vice president and the head of media sales for Reuters, calling the deal a "one-stop shop where buyers can pick up the phone and roadblock Times Square."

"We think it's going to change Times Square advertising," he said, adding that most campaigns involving the signs would be priced in the mid- to high-six figures, with some possibly rising into seven figures, depending on the length and complexity of the campaign.

One thing is for sure: it is the high season for outdoor advertising, when the warm weather causes more pedestrians to flood the sidewalks, cars to fill the roadways and marketers to conjure up ever more provocative ways to grab attention through outdoor spectaculars.

At the center of it is Times Square, arguably the showcase for some of the most gaudy, outrageous and innovative advertising in the world. An ad for Cingular that went up last month, created by BBDO in New York, was on display with a large jagged hole in the center — the missing chunk, meant to signify dropped calls, was deposited visually on the sidewalk below.

Reuters says its sign is the largest digital display system in the world, spanning 22 stories and 7,000 square feet at 3 Times Square. The Nasdaq sign, known as the Nasdaq MarketSite Tower, is seven stories tall and contains 10,000 square feet of signage.

The Reuters sign has been home to experimental interactive advertising in the past. To advertise Yahoo Autos, the interactive agency R/GA created a car-racing game that allowed passersby to dial a toll-free number and race cars on the sign using their cellphone buttons. A campaign for Nike iD, a customized sneaker, let consumers design their own shoes on the sign and later purchase them online.

Still, it is becoming more of a challenge to stand out amid all the clutter. One tactic is the twinning of signs, as Corona did earlier this year when it erected identical signs on 1600 Broadway, a 27-story building at 48th Street in Times Square. The signs, which depict bottles of Corona with lime wedges, face south and measure about 92 feet high by 35 feet wide.

An added benefit for marketers is that experts say Times Square is busier than ever. An article in The New York Times in December carried the headline, "If the Sidewalks Feel Jammed, Well, They Are." Head counters reported that on the morning of Dec. 28, there was a 57 percent increase in congestion from a day a year earlier.

Which is music to the ears of advertising executives who count on foot traffic and eyeballs looking skyward to sell some of the most coveted ad space in the world. Even better, many tourists in Times Square are there for one reason: to gaze at the flashing, blinking extravaganza of advertising.

"With the innovation and what's happened with digital signage, Times Square is essentially a gallery for world-class advertising," Mr. Jacobs of Reuters said. And those tourists traipsing haphazardly down the sidewalks, he said, "are going there for the ads."

Sole Collector Publishes First Annual Performance Running Guide

Featuring 38 shoes from across 10 different brands, the Guide arms running fanatics and neophytes alike with the knowledge necessary to find the right shoe now.

Satellite Beach, Florida (PRWEB) -- With spring in full bloom and summer fast approaching, Sole Collector magazine has released its first annual Performance Running Guide. Available as a 29-page feature within the bi-monthly issue on newsstands now (May/June 2006), the Guide was written and compiled by Sole Collector’s resident performance footwear expert, Ernest Kim, who is widely known within the sneaker industry by his pen name, Professor K.

“As an avid runner who finds most running shoe reviews bland and unhelpful, I strove to provide our readers with both my unvarnished conclusions and the context they’d need to find the right shoe for their specific needs,” noted Kim, who logged well over 500 miles in evaluating the products included in the Guide. “Of course, my experiences aren’t going to align exactly with 100% of the runners out there," he continued, "but I think our Guide empowers new and veteran runners alike with the knowledge they need to make a smart purchase."

Of the 38 shoes featured in the Performance Running Guide, offerings from Adidas, ASICS, Mizuno and Saucony are highlighted for their standout performance in the control, neutral-cushioned, performance training, stability and trail (both all-purpose and performance) categories (Bite, ECCO, New Balance, Nike, PUMA and Reebok round out the brands with shoes reviewed in the Guide).

Additionally, the recently released ASICS GEL-Kinsei is recognized for “Leading the Way,” based on the merits of its highly innovative approach to overpronation mitigation. The Guide also includes a comparison of 10 performance-focused running socks, with ASICS and SmartWool taking top honors for performance on road and trail, respectively, and upstart South African manufacturer Balega getting the Professor’s nod for best value.

