Monday, July 31, 2006

Still want your MTV?

The network is 25 years old, and its world is getting more and more surreal.

Aidin Vaziri
San Franscisco Chronicle Pop Music Critic

Pauly Shore. Teenage sex. Nipplegate. It hasn't been easy living with MTV for the past 25 years. For better and sometimes not so much, the MTV moonman has made one giant footstep on popular culture. On the occasion of the cable network's big birthday today, 25 years after its first broadcast, it would be a shame not to take a look back at some of the best and worst things it has given us.

MTV didn't invent reality TV but did set off the current craze with the 1992 premiere of "The Real World," in which seven strangers shared a New York apartment for three months with a film crew. In the years since, the longest running program on the network has evolved from an intense forum wherein the cast gets real with prickly issues like racism and sexuality to a racy forum in which hot twenty-somethings get intensely drunk and have sex.

MTV loves to cause a ruckus, especially at its annual Video Music Awards, which are best remembered not for the irreverent prizes handed out but the moments that the self-congratulating comedians over on VH1 won't stop yapping about. Over the years, the network has given us such infamous pop culture moments as 1) Courtney Love hurling her compact at Madonna during a 1996 on-air interview with Kurt Loder (oooh!), 2) Diana Ross paddling Lil' Kim's exposed breast onstage in 1999 (aaaaaah!), and 3) Michael Jackson's 1994 open-mouth kiss with new bride Lisa Marie Presley (yuuuucccccccccccccccccck!).

MTV's quest for controversy isn't entirely self-contained. The network produced that wonderful Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show involving Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake and a certain "wardrobe malfunction." On the bright side, sales of sun-shaped nipple shields went through the roof.

Shortly after relocating its studios to Times Square in 1998, the station combined two of its fledgling music shows into an exciting new fan-controlled daily countdown called "Total Request Live." "TRL" became MTV's signature program and an express line to the pop charts for the likes of Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Blink-182. Hooray! But there was a tragic side effect: Carson Daly.

In 1983, MTV put an end to its all-white programming with the world premiere of Michael Jackson's "Beat It" video. In the same year, the cable channel also aired the singer's 14-minute clip for "Thriller" and basically played it nonstop for the rest of the decade, helping the soon-to-be superfreak score the best-selling album of all time. As a sign of his gratitude, Jackson later actually turned white.

Bleep bleep Black Sabbath bleep Ozzy Osbourne bleep bleep dysfunctional family bleep Sharon, Jack and bleep Kelly. Bleep bleep Emmy Award bleep bleep reality show bleep bleep bleep bleep Pat Boone. Bleep bleep, bleep.

Before MTV, the charts were ruled by ugly men like Bruce Springsteen, members of Pink Floyd and John Lennon. Some of them even had beards! Fortunately, the channel ensured that our pop stars looked as good as they sounded by ushering in a new era of genius in the form of Human League, Soft Cell and Culture Club. The tradition continues to this very day.

In 1985, the network covered all 17 hours of Live Aid, a concert held to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia, with uninterrupted reunion sets by the likes of Led Zeppelin and the Who. Twenty years later, MTV covered the Live 8 concert, to eliminate Third World poverty, by cutting away from once-in-a-lifetime sets by Pink Floyd and U2 with Paul McCartney to make time for inane VJ banter and commercial breaks. World poverty quadrupled by the end of the day.

At best, Madonna is an average singer with below-average material. But thanks to MTV her music has taken a back seat to her superstar-making antics: Singing "Like A Virgin" at the first Video Music Awards while rolling around the stage in a wedding dress; filming the "Like A Prayer" in front of a row of burning crosses; and, best of all, sticking her tongue down both Britney Spears' and Christina Aguilera's throats at the 2003 awards ceremony.

What did people ever do before "Cribs," the program that offers fast-cut tours of the houses of famous celebrities? Not know that Tommy Lee has a stripper's pole in his living room? Not know "where all the action happens" in Master P's mansion? Think Andy Dick lived in a box behind Albertson's? Those were the dark ages.

Why wait 30 years for the next David Bowie? With mind-numbing reality series such as 2004's "The Ashlee Simpson Show," 2005's "There And Back," starring former O-Town member Ashley Parker Angel, and this year's "Cheyenne," the network showed the world how easy it is to turn talentless, personality-free blondes into overnight pop stars. Disposable pop stars.

In 1987, MTV introduced "Headbangers Ball," a show that took heavy metal out of high school parking lots and into the living rooms of America, making household names out of makeup- and spandex-clad bands such as Winger, Slaughter and Poison. That wasn't necessarily a good thing.

In the third season of "The Real World," filmed in San Francisco, MTV helped raise awareness of safe sex by introducing viewers to Pedro Zamora, a roommate living with AIDS. Then in 2001, the network dramatized the Matthew Shepard murder with the documentary, "Anatomy of a Hate Crime," and followed it by scrolling the names of hundreds of hate crime victims uninterrupted for 17 hours.

Worried that people might actually start taking it seriously, the station later reversed all its hard work with nonstop programs targeted at date-rapists such as "Singled Out," "Next" and basically every video ever by Eminem.

Not satisfied with all of Madonna's effort nor the annual awards show shockers, MTV decided to add a bunch of gross-out programs to its regular lineup such as "The Tom Green Show," which climaxed with cameras following the Canadian comedian into the operating room as he had surgery for testicular cancer; "Jackass," which featured Johnny Knoxville and friends repetitively slamming things onto their genitals; and "Celebrity Deathmatch," in which clay figurines of stars like Marilyn Manson and Garth Brooks fight to a gruesome death in a wrestling ring. Classy!

On the flipside of "Headbangers Ball," there was "120 Minutes," a haven for new music by cool underground acts (well, underground back then) such as Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode. The only problem was that it usually aired at midnight on Sunday and was hosted by some creepy goth dude.

The network tried its hand at original animated programming with 1991's "Liquid Television," a series most notable for spawning Mike Judge's "Beavis and Butt-head." Running from 1993-1997, the two badly drawn adolescents would make fun of music videos and offer riveting dialogue such as, Beavis: "What's a bunghole?" Butt-head: "A bunghole is what you are, bunghole!"

Famous in Europe for years, MTV finally embraced New Kids on the Block inspiring second-generation (or was it fifth?) boy bands the Backstreet Boys and 'NSYNC in the late '90s. The network even introduced a show called "Making the Band," in which Florida svengali Lou Pearlman assembled his latest proteges, O-Town. The groups became so insufferable that they were parodied on TV shows such as "South Park," "The Simpsons" and, er, MTV's own "2gether."

"Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica," made superstars out of C-list pop singers Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson by documenting the first three years of their marriage. The show's appeal can be condensed down to one bit of conversation: "Is this chicken, what I have? Or is this fish? I know it's tuna, but it says 'Chicken by the Sea' ". The couple filed for divorce in December 2005, eight months after the series ended.

As a rule of thumb, if you let MTV's cameras into your wedding and home, you are going to get divorced. See: Nick and Jessica (above). Dave and Carmen. And if you have a crystal ball handy -- Travis and Shanna.

Hosted by Fab 5 Freddy, Ed Lover and Doctor Dre (not to be confused with Eminem's pal, Dr. Dre), between 1988 and 1995, this two-hour program took hip-hop to the suburbs with its kinetic mix of videos, interviews and in-studio performances. The show was pulled off the air around the same time Puff Daddy made his rap debut. Coincidence?

In 1992, the network launched its politically aggressive "Choose or Lose" campaign with Tabitha Soren. Presidential candidate Bill Clinton met 200 viewers face-to-face in one of many election forums, revealing that he prefers briefs to boxers. Vice presidential nominee Al Gore, President George Bush and presidential nominee Ross Perot also made time in their schedules to appear on the network -- but sadly none were as candid about their preferences in underwear.

After spending the '80s playing overproduced synthesizer bands to death (ours, naturally), the network did an about-face in 1989 by unveiling "MTV Unplugged," a series that showcased big-name acts stripping down with acoustic guitars and scented candles. Some of the most memorable performances were delivered by Nirvana, R.E.M. and, yes, the four original members of KISS.

There was a time when all teenagers had to do to be cool was throw on a pair of Converse sneakers and shredded jeans. But, as MTV has gone to pains to point out, those kids are stupid. Over the years, the station has used a combination of flashy hip-hop videos and advice shows such as "Pimp My Ride," "Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County" and "My Super Sweet 16" to show young, impressionable kids that the only way to be even remotely cool is to put your parents into blinding debt.