“We’re really excited to be able to bring our readers a feature like this,” said Steve Mullholand, founder and editor-in-chief of Sole Collector. “It delivers the sort of depth and diversity you won’t find in any other publication, but you don’t have to be a shoehead or running fiend to appreciate it—there’s a clear focus on sneakers, but in a way that’s interesting and relevant to a broad audience.”

The Performance Running Guide will be an annually recurring feature in Sole Collector magazine, with updates and new reviews posted to between printings.

In addition to the Guide, the current issue of Sole Collector (on newsstands through July) includes an in-depth profile of superstar Yankee shortstop, Derek Jeter; a behind-the-scenes look at skateboarding footwear and apparel maker Etnies; an interview with world-renowned artist and sneaker fanatic Chris Lundy; and numerous dispatches from the ground level of the sneaker culture.

Sole Collector is available at most major booksellers, including Barnes & Noble, Borders, Tower Records and Virgin Megastore, and can also be found at leading “boutique” sneaker retailers across the country. For more information or to subscribe, please visit

Necktie for dad: Fashion or bygone era?

By Tom Coombe Of The Morning Call

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Christmas has fruitcake. Weddings have blenders. And Father's Day has the necktie, the boring, cliched gift no one wants.

At least that's what some people say. ''Don't buy Dad another tie this Father's Day,'' we're told by advertisers around this time every year, as they push alternatives.

Yet, about 10 million to 15 million ties are sold around the holiday, according to the Men's Dress Furnishings Association, a trade association based in New York. But is it still the No. 1 gift for Dad?

It depends on who you ask. Some say the tie is still king of the gift mountain for Father's Day, which is today. Others say it's a casualty to the rise of casual Fridays, and no longer on the shopping lists of people who want to avoid giving predictable presents.

''Everyone's trying to stay away from the tie,'' said Dominic Martin, working at the men's clothing department at J.C. Penney's at Lehigh Valley Mall. It's the gift people think of when they can't think of anything else, he said. Instead, Father's Day shoppers have gone for things such as wallets and tool sets.

''It used to be a nice business for stores. Ties were a standard gift years ago,'' said Michael McNamara, manager of the London Shop, a downtown Easton clothing store.

''Not too many people wear ties anymore,'' said Richard Evans of Easton, working the men's clothing counter at the Bon-Ton at the Palmer Park Mall. ''The main Father's Day gift now is either pajamas, belts or socks.''

That's right, socks. An unscientific poll taken last month by the online magazine Interactive Dad discovered more fathers would rather get socks and underwear than receive a tie. With 30 percent of the vote, the tie was easily the least popular gift with fathers. Another recent unscientific online poll, taken by the Web site, found that of the dads who said they didn't want clothing as a gift, two of every three cited the tie as the specific gift they didn't want.

A safe gift
But as far as the gift givers go, ties — about 100 million are sold year-round — are still a hot item at some stores when Father's Day rolls around.

''We do about 20 percent of sales this time of year,'' said Morgan Dunn, chief executive officer at the Internet retailer Sales dropped off in the 1990s, as casual wear became more common, but now have begun to pick back up.

''It's always been a safe gift,'' said Tony Strillacci, owner of Frantoni Fashions in Washington, N.J.

'' 'Well, he can always use a tie,' '' he said, explaining the rationale of Father's Day shoppers. ''It's the path of least resistance.''

Strillacci opened the business in 1972, a year after the third Sunday in June was made the permanent day to celebrate Father's Day. He started noticing the drop-off in tie purchases about 10 years ago, and said there are a few factors at work: fewer men wear ties, people shop more often and there are more products out there.

''There's so much more varied interests today, whether it's electronics or gift cards,'' said Strillacci, who noted that even he has received ties on Father's Day, despite owning a clothing store.

Closing the holiday spending gap
Retailers are taking advantage of those varied interests this year. According to the Associated Press, chains such as Sears and Home Depot have expanded their Father's Day advertising in order to close the gap between dad's day and mom's day. A National Retail Federation survey found gifts for Mother's Day outpacing gifts for dad, $13.8 billion to $9 billion.