MTV debuted on 12:01 a.m., Aug. 1, 1981, with "Video Killed the Radio Star" by the Buggles. The first VJs were Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter, J.J. Jackson and Martha Quinn. Jackson passed away in 2004. The rest now host the Big '80s channel on -- wait for it -- Sirius Satellite Radio. Oh, the irony.

Dollywood: July 29, 2006

Dolly Parton, if you read this blog, thanks for helping create such a wonderful theme park.

I didn’t go into my weekend trip with any expectations about how it would be. I’ve been to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, before, and it was pretty nice, though not impressive. I didn’t get a chance to check out Dollywood previously and hadn’t really though that much about it. I actually regretting committing my Saturday to going at first because I figured it wouldn’t be my speed at all.

I was wrong.

Dollywood has its fair share of hokeyness like most theme parks, and if you go expecting thrill-a-minute rides or historical accuracy, you won’t be bowled over. But the total presentation was sophisticated, fun and surprisingly, authentically friendly. I’ve never been so impressed with a theme park.

Check out what I saw at Dollywood

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Clothes made her mall visit too short

A woman gets the boot when her pants are deemed revealing.

Hampton Roads Daily Press

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- One day last week, when 24-year-old Brooke Vande Hei chose her outfit to go shopping with her son, her sister and a friend, she didn't give it a lot of thought.

But it definitely caught the attention of some Patrick Henry Mall shoppers, who complained to security officers that her shorts were too short. The officers told Vande Hei to cover up or leave. She eventually left, but she later said her shorts revealed nothing but her legs.

Her eviction from the mall for wearing improper clothes - a rarity at Patrick Henry Mall - has sparked a debate on mall dress codes.

The mall is itself a contradiction: a private property with public access. This combination can create a delicate balance between personal freedom and ensuring the comfort of all shoppers.

An informal poll at Patrick Henry Mall this week found a mix of opinions on what's appropriate and what's not.

Keri Allen, a 30-year-old Newport News resident, said she wouldn't like to see "anything provocative," such as a low-cut top or a skirt ending at the hip, but she said something baring a woman's midriff is fine.

Taking it a step further, 41-year-old Sandra Phillips of York County described her ideal dress code as "fairly conservative," with minimal skin showing."I say good for the mall for asking her to leave," she said.

But 20-year-old Rachel Harless, who lives in Gloucester, said shoppers should have the freedom to dress how they want.

"A mall can't say what we can or can't wear in public," she said.

Patrick Henry Mall's dress code is at the discretion of mall management, a fact usually posted at all entrances. During the mall's ongoing renovation, however, the signs have been removed.

The dress code has been a bone of contention before at the mall. A motorcyclist was asked to remove his bandanna or leave in 1994. Calling his bandanna sun protection and not gang wear, the biker chose to leave.

A few shoppers who were told about Vande Hei's shorts said they often see skimpier clothing in the mall.

"The mall sees people like that all the time," said 33-year-old Eric Taylor of Newport News, "so I'd think it would have been pretty bad if they made her leave."

Vande Hei was shopping at Express last Monday when two mall security officers approached her and told her that her outfit was inappropriate under the mall's dress code.

They told her to change her clothes, pull her shorts down a little more or leave. She tugged them down a bit and continued to shop. She thought that was the end of it.

But about 15 minutes later, the security guards told Vande Hei that she would have to leave the mall because of complaints the mall received.

"I thought it was ridiculous," she said. "They should be monitoring other things besides my clothing. I wasn't bothering anybody. I hadn't done anything wrong." The officials walked her to the exit "like a criminal," she said, and her 4-year-old son began to cry.

She insists the shorts, worn on a day when the temperature hit 93 degrees, are not provocative.

"There was nothing sticking out. I would never go out like that, especially if I'm with my son," said Vande Hei, an administrator for Gannett Media Technologies International in Norfolk.

"It's not fair to harass people just because some people didn't like what I had on."

But mall security said they saw a small area of Vande Hei's derriere after other shoppers called for security, said mall spokeswoman Moffat Welsh.

It's not uncommon to receive complaints from shoppers about clothing they find inappropriate, Welsh said. But asking customers to leave is a rare thing. During the past two years, Welsh remembered that a man with a lewd comment on his T-shirt and another with pants that dropped to the ground were asked to leave.

Welsh disagreed with Vande Hei's portrayal of being led out of the mall. No one is "escorted" out by officers for a dress code violation, she said.

But Vande Hei said the bad memory of walking out with security guards by her side lingers with her. She said she doesn't feel comfortable going back to Patrick Henry Mall, a fact that saddens her - she once bought a certain pair of red sporty shorts at the Express there.

For mall officials, the issue boils down to keeping their shoppers happy.

"We just don't want our shoppers embarrassed," Welsh said, "The mall should be a nice, comfortable place for everybody."

y'all come

More to come when I get a chance to write and post photos...

Friday, July 28, 2006

short but earnest

The inherent flaw with blogging is that the ability to express one’s self is limited by the amount one wants (or has time) to type. It seems like all I’ve been doing lately is playing "catch up." Everything seems like it takes forever, yet I never seem to get a lot out of it when it’s going on. It’s a mess.

I hope all is well or at least not horrible. Even though I really haven't had a chance to do much but quip on assorted blogs, I'm still here.

I hope you guys have a happy Friday.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Belk to buy Parisian?

According to unnamed sources, Charlotte, N.C.-based Belk, Inc. has apparently entered into an agreeement to purchase a majority of the assets of Parisian, a specialty department store chain based in Birmingham, Ala. from Saks, Incorporated.

Terms were not released, and neither company has officially announced the deal.

Further information on the sale will be proviuded as it becomes available.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

nothing like a little retail nostalgia

This is a truly amazing find.

My friends over at travel to malls all over the country checking out the retail oddities that dot our cities and towns. The photo above was taken in 2002 in Fremont, Nebraska at the Freemont Mall.

This, Steve-landers, is probably the oldest 1965-1971 era JCPenney signage still in active use. The dark letters with the neon background and turquoise P werre a familiar sight in malls across America for a long time.

Most JCPenney stores were updated throughout the 1980s to replace signage and expand clothing departments into former ‘hard goods’ areas of larger stores. Apparently they missed the mall entrance on this store. Not that I'm complaining :-)

I wish the electified nostalgia could have stretched to the exterior of this store, but the funky brown and white color scheme is still pretty sweet, even with the updated logo.

Check out their blog entry on this mall to see what I'm talking about.

Nike McFly Commercial

(submitted to steve's blog by Al Cabino)

This commercial was created by an award-winning New York film editor, he's even edited a Spike Lee commercial before. Click here to view it.

Also check out Operation McFly's mention on Netecape Celebrity

closing the chapter...

This is what our Hecht's ads look like now. It won't be long.

pink and black

As I was walking to lunch on Friday, I saw a woman who was 5 feet tall and almost as wide standing in front of Southern Pawn Shop in downtown Roanoke dressed in nothing but a pink and black checkerboard bikini yelling to herself facing the street.

If that visual of that doesn’t give you a laugh, nothing will.

City that winked at Prohibition now bans foie gras, public smoking

Associated Press

CHICAGO - If you're a cell phone using, goose liver eating, cigarette smoking, fast food loving person, Chicago might not be your kind of town.

In this city that once winked at Prohibition, members of the City Council are cracking down on behaviors they deem unhealthy, dangerous or just plain annoying. They've taken aim at everything from noisy street musicians to captive elephants to fatty foods like fried chicken and french fries.

A proposal that would restrict fast-food chains from cooking with artery-clogging trans fat oils got a public airing this week, and in the last year alone aldermen have banned smoking in nearly all public places and the use of cell phones while driving. In April, Chicago became the first U.S. city to outlaw the sale of foie gras, a goose liver delicacy.

Critics, including the mayor, wonder if the City Council has suddenly deemed itself the behavior police.

"We have children getting killed by gang leaders and dope dealers," an angry Mayor Richard M. Daley said when the foie gras ordinance passed. "We have real issues here in this city. And we're dealing with foie gras? Let's get some priorities."

Aldermen say they are addressing real problems and protecting their constituents. And they dispute that the proposals are diverting their attention from major issues like a city budget crunch.