The Palmer Park Mall Boscov's was promoting Father's Day last week. Even the signs hung around the store (''It's just what dad wants'') showed a blue and orange line drawing of a shirt and tie, even as they called attention to cologne and wallets. There were even ties made of fudge in the candy department.

''Every Father's Day becomes a big tie season,'' said Jeff Moser, who sells men's clothing at the store. Other local stores, including Macy's and the Men's Warehouse, also said ties remain a popular Father's Day gift.

Pam Fetterhoff of Lehigh Township came to Boscov's with her children Thursday afternoon to do some Father's Day shopping, but neck wear was not on the agenda.

''I don't bother with the tie thing,'' she said, browsing through stacks of dress shirts. Her husband is a minister and already has plenty of ties. ''He has to wear stuff like this.''

Donna Swope of Martins Creek bought her husband a shirt and tie, a popular Father's Day combination. He works as a butcher, and doesn't wear a tie to work, but needed something for his nephew's wedding.

''He actually trusts my judgment,'' she said before checking out.

Despite it being, as Moser had put it, a big tie season, the store section was relatively quiet. A little girl skipped by with her mother, and craned her neck toward a table of colorful Jerry Garcia ties.

''How 'bout a tie?'' she asked.

''Daddy doesn't wear ties,'' her mother replied, as they turned the corner and headed toward the electronics section.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

five fingers for your feet

I like this product that Al Cabino sent me information on. They're ugly as sin, but really functional. I might use it as a subject for an upcoming column.

The tech page explains it a bit more.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Shopping For Fun

Chain Store Age

New York City - A new study suggests that shopping is still one of the world’s most popular indoor sports. According to an ACNielsen report released on Thursday, nearly three-quarters of the world’s consumers can be classified as “recreational shoppers. Such shoppers, as defined by the survey, are those consumers who go to the store for entertainment rather than to buy necessities.

Though 74% of consumers worldwide have shopped just for “something to do” at least occasionally, the percentages differ by country. Americans are below the global average for recreational shopping, with 68% shopping when they don’t really need anything. The Asia-Pacific regional has a higher number, with 84% shopping for recreation. European consumers were least likely to be recreational shoppers.

Love for cute has Japan soul-searching

Associated Press

TOKYO - Cute is cool in Japan. Look anywhere and everywhere: Cartoon figures dangle from cell phones, waitresses bow in frilly maid outfits, cherries and bows adorn bags, even police departments boast cuddly mascots.

These days, Japan Inc., known in the past for more serious products like Toyota cars and the Sony Walkman, is busy exporting the epitome of cute - bubble-headed Hello Kitty, Pokemon video games, the Tamagotchi virtual pet, just to name a few.

But the prevalent obsession with things cute has the world's second biggest economy engaging in some serious soul-searching lately, wondering what exactly is making its people gravitate so frantically toward cuteness. A big reason for the emerging debate: Cute-worship is gaining such overseas acceptance it's rapidly becoming Japan's global image.

"Cute is a boom. This style has suddenly become a fashion element among youths around the world," said Shuri Fukunaga, managing director at Burson-Marsteller in Japan, who advises global companies about communication and marketing. "Marketers in Japan are seeing this and are adept at churning out products that incorporate this style for overseas."

Nintendo Co., which makes Super Mario and Pokemon video games, recorded $3.1 billion in U.S. and European sales in fiscal 2005. The entertainment content business in Japan totals some $116 billion, the equivalent of about two-thirds of Toyota's sales, according to the Digital Content Association of Japan.

Skeptics here say Japan's pursuit of cute is a sign of an infantile mentality and worry that Japanese culture - historically praised for exquisite understatement as sparse rock gardens and ukiyoe woodblock prints - may be headed toward doom.

Osaka Shoin Women's University professor Hiroto Murasawa, an expert on the culture of beauty, believes cute is merely proof that Japanese simply don't want to grow up but feels they must change to articulate its views on the international stage.

"It's a mentality that breeds non-assertion," he said of the cute mind-set. "Individuals who choose to stand out get beaten down."

On the other side of the argument stands Tomoyuki Sugiyama, author of "Cool Japan," who believes cute is rooted in Japan's harmony-loving culture.