"We vote on literally hundreds if not thousands of ordinances in the City Council," said Alderman Joe Moore, who led the effort to ban foie gras after learning about what animal rights activists say is inhumane way geese are treated for their livers. "The fact that there may be greater wrongs to address doesn't mean we cannot also address what we might also view as lesser wrongs."

But some people think the proposals have allowed aldermen to avoid coming up with solutions to the city's bigger problems.

"How about worrying about the price of gas, taxes, helping homeless people?" asked Wayne Johnson, an insurance analyst, who was eating his own fried chicken lunch at a downtown food court recently.

Alderman Burton Natarus, who has sponsored a host of noise ordinances aimed at turning down the volume on street musicians, construction workers, boom boxes and motorcycles, agrees with some critics who argue the council is sticking its nose where it doesn't belong.

"I think we are trying to control people's behavior too much," said Natarus, who regrets voting for the foie gras ban. "We are trying to itty bitty regulate every facet of somebody's life."

The latest target is trans fat, found in oils used to fry food like chicken. An ordinance discussed this week would limit use of such oils by fast food chains that operate in the city.

Like the foie gras ban, the trans fat proposal has earned Daley's scorn.

"Is the City Council going to plan our menus?" he asked.

When the trans fat idea first came up, the Chicago Sun-Times weighed in with an editorial facetiously referring to the council's "special Committee to rid Chicago of Everything That is Bad for Us," and wondering if it was "only a matter of time before they propose ordinances against certain cell phone ring-tones, secondhand barbecue smoke and bug zappers."

Some observers say aldermen, who have for so long done what Daley wanted them to, are feeling emboldened to act on their own because Daley has been weakened by a City Hall scandal that has snared some of his top aides.

Others wonder if the proposals have more to do with a changing city, one that is no longer the home of blue collar industries like the steel mills and stockyards, but rather of upscale enclaves and trendy businesses.

"This is the legislation of refinement," said Perry Duis, a University of Illinois-Chicago historian who has written extensively on Chicago. "This is a city of Starbucks rather than the steel mill."

Whatever it is, more than a few people around the city want it to stop.

"I'm a big boy," said Kerry Dunaway as he munched on fried chicken downtown recently. "I can take care of myself."

End is coming soon for Famous-Barr

Macy's will take over in September

Scott Wuerz
Belleville News-Democrat

BELLEVILL, Ill. -- When most metro-easters think of Macy's, they think of the annual Thanksgiving Day parade in ritzy New York City.

So some shoppers are a little bit concerned that Macy's replacement of the Famous-Barr department stores at St. Clair Square and the Alton Square shoppingmalls Sept. 9 will lead to big-city high prices and a loss of some of their favorite lines of clothes and housewares exclusive to Famous-Barr stores.

"Famous-Barr has a casual line that I really like called Marsh Landing," Belleville resident Jan Burbank said. "The first thing I thought of when I heard about Macy's was that I hope they don't get rid of it. It's what they call active wear, and I really like it."

Macy's spokesman Linda Decker said store representatives have heard lots of questions and even more rumors about what will be coming and going when the change is made in a few weeks.

"People think Macy's is expensive, but it's really not," Decker said. "We have a wide variety of very affordable items. We try to have something for everyone, and people are going to be thrilled by the everyday values they find."

While some Famous-Barr brands will disappear, Decker said they will be replaced with a wide variety of lines exclusive to the Macy's chain. They'll include I.N.C. and Alfani high-end clothes selections, Charter Club casual clothes line and the First Impressions and Green Dog kids clothes collections. Macy's also sells housewares lines called Style & Co. and the Hotel Collection and kitchenware under the Tools of the Trade brand.

Lauren Switalski, a Southern Illinois University Edwardsville student who was shopping Saturday at St. Clair Square, said she doesn't look forward to the change.

"I'm from Chicago and I used to love to shop at Marshall Field's," Switalski said. "Macy's took them over and now they're gone. They took over another store I liked called Kauffman's. It seems like they're taking over everything and I don't like it."

Famous-Barr spokesman Helen Weiss said store officials have taken a lot of calls from sentimental customers.

"The Famous-Barr name has been a fixture in the St. Louis area for years," Weiss said. "People get emotional about things going away. But most of the calls we have are positive."

Shopper Emma Johnson of O'Fallon said she likes shopping at Famous-Barr, but she's ready for the change.

"I've been coming here for years and years. It seems like forever," Johnson said. "I'll miss Famous-Barr. But I think the change will be good. I think people will like it."

"I've shopped at Macy's before in Florida and it seemed nice," Burbank said. "Really, I don't think things are going to be that different."

Thursday, July 20, 2006

christmas in july

I ran into a bunch of interesting articles tonight that are scattered around the last two day's posts. Have fun reading and please comment if so compelled.

Reinventing the Luxury Department Store

The Wall Street Journal

The epitome of old-world elegance, Bergdorf Goodman has long been a leading destination for wealthy ladies who lunch. The very layout of its Manhattan flagship -- with its circular maze leading shoppers past $5,000 Oscar de la Renta gowns -- takes for granted that shoppers have platinum credit cards and hours of leisure time.

So those getting off the elevator on the fifth floor this summer could be forgiven for feeling slightly disoriented by the sight of a deejay spinning lounge music, a panini bar and racks of clothing from cutting-edge designers.

For decades, luxury department stores have stuck to the same formula: offer expensive designer clothing in an elegant setting to win over well-heeled middle-aged customers. But amid fierce new competition -- from "cheap chic" emporiums like Target to high-end designer boutiques -- that is now changing.

Nordstrom is testing "girlfriends" dressing rooms for as many as five friends, while Barneys New York is aggressively expanding its standalone Co-op stores to cities like Troy, Mich., and Austin, Texas. Later this month, Neiman Marcus will open the first of four stores, called Cusp, geared to the Gen-X crowd.

Is any of this working? We evaluated high-end department stores across the country, surveying the merchandise, testing the knowledge of staffers and evaluating everything from restaurants to fur salons. Along the way, we assessed such factors as which chain has the best lineup of top designers -- and which store's salespeople give off the most attitude.

For all of Nordstrom's vaunted reputation for helpful service, when it came to getting useful advice on putting a work outfit together, the staff at Barneys came out on top. For shoppers who want to take care of everything on their list at one store, Neiman Marcus wins out. And those who appreciate a luxe bathroom should head for the loo at Bergdorf's in New York City, where there are Central Park views.

We also saw evidence of how these stores are changing in ways that may seem odd to their longtime customers. At its new store in Boston, Barneys has introduced two "smelling columns," chamber-like structures to inhale fragrances without environmental impurities. At Bergdorf's men's store, a deejay will download and organize music into customers' iPods and create a customized library of music for shoppers.

The biggest driver behind many of these changes: demographics. Like so many other industries, luxury retailers are struggling with the aging of baby boomers and the movement of money into the hands of younger generations. Children of the wealthiest generation in American history, the echo-boomers (teens through early 20s) and Gen-Xers (30-somethings) have grown up bombarded by designer brands since they were toddlers.

Unlike their parents, this so-called millennial generation is unapologetic about ogling $1,600 Marc Jacobs handbags or $900 Zac Posen jeans, even if they can't afford them. That's one reason why wealthy Gen-Xer households spent an average of $52,781 each on luxury goods in 2005 -- including travel, cars, home goods and fashion. That's 6.3% more than wealthy boomers spent last year, according to Unity Marketing, a Stevens, Pa., firm that tracks spending through quarterly online surveys of 1,200 consumers with average household incomes of $140,000.

"We realized that [the typical younger customer does] a lot of her shopping in specialty stores, and thought, what if we did a specialty store for a younger customer?" says Karen Katz, president and chief executive of Neiman Marcus Stores, whose new Cusp stores will sell pricey designer goods, such as Chloé handbags, as well as less-expensive lines, such as J Brand jeans.

There's a lot riding on this. While overall retail sales rose some 24.2% over the past six years to $2.2 trillion, department-store sales declined nearly 14% to $86.7 billion last year from $100.3 billion in 2000, according to the National Retail Federation, a Washington trade group. And the youth pursuit is a tricky strategy for luxury stores to execute. A sudden move into giant platform heels, micro minis and low-riding jeans can easily alienate boomer parents and older shoppers, who remain the most important clientele for luxury stores.

"I am not 20-something, and I wouldn't want to go into Nordstrom's and see a bunch of stuff for 20-somethings, which would dig into the inventory of stuff I like," says Dick Evans of Roswell, Ga., a 77-year-old retired IBM sales executive and longtime shopper at Nordstrom's men's department.

Saks Fifth Avenue learned the hard way that moving too quickly to attract a younger clientele can backfire. Over the past several years, Saks, whose average customer is 45 to 48 years old, added more young designers and launched an irreverent marketing campaign last year called "Wild About Cashmere" featuring goat-shaped mannequins and logos. Saks turned off many of its core 40-something consumers, the company's new CEO, Steve Sadove, admitted at last month's annual meeting. Saks's sales at stores open at least a year consistently lagged behind competitors'. Saks shook up management in January, replacing its CEO with Mr. Sadove.

To repair its image and recapture defectors, Saks is refocusing marketing and merchandise. It is reintroducing its own Saks Fifth Avenue lines, while petites departments return in November -- two features that appealed to older customers but had been discontinued. At the same time, the chain is targeting 20-somethings by renovating the contemporary-clothing sections of its stores and adding a denim bar, equipped with "denim doctors" who help shoppers choose jeans with the best fit.

Other stores are moving cautiously as they figure out what young consumers want. "We are finding that the young shopper isn't like her mother, who might wear the same designer head to toe," says Ms. Katz at Neiman Marcus Stores. "The daughter is all about mixing high and low."

While traditional luxury items, such as Hermès Birkin bags, Louis Vuitton bags and Ferragamo ties, can appeal to both parents and children, the younger group has its own distinct tastes. It considers many of the designers that their parents love -- such as Valentino, Chanel and St. John -- just plain old-fashioned.

"The children of wealthy boomers are more style-driven than people in the same age group were in the past," says C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group, a Charleston, S.C.-based consumer-behavior research company. "But unlike their parents, they aren't loyal to particular brands or individual stores."

Experts say many Gen-Xers are better informed about designers and new trends than their parents and often pride themselves on being first to discover what's new. Priya Sopori, a 33-year-old lawyer in Los Angeles, dresses in Chloé and Dolce & Gabbana and occasionally buys shoes at Barneys in Beverly Hills. But she doesn't rely on department stores for fashion guidance. "By the time a particular designer is carried in department stores, it's usually already gotten too publicized."

To distance itself from its more conservative parent, Cusp won't use the Neiman name anywhere in its stores. As opposed to the extravagant marble floors and authentic Picassos hanging at Neiman's, Cusp will feature flea-market-finds, store-room shoe-racks and ottomans covered with 1970s car upholstery as part of its interior designs. Opening in Georgetown, Los Angeles and McLean, Va., Cusp will sell an eclectic mix of books and CDs, and edgier labels like 3.1 Phillip Lim, Morphine Generation and Salvador Sapena.

The new stores will compete directly with Barneys's new Co-op stores, which the New York retailer is rapidly expanding this year and next. Geared to 20- and 30-year-olds, Co-ops carry less-expensive but hip merchandise such as $200 Radcliffe jeans, a $300 LuLu Frost Plaza Hotel-inspired necklace and $260-to-$330 studded Co-op brand sandals. The Co-ops will number 14 by next year, outnumbering Barneys's flagship locations. Barneys, which Jones Apparel Group bought in 2004, hopes expanding its flagships and Co-ops will help more than double its current sales volume to at least $1 billion by 2008, says CEO Howard Socol.

Seattle-based Nordstrom boosted its hip factor recently when it bought a majority interest in the ultra-chic Jeffrey New York and Jeffrey Atlanta boutiques. With that deal, store founder Jeffrey Kalinsky became the director of designer merchandising at the chain, with an eye toward bringing in more cutting-edge brands.

For talented young designers, Nordstrom is adding "via C" areas to its new stores. Eager to boost its sales online, Nordstrom also just added virtual designer boutiques for Michael Kors, Dolce & Gabbana and others on its Web site. For now, shoppers have to call an 800 number to order the merchandise, though come fall, online orders will be accepted.

But for all the new efforts, some evidence suggests that when it comes to deciding where to shop, many consumers consider more basic factors. In a recent survey by the Luxury Institute, a New York consulting firm, U.S. consumers with a net worth of at least $750,000 said they consistently value superior quality, exclusivity and a department store's ability to make a customer "feel special." For our test, we also worked with Harris Interactive to survey 680 luxury-store shoppers around the country about how they decide where to shop. The two attributes that came out on top: service and selection.

One thing that stood out when we tested the country's top five luxury department stores, is each chain's distinct personality. For instance, those interested in top designers and understated, elegant looks, should look to Bergdorf Goodman; although it has only one store, in New York, it has built an impressive Web site for online shoppers around the country. We found one of the broadest selections of house-brand clothing and shoes at Nordstrom's stores, except when it came to women's suits, which had only limited choices when we visited the Short Hills, N.J., store.

Even within a chain, some stores stand out. That's partly because stores put most of their bang into their flagships and key markets, with mall outposts more uneven. Also, top designers such as Chanel and Jimmy Choo intentionally limit the distribution of certain of their merchandise to just one or two retailers in a local market. For example, up to half of the 99 Nordstrom stores nationwide don't carry any clothing from runway-caliber designers.

At Neiman Marcus in Dallas NorthPark, we found Chanel sunglasses, shoes and makeup. But the highly sought-after Chanel clothing -- $1,000 blouses, skirt suits starting at $5,800 -- is stocked at the downtown Dallas flagship. A Neiman spokeswoman says about 23 of its 36 stores nationwide carry Chanel apparel, and any store can call it in.

One point that favors all the chains we tested over many boutiques is their relatively generous return policies. Nordstrom, for one, has no time limit on returns, while Bergdorf's store credit never expires.

Department-store officials say the millennial-generation efforts are paying off. Since it introduced the "5F" floor with a deejay and merchandise geared toward younger shoppers, Bergdorf's sales of pricey contemporary clothing "have been phenomenal," says CEO Jim Gold, who provided no additional specifics.

Still, the new ventures will need to win over a generation of shoppers like Ms. Sopori, the 33-year-old lawyer who is wary about department stores in general.

"If there's a particular designer collection you like, it's much better to go to the boutique where you can see the collection in its entirety," she says. "At department stores, you're essentially at the whim of the store's buyers, who might be from a different age group."

Wal-Mart in White Plains, N.Y

Check out Wal-Mart’s new two-level store that just opened in White Plains, N.Y. The store features an art deco exterior, an escalator for shopping carts, bilingual English-Spanish signage, wood flooring in apparel areas, self-checkout lanes, the most extensive food assortment outside of a supercenter, a large Dunkin’ Donuts unit, elevators large enough to accommodate several shopping carts and free parking for customers who spend at least $5 per visit.

Click here or on the title for a photo tour. Registration to may be required.

Macy's: The Reality Show

Macy’s will be the subject of a reality television show.

“Unwrapping Macy’s,” set for broadcast in September, will offer a behind-the-scenes look at how the retailer operates its stores, selects merchandise, creates a catalog and runs events like the annual Thanksgiving Day parade, said Steven Weinstock, one of the producers behind the show.

The show, which is still being edited, will be on WE, the Women’s Entertainment network, whose viewership is said to overlap with Macy’s customers. The first of eight 30-minute episodes will appear at 10 p.m. on Sept. 30, 2006.

“Unwrapping Macy’s” will, for the most part, depict the daily lives of employees. Weinstock said life at Macy’s was “inherently dramatic,” because of creative conflicts between staff members and the deadline pressure of each passing fashion season.

Ron Klein, chairman of Macy’s East division said, “Most reality TV is a negative experience, waiting for someone to fail,” but that “Unwrapping Macy’s” would not follow that format.

The show will premier just as Macy’s parent company, Federated Department Stores Inc. (Cincinnati), expands the Macy’s now-national brand into several new markets with the conversion of several former May Co. stores.

Federated to Sell Target 4 Stores in California, New Mexico and Pennsylvania

CINCINNATI (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Federated Department Stores, Inc. today announced it has sold four mall department store locations to Target Corporation. All are duplicate locations Federated previously announced for divestiture as a result of its acquisition of The May Department Stores Company. With this agreement, Federated now has announced buyers for 62 of its 80 duplicate locations.

The following locations are included in the sale to Target:

-- Macy's Coronado Center, Albuquerque, NM (153,000 square feet, opened in 1976)

-- Macy's Westminster Mall, Westminster, CA (175,000 square feet; opened in 2002)

-- Robinsons-May Glendale Galleria, Glendale, CA (179,000 square feet; opened in 1993)

-- Strawbridge's Springfield Mall, Springfield, PA (186,000 square feet; opened in 1997)

Details of the agreement were not disclosed. Federated said proceeds from this transaction are included in the $400 million to $500 million after-tax total expected from the sale of duplicate stores nationwide, as previously announced.