Collecting miniatures such as mementos for cell phones can be traced back 400 years to the Edo Period, when tiny carved "netsuke" charms were wildly popular, said Sugiyama, president of Digital Hollywood, a Tokyo school for computer-graphics designers, video artists and game creators.

"Japanese are seeking a spiritual peace and an escape from brutal reality through cute things," he said.

Model-cum-actress Yuri Ebihara, 26, widely viewed here as the personification of cute, commands such influence the clothes she sports in a fashion magazine, such as lacy pastel skirts, are instant sellouts.

"I make it a point never to forget to smile," said Ebihara, often seen in TV ads and on billboards. "If someone doesn't find me cute, I want to know why because then I'll work on it to get better at being cute."

Yutaka Onishi, editor in chief of CanCam, the 650,000-circulation magazine that propelled Ebihara to stardom, says the petite, girl-next-door Ebihara, is pioneering a look that's distinct from the tall sexy beauties of the West.

"Cute is that exclamation from the soul of Japan's younger generation," much like "soul" or "La Raza," Onishi said.

Ryoko Sato, a Japanese artist, shrugs off much of pop culture as empty fluff and seeks to delve deeper through works like "The Kiss." The photo of a skinned mouse next to its furry hide is a statement on how cute is as skin-deep as cruelty or ugliness.

"To me, cute always in my work couples with the grotesque," she said. "There's always a dark side to it."

Still, such naysayers are a minority.

"Japanese women see value in youth and want to combine childishness and cuteness with sexiness and glamour," says Sakae Nonomura, a researcher with the cosmetics company Kanebo. "Cute has now grown so widespread that various types of cute coexist."

Indeed, Japanese have come up with nuances of cute such as "erotic-cute" and "grotesque-cute," and use such phrases in everyday conversations.

Thirty-eight-year-old garbage collector Hideki Kojima is such a believer in cute he patronizes a "maid cafe," one of several that have sprung up in Tokyo, where waitresses don maid outfits and greet customers by squeaking: "Welcome home, master."

Sometimes Kojima goes three times a day to the cafe, which serves food and allows customers to take photos and play games with the maids, drops as much as $90 a visit for a chance to gawk at the maids.

"They're cute," Kojima says with conviction. "It can't really be explained in words."

Nobuyoshi Kurita, sociology professor at Musashi University in Tokyo, says cute is a "magic term" that encompasses everything that's acceptable and desirable - this nation's answer to the West.

Kurita thinks it's important to watch Japan's youngsters, who see the bustling streets of downtown Tokyo - where the cute aesthetic is born - as the center of their universe.

"Where cute goes determines the future of Japan," he said, adding that Japan's cute offerings may one day command the respect of luxury goods from Europe. "If it succeeds, Japan's future will be bright. If it doesn't, then Japan may disappear."

`Love-hate relationships' may be a sign of low self-esteem

Knight Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON - If you can't decide whether your partner is a frog or a prince, the problem may be with you.

Having "love-hate relationships" with people is a sign of low self-esteem, according to a prize-winning series of studies appearing in this month's issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The findings could help couples and families in relationships in which attitudes toward loved ones swing wildly, said Yale psychologist Margaret Clark, the lead researcher in the study.

Love-hate relationships, she said, are "likely to be very disconcerting for partners. They can do a small thing, good or bad, perhaps, and produce large swings in a partner's views, and they're probably baffled as to why. It could lead to partner insecurity."

To investigate love-hate relationships, Clark and her research team asked participants to take a widely used psychological measure called the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale. Some time later, participants were asked to answer some structured questions about their feelings toward people they were close to - lovers, friends or parents.

For example, participants had to pick between these two statements: "When I'm mad at my partner, I can't think of anything good about him/her." And: "Even when my partner does something to hurt me, it is easy to remind myself of his or her positive attributes."

Participants who scored low in self-esteem tended to hold more polarized opinions of their intimates, researchers found, whether of lovers, friends or parents. The subjects included married couples, engaged couples and college students.

Clark theorized that people with higher self-esteem were better at integrating positive and negative feelings about people in their minds. People with lower self-esteem, she thought, were more likely to store positive and negative feelings separately in their heads and more likely to get caught in the love-hate trap.