Is There Anything Left That We Can Eat?

Consumers Under Pressure

Candy Sagon

I can't decide what to eat. I don't mean which recipe to make, or what restaurant to go to. I mean when I go grocery shopping, I'm paralyzed with indecision. Everything, it seems, is either ethically, nutritionally or environmentally incorrect. Guilt is ruining my appetite.

Take the other day when I went to buy eggs. Sounds easy, but this is the dialogue that played in my head as I stared at six shelves of egg cartons:

"Should I buy the omega-3 eggs that are supposedly good for my heart? But wait, they're not organic. Maybe I should spring for the $3.50 organic eggs from Horizon, even though I read that the company has gotten so huge, it's driving out the smaller organic farmers. Perhaps I should get the cage-free eggs from a small farm in Pennsylvania? Or the brown eggs from vegetarian-fed, free-roaming hens?

"Oh, never mind. I need to save money. So what if the hens are living a miserable existence in the poultry version of the state pen. The eggs are only 79 cents. I have bills to pay."

(Note to PETA: Don't worry. I couldn't live with the guilt. I ended up buying the brown eggs from free-roaming happy hens, so don't write to me.)

The point is, choosing what to eat and drink has become hard work. It's not simply a case of taste or price. Now we have to ask ourselves: Is this good for my health? Have animals suffered? Is it local? Organic? Bad for the planet? Harvested by child workers?

What's worse, the answers are often contradictory. Should I buy the locally grown lettuce at the farmers market, even if the farmer uses some pesticides? It's good to support local farmers, but what about pesticides' link to cancer? Then again, that California-grown organic lettuce at the supermarket has been trucked in thousands of miles, burning up thousands of gallons of fuel. Does that make environmental sense?

Even when you think you know the answers, it turns out you don't. Consider salmon. To prevent the over-fishing of wild salmon, which was also wildly expensive, farm-raised salmon was developed. It seemed the perfect solution to controlling cost, protecting the species and meeting the exploding consumer demand for the kind of fish that health experts insisted we needed to eat. Except that now farm-raised salmon is said to have high levels of chemical contaminants and other carcinogens because of the way the salmon are raised. Should we limit our intake? Switch to something else? (But not Chilean sea bass, which is over-fished, or shrimp, which is farm-raised in equally contaminated water in foreign countries, or canned tuna, which is full of mercury.) Or should we just take the risk because we're told -- this week -- that fish oil is good for us?

The tough decisions aren't limited to the fish counter. Books such as Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation" (Houghton Mifflin, 2001) have raised questions about the humane treatment of cattle and of the immigrants working in packing plants. Critics wonder how closely the federal government really inspects the meat we eat. The feds say our meat supply is safe, but companies aren't required to announce recalls of contaminated beef. And what about that Texas cow discovered last year to be infected with mad cow, the brain-wasting disease? Government officials played it down; should we trust them? Switch to chicken?

Oh, wait. Avian flu. Salmonella. Chickens raised in factory farms. Manure runoff polluting the Chesapeake Bay. Chicken-of-the-sea becoming literally true.

I think I need to lie down.

My anxiety over what to eat is what Michael Pollan addresses in "The Omnivore's Dilemma" (Penguin Press, 2006). The question of what to have for dinner has become complicated, he acknowledges. Fast food and processed food are making us fat. Dietary advice is confusing. Even organic is becoming big business, including organic junk food and organic factory farms.

But refusing to consider these developments is not the answer. Ignorance, he argues, is not bliss. It's just ignorance. "To eat with a full consciousness of all that is at stake" can afford great satisfaction, Pollan writes, because it lets you choose what is best for you. Bottom line for him in the dinner dilemma: Choose local.

Still, I wondered if there might be some moral and ethical template I could apply to my food decisions. Arthur Caplan is the director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. He's usually asked about tough subjects such as stem-cell research and human cloning. I asked if he found moral predicaments at the grocery store.

"Oh, absolutely. And it doesn't even end with the food," he says. "One of my great moral quandaries comes when the cashier asks, 'Paper or plastic?' " (For the record, he chooses paper.)

Caplan believes there's no need to have "a moral aneurysm" every time we go to the supermarket. Every person, he says, needs to establish a scale of ethical priorities. Is taste most important to you? Cost? The environment? Your health? Animal suffering? Pick one thing that matters most and let that drive your decisions.

For Caplan, No. 1 on his list is whether suffering was involved. "So I want happy chickens, no veal, no foie gras. After that comes environmental impact, and then labor. I have an ethical guide in my head that helps me through the store."

He also points out that, in a way, we should be grateful we are even considering all these ethical questions. "These are the dilemmas of abundance," he says. "If we were living in Darfur, the only answer to 'what to eat?' would be 'anything I can find.' "

Allen-Edmonds Sold to Private Firm

AP Business Writer

MILWAUKEE — The president and chief executive of Allen-Edmonds Shoe Corp., one of the few remaining domestic shoe brands, has sold his majority stake to a private investment firm from Minneapolis.

John Stollenwerk sold his stake in the fashionable men's shoe manufacturer to Goldner Hawn Johnson & Morrison Inc., in a deal announced Thursday. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Goldner Hawn said it would partner with the current management team and keep leaders in place at the company, which is based in Port Washington, 25 miles north of Milwaukee.

"The quality behind every aspect of Allen-Edmonds made the company very attractive to us," said Michael T. Sweeney, managing director of Goldner Hawn.

Stollenwerk will become the company's chairman, while Mark Birmingham, the chief operating officer, will take over as president and CEO. Stollenwerk said the company's management team looked forward to working with Goldner Hawn.

"Bright days lie ahead for Allen-Edmonds," he said.

Allen-Edmonds, which prides itself on its materials and crafting standards, was founded in 1922 in the town of Belgium, just north of Port Washington. It received a military contract to outfit American soldiers with shoes during World War II and found that soldiers wanted to continue wearing the brand after they returned home.

Besides shoes, the company also makes belts and cedar shoe trees, which are inserts for storing shoes. It employs about 700 people at its manufacturing facilities in Port Washington and Lewiston, Maine, and at 26 company-owned stores.

Earlier this month, President Bush toured the factory in Port Washington and received a pair of custom-made leather wingtips in red, white and blue. The company said this week it would not make any other pairs of the patriotic shoes.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Roll Up Your Sleeves and Indulge in a Miami Vice


SOME pop culture phenomena have the life span of a mayfly. Others have the staying power of a plutonium rod. The phenomenally popular “Miami Vice” flickered across screens for barely five seasons — 1984 to 1989 — on NBC, yet the effects of its influence on television, movies, music and most lastingly, of course, fashion, were so potent and unforeseeable that one can pick up their radioactive signals 17 years after the series shut down.

The cop show lives on in reruns, on DVD and now in a new movie directed by the show’s executive producer, Michael Mann, which opens nationwide at the end of this month. While violent and stylized and packed with the gritty and hyper-real effects now obtainable through the miracle of computerization, “Miami Vice,” the movie, is set in the unfashionable present and thus unlikely to jump-start any trends.

True, each of its stars does his bit to add spin to the visual images originally conjured by Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas in the roles of James (Sonny) Crockett and Ricardo (Rico) Tubbs. But aside from a porn-star mustache that Colin Farrell, the new Crockett, wears, and the Malcolm X meets R. Kelly goatee Jamie Foxx affects in the movie, there is nothing stylistically to compare with the crazy subtropical brio of images from the 80’s TV show. Its Necco Wafer palette and ironic macho were ideal for an unsubtle era of big hair, big government and big bad gangsters hauling kilos for the Medellín cartel in cigarette boats backlighted by a Harvey Wallbanger sky.

“The way Michael Mann did the costumes has nothing to do with real cops,” said Jim Moore, the creative director of GQ magazine. “But it influenced everything we did at the time.”

The extent to which the show played a part in the sartorial recasting of the American man is difficult to overestimate. Before “Miami Vice,” which was conceived as a cop show for the MTV generation, adult males were not often in the habit of wearing T-shirts under sports coats or shoes minus socks. Most guys without ties in the 1980’s would have been considered slobs or candidates for the unemployment line. Pastel-colored trousers were reserved for caddies, pastel-colored vehicles for pimps. Suits in the late Reagan era were still substantially lined and padded and as rigidly shaped as Barcaloungers, although with sleeves. Loose, crumpled garments were considered work wear for convicts or gigolos. Hardly anybody without a begging cup wore a straw hat.