To explore that theory, Clark and Steven Graham, a Ph.D. candidate at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, came up with a test. They asked subjects to answer yes or no, as quickly as they could, to whether each of 10 adjectives applied to the intimate in question. Among the adjectives were choices such as forgiving, obnoxious, loyal, self-centered, greedy, understanding and cruel.

The trick was that half the subjects were given a list in which the adjectives alternated between positive and negative attributes. (Forgiving-greedy-loyal, etc.) The other half chose from adjectives separated into positive and negative categories. (Forgiving, loyal, understanding in one list; greedy, cruel, obnoxious in the other.)

The finding: People with low self-esteem took more time than people with high self-esteem to sort through the adjectives in the list in which positive and negative attributes alternated. The two groups worked their way through the second list at the same pace.

"It wasn't that people (with low self-esteem) had more negative views of partners - they didn't - but when the adjectives alternated good, bad, good, bad, people lower in self-esteem took a longer time to respond because they had to switch stores," Clark said.

Lisa Daily, author of the popular advice book "Stop Getting Dumped!" put it another way.

"Anything that's all bad or all good is probably coming from a skewed perspective," she said. "Relationships in life are not black and white."

Clark said she didn't think "all-or-nothing" thinking was the sole factor in poor relationships.

"Low trust in others' acceptance in the first place gives rise to other behaviors that are not good for relationships," she said. "So I wouldn't want to characterize (the love-hate tendency) as the thing driving bad relationships."

Daily said her experience suggested that women get into love-hate relationships more often than men do.

"Women tend to define themselves more by their relationships. Men tend to define themselves more by their accomplishments," she said.

She also said she thinks people attract others who are at similar levels of mental health, which means partners low in self-esteem reinforce each other's behavior.

"It's so clear when they write stuff like, `It was so perfect and then we had this terrible breakup,'" she said. "Both partners had a twisted sense of the relationship."

The National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation sponsored the first studies of the love-hate phenomenon, subtitled "The Jekyll and Hyde-ing of Relationship Partners."

Graham won a prize from the International Association of Relationship Researchers for his work. It's awarded each year to the best Ph.D. dissertation on relationships.

Do you have low self-esteem?

Morris Rosenberg, Society and the Adolescent Self-Image (1989) Wesleyan University Press

To find out, decide whether you strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree with the following statements:

I feel that I'm a person of worth, at least on an equal plane with others.

I feel that I have a number of good qualities.

All in all, I am inclined to feel that I am a failure.

I am able to do things as well as most other people.

I feel I do not have much to be proud of.

I take a positive attitude toward myself.

On the whole, I am satisfied with myself.

I wish I could have more respect for myself.

I certainly feel useless at times.

At times I think I am no good at all.

For items 1, 2, 4, 6, 7: Strongly Agree = 3, Agree = 2, Disagree = 1, Strongly Disagree = 0
For items 3, 5, 8, 9, 10: Strongly Agree = 0, Agree = 1, Disagree = 2, Strongly Disagree = 3

The highest score possible is 30; the lowest is zero. No cut-off scores distinguish high from low self-esteem, but higher scores mean higher self-esteem.

Are you in a love-hate relationship?

From: "Self-Esteem and Organization of Valenced Information About Others: The Jekyll and Hyde-ing of Relationship Partners," a study by Margaret S. Clark, Yale University, and Steven M. Graham, Carnegie Mellon University.

For a clue, answer these questions:

1. When I'm mad at my partner, I can't think of anything good about him/her. Yes or No

2. Even when my partner does something to hurt me, it is easy to remind myself of his or her positive attributes. Yes or No

3. When my partner hurts me in some way, all positive thoughts about him or her "go out the window." Yes or No

4. I have more than one image or view of my partner. Yes or No

5. Sometimes my partner seems like a saint; sometimes my partner seems rotten. Yes or No

6. From day to day, my views of my partner can shift from primarily good to primarily bad (and vice versa). Yes or No

7. My partner can seem like one person one day and quite a different person on another day. Yes or No

8. My views of my partner are pretty stable minute to minute, day to day, and month to month. Yes or No

9. If you asked me to describe my partner today and then asked again tomorrow, my descriptions would be exactly the same. Yes or No

Answering yes to statements 1, 3, and 5 indicates segregated thinking, which researchers link to lower self-esteem. Answering yes to statements 2 and 4 indicates integrated thinking, which researchers linked to higher self-esteem. Answering yes to statements 6 and 7 indicates instability of partner views over time. Answering yes to statements 8 and 9 indicates stability of partner views over time.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

where I work

This is where I work now. kind of make you want to put on "Dancing Machine" by the Jackson 5 when you look at it. Okay, maybe that's just me.

woodward, bernstein, cabino...