Although it’s hard now to remember the radical statement these gestures once constituted, before “Miami Vice” few men except bank tellers rolled up their jacket sleeves, and about the only folks who flipped up their blazer collars were the singer George Michael or patrons in some Fort Lauderdale gentlemen-only bar. “It’s the first point in fashion history where you can really show a TV having that influence on fashion,” said Mr. Moore, adding that a two-day growth of beard before “Miami Vice” was a sure sign of a impending bumhood. “ ‘Miami Vice’ made stubble cool,” he said. It has stayed cool far too long, and this is something Mr. Mann should be required to answer for.

When he orchestrated the look of the original show, Mr. Mann was venturing into stylistic territory already staked out by Italian designers, people like Gianni Versace, Gianfranco Ferré or Giorgio Armani, the man generally credited with introducing the world to the unconstructed suit — that is, without padding, a lining or internal stiffening. This might be as good a time as any to amend the old canard about Mr. Armani being the inventor of the floppy suit. It was long a staple of Neapolitan haberdashery, developed by tailors sent to London by wealthy patrons to apprentice on Savile Row. Being superior craftsmen, the tailors absorbed everything there was to know about British cuts and suit construction. Being Neapolitans, they blithely tossed out the window most of the knowledge they had acquired. It is generally too hot in Naples to dress like Bertie Wooster. But it is not too hot in Milan, where Mr. Armani adapted the look before wholesaling it to the world.

“Miami Vice” may also have marked the earliest mainstream appearance of that indestructible cultural chimera, the metrosexual. “As tough as Sonny Crockett was meant to be,” the dude on a boat with a pet alligator named Elvis, “he still had the meticulously groomed scruff on his face and the pastel, linen-y sports jackets,” said Dan Peres, the editor of Details. “That all was certainly a part of the cultural moment that allowed men to embrace their vanity a little more openly.”

It was their big weapons, of course, that gave the “Miami Vice” guys confidence enough to wear girly clothes and to moisturize. From the start the show unabashedly showcased the latest and scariest in armory, something it has in common with the new film, which rarely shows anyone unholstering a pistol when there’s a submachine gun around.

From the pilot episode, in which Crockett carried a sleek automatic, it was clear that the show sought to telegraph macho credibility and insider cool by swiping a tactic rappers were using successfully in their lyrical boasting, outgunning both everyday criminals and cops on the beat. So what if weapons experts considered the Bren Ten stainless steel pistol that was used for several early seasons to have been a dud, prone to malfunction and with a magazine that cost $100?

“The gun was a nice design, but you couldn’t find or afford the damn magazine,” said Garry James, a senior editor at Guns & Ammo. The Bren Ten was abandoned and replaced by a variety of other pistols, including one uncannily like a gold-plated model later found and looted from Saddam Hussein’s palace in Baghdad, and then seized by the British Customs and Excise Service early in 2003.

If the graphic and preening look of “Miami Vice” style made excellent joke fodder, visually easy to parody (as the cast of “Friends” did, in hilarious flashback), it also provided an enduring stylistic touchstone for consumers, who apparently never lost affection for Crockett and Tubbs.

Gamers still play “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City,” with its undercover officers looking like wonky virtual versions of Johnson and Thomas. Donatella Versace still designs men’s wear, as she did for the spring 2007 season shown recently in Milan, that modifies deftly, but only slightly, the defining elements of Pan-American style, circa Pablo Escobar and Manuel Noriega.

“Miami and ‘Miami Vice’ represented a magical time,” in the 1980’s, Ms. Versace said in an e-mail message, understatedly characterizing the era as colorful and “even excessive.” With her latest collection, Ms. Versace explained, “I returned to my roots and to a Miami that was very important to me in the late 80’s and early 90’s.”

Mr. Armani, too, plays games with the clichés of Latin macho; at his Emporio Armani presentation in June the designer sent models out wearing glue-on lip hair that looked a lot like the mustache Mr. Farrell has in the film.

With few exceptions, most purveyors of high-end design left “Miami Vice” behind a long time ago. Yet the effects of the show never really disappeared from the marketplace. “Our customer is a working guy who always wanted to look fashionable and set himself apart from the crowd,” said Neil Mulhall, the president of International Male, the mass market catalog clothier known for mesh pouch thongs and ruffled Byronic poets’ shirts. In its spring 2006 catalog, International Male offers a selection of suits in pink pastel linen and shirts of semi-sheer embroidered voile that could easily have been swiped from the set of “Miami Vice,” the television show or the film. “It’s a little bit forward and a little bit retro,” said Mr. Mulhall, neatly summing up the whole enterprise.

It's in. It's out. At last, your guide to necktie etiquette.

By Daniel B. Wood Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

LOS ANGELES -- Subtle forces are shifting deep in the psyche of the American male. These forces plumb the very depths of identity, class, power, status, and the human mating dance.

They are plumbing in several directions at once.

Someone please call the plumber.

If you believe marketers, imagemakers, bosses like Dilbert's - and other blokes paid to think up ways to tell you, "You're not good enough, but I've got just the thing to fix that" - it has all come down to the common necktie.

In some places (church, restaurants, college) the tie seems to be vanishing alongside the polar ice caps (if you believe Al Gore). Sightings can be especially rare during the hot summer months. But in other places (law offices, stock brokerages, hospitals) ties are reappearing faster than Whac-A-Mole on steroids. "Ties are both coming back and going out at the same time," says Gerald Andersen, executive director of the Men's Dress Furnishings Association in New York. The changes are both real (not imagined) and modified by regional differences (up generally in the Midwest and East; down, for the most part, in the West), he and others say. The personal whims of revolving CEOs can also figure in - no matter what profession.

"Both perceptions are correct," Mr. Andersen says. But with a kind of defiance to those of the now-defunct dotcom era who had all but deep-sixed the necktie in favor of T-shirts, beards, shorts, and sandals, he paraphrases Mark Twain: "The reports of the death of the necktie have been greatly exaggerated."

Of course a guy from the Men's Dress Furnishings Association would say that, some might think. But he's got stats showing where the prediction came from and where it went. The glory days of the tie were in the early '90s, when men, and the women who shop for them, racked up a record $1.3 billion in US necktie sales. But they dipped to half that ($750 million) just a half decade later. That was when "casual Friday" became the mantra, when the nerd-geniuses of Silicon Valley made it a status symbol to thumb their noses at US workplace convention.

Yes, that's how it was? Time to send an e-mail to Wall Street, stomping grounds of this writer's very own brother. "[The '90s was] when everybody figured the way to look businesslike and professional was to look like a dotcom executive wearing a casual shirt and walking shoes like [Apple exec] Steve Jobs, and it was pretty cool since those people were worth $50 million to $5 billion each," writes back Stephen Wood, an investment banker. "All the Wall Street firms and the law firms needed to appeal to the young guns coming out of school, so they adopted the 'business casual code' ('see, we're just as professional and serious about business as you are, Mr. $5 billion Dotcom executive').".

But after the dotcom bust, "the whole trend didn't seem so professional and serious anymore," says Wood. "It seemed like a crock reserved for the rock stars and Hollywood types."

By 2000, though, neckwear started coming back - thanks to Regis Philbin, with dark tie on dark shirt, hosting oodles of episodes of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" on ABC. And after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, a shocked nation went back to basics - yes, even with its wardrobe.

Since then, say experts, the tie look - overall - has rebounded. Maybe not to its earlier height, but sales are at least well over the $1 billion mark as of this year.

Although it's possible that some of these tie purchases usually stay in the closet, reserved only for special occasions, others are convinced the change is for real. "It seems pretty clear there is a movement to start dressing up again, and ties are part of that," says Joseph Rosenfeld, an image consultant with the Association of Image Consultants International (AICI). Think individualized choices - bold colors from pinks to oranges - with radical designs, he says. Thin is back in, as are ties that cost more than $100.

Employers are trying to bring back the tie, says Colleen Abrie of AICI, because "no doubt you perform better when you feel more professional looking."

That's how Matt Alexander, who works at Wellington Management in Boston, sees it. "Financial is a place for ties," says the client administrator, who is required to wear a necktie in the office.

More and more employers, it seems, were walking into work on casual Fridays and not liking what they saw. Many lost clients who entered dressed-down offices. The globalization of trade has also prodded Americans to spruce up their image, since Europeans and Asians tend to place a high value on a professional interchange.

Daryl Johnson, who works at GMO LLC, an investment management firm in Boston, has seen these forces firsthand. Although his office has adopted business casual year round, and he thinks it "contributes to a better working environment," the exception is when he and his colleagues conduct interviews or meet with clients. Then, "business formal is worn ... to show our respect," he says.

Sociologists, image consultants, and style mavens say the ups and downs are all a part of a bigger pattern: On roughly 20-year cycles, the open-collar look comes into vogue.

Recall ascot-coiffed Cuban bandleader Ricky Ricardo on "I Love Lucy" in the '50s, followed by the button-down Ward Cleaver ("Leave It to Beaver") and Robert Young ("Father Knows Best"). In the '70s, John Travolta brought the opencollar back ("Saturday Night Fever") before it died alongside discomania. In the late '80s, casual returned (with a lag to catch up with Crockett and Tubbs of "Miami Vice").

Today, there are still huge pockets that have defiantly stayed with the casual style. "[Ties are] uncomfortable, restricting, and serve no practical purpose," says Michael Saffran, a media-relations specialist at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. Faculty there don't wear ties, and many students have probably never seen one, he says. Things have gotten even more casual over the past five years, to the point where he has worn one only once in the past 12 months. "I had been hoping to make it a full year without wearing one, but I broke down and put on the 'noose' for a formal awards dinner this past spring," he says.

Recently a friend told him that wearing a tie gave him a sense of empowerment.

"My response to him (and to anyone who feels similarly) is this," says Mr. Saffran. "The only one being empowered are the people you're trying to impress by wearing a necktie."

A crusader for classic men's fashion

Andy Gilchrist is on a mission to make guys dress well again

By Bruno J. Navarro

Are suspenders in style? Should dress socks match shoes or slacks? What’s the difference between chinos and khakis?

For the past five years, Andy Gilchrist — founder of Web site Ask Andy About Clothes — has fielded such questions from thousands of fashion-conscious readers.

“I’ve always been interested in clothing,” he says via telephone from Manhattan Beach, Calif. “Out of my wife and I, I’m the one who likes to shop.”

Gilchrist, 62, built his corporate career in occupational safety. But it was a part-time job at a Polo store near Redondo Beach, Calif., that caught his fancy.

“Probably that’s the most fun I’ve every had,” he says.

For most of the 5½ years he worked there, Gilchrist was the store’s top salesman — probably not surprising given his enthusiasm for the details of clothing. “I think it’s always been an interest of mine, even in high school,” he says.

Growing up in Kingman, Kan., Gilchrist says he would look forward to his family’s regularly scheduled back-to-school shopping trip to Wichita.

Early inspiration came from his dad, who would consistently strive to look his best, a trait Gilchrist laments as having largely faded from modern life.

“We’ve missed maybe a couple of generations there,” he says. “I’m not sure what happened.”

However, in the past few years Gilchrist says he has noticed men becoming more interested in dressing well.

“Now these guys have realized that clothing makes a difference on how people perceive you,” he says.

These days, Gilchrist spends about four hours a day on the site — “but it’s for fun,” he says — and enjoys help from volunteer moderators to handle queries and make sure things are running smoothly. The online forums, where visitors trade advice, ask questions and discuss the merits of men and women’s fashion elements, boasted 40 live members one recent afternoon.

The site has garnered enough of a following that users voted on an official Ask Andy tie pattern. An official pocket square and cufflinks are also in the works, Gilchrist says.

“Maybe I should go into licensing,” he says with a laugh, adding, “It actually pays the bills and provides a little extra for the official Andy wardrobe.”

Gilchrist says the most asked question is likely: Should dress socks match the shoes or the trousers?

“The answer is they should match the trousers so they can keep that continuous look,” he says.

(Naturally, other schools of fashion thought espouse “freelancing” socks of different hues for a more colorful approach — lending weight to the idea that all style is personal and rules are meant to be broken.)

Gilchrist usually takes a traditional tack with his advice, eschewing the fads for a more sophisticated look.

“The philosophy is a very conservative look so that it lasts for a long time, not just something that’s going to be in this season,” he says. “If you buy a suit, buy something that doesn’t have ruffles on the edge — or charteuse velvet — so it lasts a couple of years.”

One challenge for men is the casual look, to which Gilchrist devotes an entire page on his Web site defining.

“To pull off the casual look and to maintain an air of authority and professionalism is really, really tough,” he says.

All the advice he offered to customers eventually prompted him to produce a photocopied pamphlet, which three years later grew to become “The Encyclopedia of Men’s Clothes” ($19.95). The self-published CD-ROM volume — aptly named at approximately 800 printed pages and for sale on the site — includes a comprehensive approach to achieving the look.

Yet a main feature of Gilchrist’s advice is his emphasis on style and fit over price tags and designer labels.

“You can buy at Marshall’s or Ross or J.C. Penney or department stores,” he says. “You don’t really have to have money to look good. A lot of it is knowing what to look for — knowledge is power.”

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

ring me up, nordy's

You caught me at a good time. I’m stuck downloading a 4 meg attachment of unknown origin over dial-up. Needless to say, I’m going to be waiting a while.

Since I’m waiting and you’re all waiting with baited breath fro the latest dispatch from Steve-land (har-de-har), it’d be a good time to tell you about my shopping trip to Nordstrom this past Sunday.

As those in the know may have noticed, Nordstrom holds an annual sale when the fall merchandise comes in. All the new fall collections are discounted, and all the older merchandise goes on clearance. The Anniversary Sale has become a tradition for me ever since we started getting Nordstrom stores in clos(er) driving range a few years ago.

On Sunday, I went to the Nordstrom in The Streets at Southpoint in Durham on a commando mission. I have at least once gone into this sale without a plan and spent an ungodly amount of money. Not that any of the stuff I bought was bad or unneeded; it was just a little much. So I studied up what was on sale and planned accordingly.

Armed with my trusty circular, I set out to buy a couple of Smartcare (wrinkle and stain resistant) dress shirts for work and at least one pair of shoes, a beautiful chocolate brown nubuck pair of Rockports. Among my (somewhat nearby) Nordstrom choices, Southpoint tends to be the most Spartan, but it was still Nordstrom, so I went along with it.

I’m a sucker for shoes (shocking), so I decided to go to the Men’s Furnishings department to knock out my work shirt Jones first. Being the Spartan experience it is, Nordstrom at Southpoint had only one Smartcare shirt left in my size on sale. I decided that I could use it. It’s a very pale green point-collar and has a lustrous sheen to it. I almost bought a tie to match, but that tie was $95.00, so I figured I could live without it. Another shirt I saw from the catalog (a badass blue checked model) was not available, so my salesperson Leah offered to order it for me on Monday. As of this writing, she hasn’t gotten back to me, but I can always find it online later at the Nordstrom website.

My next and final stop was the shoe department. Nordstrom loves shoes, so I love Nordstrom. It’s the only department store I can go into and find shoes that fit as a rule. Most everywhere else, the shoes are either ill-fitting or out of my price range.

My Rockports were there and they fit perfectly, but I also found a pair of New Balance sneakers, two pairs of Allen-Edmonds dress shoes, and the most tricked out pair of Sperry Topsider boat shoes I’ve ever seen. Everything together would have cost $700.00, so I pared it down considerably. The New Balances were too similar to what I had already, so I nixed those. The AEs were beautiful, but a little much for my normal dressing, so I didn’t get those either. I couldn’t pass up the Sperry’s though. They had Vibram outsoles, a memory foam-lined footbed and a deerskin lining. They were quite possibly the most comfortable, best-made boat shoes I’ve ever seen.

With that purchase, I reached the extent of my pre-determined spending limit and left a happy camper. I’m supposed to pick up some side money from photography later this week, so I may have to make another trip before the sale ends.

IGIGI Sponsors Miss Plus America 2006 Beauty Pageant

Plus-size Clothing Company Reaffirms Commitment to the Celebration of the Voluptuous Beauty

SAN FRANCISCO -- IGIGI (, a leading retailer of designer clothing in sizes 14-32, is proud to announce that it is one of the corporate sponsors of Miss Plus America 2006,, which will take place in Monroe, LA July 26-29, 2006.