Check out The Washington Post's "Celebritology" blog. They wrote a nice piece on my sneaker campaign. Click on the title above to acess it.

What's in a name? More than Macy's may know

Saint Paul Pioneer Press

Employees at the Minneapolis Marshall Field's store have begun testing a new dress code policy, donning mostly black so that customers can more easily identify them on the sales floor.

This change seems just right for the Twin Cities retail market. Not only is black slimming, it is also the traditional color of mourning.

In less than three months, Federated Department Stores will pull the plug on Marshall Field's 115-year-old brand name, rechristening its holdings under the less-storied moniker of Macy's. While this is good news to bargain hunters who may have noticed that nearly everything with a Marshall Field's label is on sale right now, the move still leaves an empty space in the shopping landscape that can't be filled by a $140 down comforter on closeout for a mere $39.99.

It's been five years since we said goodbye to Dayton's, a department store name that now, seen through the rosy mists of nostalgia, evokes all that was once best about Minnesota: brand loyalty, charitable giving, support for the arts and a kind of sensible elegance that often surprised our friends from out of town. The downtown department store may have reached its apex in the 1940s, but Dayton's still seemed sophisticated and special and uniquely ours some 50 years later, thanks in large part to the elegant ladies behind the perfume counters, the clerks who pushed their way into the dressing room to insist you were wearing the wrong bra and the fine women in the china department who clucked approvingly at your choice of tableware for the wedding registry.

When corporate powers decided Marshall Field's was a better brand name to build on, we bowed not only to our own Minnesota inferiority complex but also to the logic contained in making all the bags the same. Couldn't the money saved on printing be put into deeper discounts on cashmere and designer shoes?

Very soon we saw the error of our ways when the store restricted its famously lenient return policy and began frowning on Minnesota's one-time currency the personal check. This sense of betrayal is now seen in the postings of many Minnesota shoppers at, the Web site that has collected the signatures of more than 58,000 shoppers in an online petition with the quixotic mission of fending off the Macy's name.

Lessons from our mistakes might be fueling the apparent outrage from Chicagoans, who have always been more aggressive-aggressive than passively so. Film critic Roger Ebert even went so far as to call the Marshall Field's name change a form of corporate "imperialism": "If Columbus could claim America for Queen Isabella, if America could plant its flag on the moon, then why can't (Federated head) Terry Lundgren wade ashore in Chicago, plant his flag at Randolph and State and tell the natives they only thought it belonged to them?"

Speaking of Columbus, shoppers in Ohio haven't exactly embraced the new Macy's name painted over their beloved Lazarus, a regional chain that started in 1851. According to the Columbus Dispatch, visits to Macy's in the Columbus market dropped by 4.5 percent about 50,000 shoppers worse than what Lazarus experienced in the past five years combined.

The drop-off could be deep in the Twin Cities, too. Last year, the University of St. Thomas' Institute for Retailing Excellence conducted a survey of 339 metro households that found nearly 20 percent would moderately or substantially decrease their shopping at the store after the name change. This was in contrast to the polling Federated did last summer, which claimed that 89 percent of shoppers in all of the major cities where Marshall Field's does business regarded Macy's as "more fashionable."

Where did they find these shoppers? Certainly not in the Oval Room, where Prada will be packing its bags. Arrivederci to Miu Miu and Jimmy Choo. It's too bad, too. We always hoped we'd bump into them at a 13-hour sale.

Dave Brennan, St. Thomas marketing professor and director of the Institute for Retailing Excellence, says these moves have been a long time coming.

"This is almost the death knell of what traditional department stores have been," he says. "They've gone from class to mass, nationwide and it's going to be harder for larger corporations to sustain the intimacy they once had with their customers."

Though he notes that consolidating under a single brand name is probably a necessary move in today's marketplace, he does question the call for a sales force clad in black.

"It's not very cheerful," Brennan says. "And I don't think black is a very friendly color."

Yes, but it's always right for a funeral.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Bear trapped at mall returned to mountains

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

DULUTH, Ga. - An 85-pound American black bear was put back in its natural environment Monday after being tranquilized and captured outside Gwinnett Place mall.

The bear was spotted at trash bins near the mall's J.C. Penney store about 10:15 p.m. Sunday, according to the Gwinnett County Police Department.

Two Gwinnett Sheriff's Department deputies and two police officers responded. Police spokesman Cpl. Darren Moloney said one of the officers fired at the bear with his handgun after it charged at him as he left his car.

The bear apparently was unharmed by the gunshots, said Don McGowan, a wildlife biologist for the state Department of Natural Resources.

The bear skulked off, and Gwinnett County Animal Control arrived to tranquilize the animal.

It was later taken to a DNR employee's home in Oconee County to be watched overnight.

Officials planned to release it Monday afternoon into the northeast Georgia mountains in Habersham County.

So what was a black bear doing in a mall parking lot?

Bears stay in wooded areas as much as possible, McGowan said. But seeing a bear in human territory is an increasingly common occurrence in Georgia and other states, especially during their mating season in the summer.

Most of these bears are young males that are pushed out of their areas in northern Georgia by older, dominant males, according to McGowan.

"[The young males] try to establish territory of their own," McGowan said.

The problem, he said, is that these bears are becoming accustomed to human food sources, including one of their most popular staples — birdseed.

"It's very hard to break that habit," McGowan said.

Females and cubs also have been found in Duluth, Norcross and other areas, said McGowan, indicating that these bears are reproducing.

"They are proving to be pretty adaptable," he said.

Another black bear, aptly named Troublesome Tribble, was found near Tribble Mill Park in March, helping himself to backyard bird feeders and making residents of the area both curious and cautious.

Michael Jackson on Japanese TV

(submitted to steve's blog by Al Cabino)

A rare Michael Jackson appearance on Japanese TV

and then the same dudes are looking at their signed MJ albums

Revised law aims to curb Japan's plastic obsession

Society's view of package as part of product will make reduction difficult.

By Hiroko Tabuchi

TOKYO — Buy lunch and a magazine at any Japanese convenience store, and you're likely to get your drink in one plastic bag, hot lunch box in another and your magazine in yet a third.

The mega-packaging keeps your food hot, your drink cool and your newspaper clean, but environmentalists say it also creates a mountain of plastic waste that fouls the air, pollutes oceans and contributes to global warming.

The world uses between 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags a year, according to the advocacy Web site, Wrapping-happy Japan is a major player, consuming some 30 billion — about 300 for each adult.

Those figures don't include the tons of extra wrapping — individual plastic covers for shirts from the cleaners, tiny packages for single cookies — used in Japan, experts say, suggesting the country is among the world's premier consumers of plastic sheet.

"Japan probably uses more plastic than most societies in the world," said Hideki Nakahashi, a spokesman at the Japan Polyolefin Film Industry Trade Association.

Facing criticism from environmentalists, Japan is now trying to reduce plastic use with a law revision that lets the government issue warnings to retailers that don't do enough to reduce, reuse and recycle.

The revised law was approved by Parliament on Friday. But for a country famous for elaborate wrapping, cutting back will be an uphill task.

"We consider wrapping a part of the product," said Shinji Shimamura, a spokesman for the Japan Franchise Association, which represents over 125 franchise chains in Japan.

"Of course it's good to cut down on plastic bag use," Shimamura said. "But we can't hand customers a hot lunch box or cold ice cream without a bag. That would be unhygienic and very rude."

The impulse to wrap may stem from Japan's traditional attitudes toward gift giving, which is geared to presentation more than content. The layering of wrapping also has important social meaning — more wrapping means more politeness and formality.

Some retailers have taken the initiative to cut back even before the revised law comes into effect in 2007.

Lawson Inc., a convenience store chain with almost 8,400 stores in Japan, launched a monthlong campaign in June urging customers to make do with fewer bags.

But Yoshitaka Fukuoka, a professor of environmental science at Tokyo's Rissho University, says the revised law — with no legal liabilities — doesn't go far enough.

"Stores must be forced to charge for bags. That's the only way Japanese consumers can be persuaded to cut down on the plastic bags they use," Fukuoka said.

your happy shopping store

If you have any memories of shopping at Belk stores in the 1970s, this should bring back a wave of nostalgia. I found this old bag in my basement in pretty horrible shape, so I decided to make a scan of it for posterity.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

my neighborhood | Some Small Sense

I love shopping and obviously I love to give and post advice about it. But my perspective as a tall man in a small town doesn't work for everything and everybody.

Enter Amy. She is a petite woman who lives in a big city. Her blog, Some Small Sense, is just starting out, but it offers perspective on being hard-to-fit from the opposite end of the spectrum than I can offer. It's insightful, sharply written and helpful, even if your're not petite.

If you get a chance, go check it out.

my blogging philosophy, in part

Amy was asking me some quesions about my blog and blogging and I thought I'd post a little of what I told her, because it actually sounds helpful, especially to people just starting out with this:

I really didn't find my voice as a writer until I started blogging. I started out very slow and awkward and I didn't really pick up until I had done it about a year or so. I augmented my own writings and pictures with a lot of articles at first, but in the last few months, I've turned down the gimmicks and still get 80% of the traffic did when I was working twice as hard.

I think it's important when you start blogging to write primarily for yourself and not worry about if anybody's reading. If you're fighting the good fight, people will come. I did this for about six months before I had my first comment, but these days I always hear something from somebody every day.

Promotion helps a little. I post on several message boards and link back to the blog when appropriate. A lot of people look at what you link and leave, but every once in a while, you can gain some regular readers (and friends) from it.

That's all I can come up with right now.

Fashionable, flattering: A plus-size fit

By Abigail Leichman
The Record (Hackensack N.J.)

Now that the average American woman is size 14, everyone from Mo'Nique to Jessica Simpson is putting money on plus-size style trends. Large women now have so many fashionable choices that it's time to learn how to play up their bodies, not hide them, said Clinton Kelly, co-host of TLC's What Not to Wear.

The key concept in plus-size dressing, Kelly said, is structure.

"Everyone I see in the malls wears an oversize sweatshirt, faded jeans and white athletic sneakers," he said. "It's just as comfortable to do a nonathletic sneaker in a great color, a dark denim jean with straight legs, a cute polo shirt and a cotton canvas jacket - and it's a hell of a lot more flattering."

Kelly always recommends jackets to lend style and shape. Enlist the help of a tailor to make sure it fits well, he said.

"Not enough women go to tailors. Men buy a jacket and expect to get it tailored, but women expect it to fit off the rack. It's not going to happen."

Choose a jacket that fits your widest part and tailor the rest of the piece, he advised.

"If you have a large bust and narrow shoulders, you have two options: Get a jacket that can't close or one that's too big at the shoulders. Buy one you can close, then take it to a tailor to reset the shoulders."

Kelly's additional fashion tips for plus-size women:

  • "We always hear that black is slimming. But structure - how the garment fits you - is more important than color. If you wore a black potato sack, it would look like a black potato sack."
  • "Color and pattern can help balance the body. If you're bigger on the bottom, keep things there on the simple side with a darker color, then wear a lighter color on top or a bolder print."
  • Use your size to your advantage. "A larger frame can get away with bolder patterns and big, expressive jewelry and bags."
  • Play up the parts of your body you love, play down the parts you don't. "If you love your bust, maybe choose a V-neck with lace or detailing. If your hips are your widest point, don't do anything to draw attention to them, like a horizontal stripe across the bottom of a shirt."
  • "If you're trying to camouflage your hips and tush, a black A-line skirt is the way to do it. The fuller skirt flares away from the body and draws the eye to the shoes and away from the tush. Pair it with a white shirt and a one-button jacket for a fantastic look."
  • "The worst thing a woman can do to her plus-size body is wear light denim tapered jeans. A dark jean with wide legs and a little stretch will work better."