Miss Plus America Pageant is an annual event that celebrates the essence of the full-figured, curvaceous, voluptuous American woman. Miss Plus America candidates will wear formal pieces from IGIGI collections in the pageant’s opening number as well as casual items on other rounds of the competition.

“We are very excited to be a part of this event” said Yuliya Zeltser, IGIGI Founder. “Our greatest mission at IGIGI is to break down the misconceptions surrounding beauty and consistently come out with collections which prove that beauty is not about size, but it is about style. Every woman, regardless of shape and size is beautiful and sensual when she is wearing the right clothes for her body.”

OK, maybe a little later than I thought

Despite my desire to be back up and going online tonight, I fell asleep after work and didn't wake until now. I guess I was really tired.

Updates to follow...soon enough.

Monday, July 17, 2006

...sooner than later

Sorry for the lack of content. Saturday was my maternal grandmother's-side's family reunion. Sunday was the Nordstrom Aniversary Sale. After some fever-pitch ironing, it's time for bed.

I'll be be back online later today after work.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Show and Tell


NEW YORK - The Fifth Avenue windows of Bergdorf Goodman and Saks are a new kind of art gallery, with constantly changing installations. A form of theater from the early 1900's, store windows have had their ups and downs. They slumped in the Depression, revived in the late 30's, and fell again in the late 70's, when department stores closed and street crime curtailed nighttime strolls. And then many promising display artists were lost to AIDS.

Linda Fargo came to Bergdorf's in 1995 and started a revolution with her extravagant fantasies, including upside-down windows (1), and 1996's mannequins sprawled on holiday tables including broken china. Her amazing detail (7) influenced costume shows at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (8). David Hoey (3) now designs Bergdorf's windows. His counterpart at Saks, Tim Wisgerhof (17), has his own art signature, with Warhol-like multiple cupcakes framing mannequins (11); huge surrealist eyes (12); a snow-shovel Christmas tree (18); the repetition of manila envelopes (19); and a series of smashed panels, doors and broken light bulbs scattered on the floor (20, 21 and 22). Many times what seems to be a finished Wisgerhof window is a work in progress. The first week the backgrounds are flattened shipping boxes held together with tape (13 and 14). A week later trash can lids are added (15). Week three, the boxes are painted magenta and packing paper forms clouds (16). Visiting the windows is like watching an artist create a work.

At Bergdorf's, Mr. Hoey isn't waiting until the holidays to stop passers-by in their tracks. His present installation salutes the Dada show at the Museum of Modern Art, including a topsy-turvy room (4). Mr. Hoey's spring windows celebrated transportation (6) with seated mannequins protruding from the wall; the Dorothy Draper show at the Museum of the City of New York (9); and surrealism (5). Up now are mannequins and their silhouettes, cut from wrapping-paper backgrounds (2).

The Council of Fashion Designers of America has missed a great opportunity in not recognizing these exceptional talents at its annual awards.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

To Chav and Chav Not

Can Burberry save itself from the tacky British yobs who love it?

By Daniel Gross

American fashion brands have long looked across the pond for inspiration. Ralph Lauren made his fortune by providing an English country look to American burghers, and Brooks Brothers aspires to Bond Street. And there's an old garment industry motto: "Dress British, think Yiddish."

But the admiration goes the other direction, too. Burberry, the venerable British outfitter, has just hired its second American CEO in a row, Indiana native Angela Ahrendts. Last week the new boss said she plans to introduce the plaid-based luxury brand to flyover territory. As the Financial Times reported (subscription required), "Burberry is planning to take the brand into the heartland of Middle America, opening stores in Kansas, Indiana and Ohio as part of a big push into the US." The Americanization of Burberry is one response to the company's curious crisis back home. It's looking to the New World to save it from the down-market yobs who've hijacked the brand in England.

Burberry has a long and distinguished history. Started in 1856 by Thomas Burberry, the company developed gabardine in the 1880s and introduced the modern trench coat. (The famous checkered pattern was introduced as a lining to the trench coat in the 1920s.) Rose Marie Bravo, a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, Fordham University, and the retail universities of Macy's and Saks, brought New York retailing savvy to the old brand when she was hired as CEO in 1997. Bravo hired designer Christopher Bailey from Gucci, planted the famous check on bikinis, and generally endowed the staid brand with sex appeal. The turnaround won plaudits from Business Week and led Time to dub her the most powerful woman in fashion in 2004. A portion of the company was sold to the public in the summer of 2002, and the stock has done reasonably well, as this chart shows.

As part of an orderly transition, it was announced last October that Ahrendts, a senior executive at Liz Claiborne responsible for brands like Ellen Tracy and Juicy Couture, would join the company in January and succeed Bravo in July. Ahrendts' task is to consolidate the gains, improve operations, and push the brand further into new markets. These are good times for luxury brands, as rising wealth in Asia, Russia, and the Persian Gulf boosts demand for Western luxury marks like Burberry. The company reported today that quarterly sales were up 19 percent from last year.

Amid the growth, however, Burberry has faced a crisis on its home turf. For some reason, a few years ago, a group of undesirable customers—known in the United Kingdom as "chavs"—latched onto Burberry as their favored brand. Who, or perhaps what, are chavs? The FT describes them as "members of a sub-culture prone to drinking and anti-social behaviour." (Here are definitions from Urban Dictionary and Wikipedia.) They're tough guys, skanks, soccer hooligans, lower-class unsophisticates, and cheesy celebrities. The king and queen of the chavs are soccer star David Beckham and his wife, not-so-Posh Spice, Victoria Beckham. Chavs, who are defined by class, not race, listen to hip-hop music, wear lots of jewelry, hang out in fast-food joints, and drink in public. (Here's a funny animated bit: "The Chavs—In Me Burberry.")

In the United States, some brands have experienced spectacular growth after being adopted by people on the fringes of polite society (see Timberland and hip-hop). But it doesn't quite work that way in Britain. The Financial Times noted that "wearing the brand became cause for exclusion from pubs, clubs and football grounds because it had become the uniform of troublemakers." Things got really bad when Danniella Westbrook, an ultra-chavvy former soap star, appeared in photos with her child, clad entirely in Burberry. More trouble came last fall, when Kate Moss, who featured prominently in Burberry's marketing campaigns, went into rehab.

Burberry has certainly been damaged by its walk on the "chav" side. But the British market represents only a small part of total sales. And so it makes perfect sense for the new CEO to be targeting the wealthy, deep, and comparatively underpenetrated U.S. market, which accounts for about a quarter of Burberry's revenues. Still, I can't help but wonder if Ahrendts's geographical strategy within the United States is sound.

Burberry has 32 outlets in the United States. (Here's the U.S. store locator.) The stores are mostly in the Arugula Belt—really upscale suburban and urban locales where you're likely to find Asian fusion restaurants, not all-you-can eat buffets; Tiffany's, not Annie Sez—places like Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, South Coast Plaza in the O.C., Cherry Creek Shopping Center in Denver, Newbury Street in Boston, and even Vegas.

In building up a retail presence, Burberry has clearly followed a strategy mapped out by luxury retailers like Neiman Marcus and Tiffany. But Ahrendts has different plans. She told the Financial Times that the company's expensive belted coats would find a welcome audience in the Corn Belt. "The brand resonates as being very democratic," she said. "It is aspirational to the typical American who has never been to London. But is not as intimidating."

This Midwesterner isn't so sure. This morning, I visited Burberry's flagship store near the corner of 57th Street and 5th Avenue in Manhattan. The six-story emporium stands just off the greatest shopping axis in the Western World—Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, Bergdorf Goodman, and Bulgari are all within a stone's throw. There's plenty of nice-looking, high-end merchandise here: coats of course, but also handbags, shoes, and casual wear. The salespeople are nice. Not a chav in sight to intimidate buyers. But the prices are rather intimidating. The 1921 men's trench coat, made of Egyptian cotton with a heavy lining, goes for $1,495. Are the practical, sober-headed burghers of Kansas, Indiana, and Ohio really prepared to pay $1,500 for a raincoat that looks a lot like the one you can buy at Brooks Brothers for a lot less, or at Target for a whole lot less?

More broadly, the brand as it exists today is clearly not pitched to the heartland. Burberry is sponsoring the Anglomania exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And the company's U.S. home page sure doesn't look like Indianapolis.

It makes sense for Burberry to chase growth in the United States. And it makes sense for the raincoat purveyor to chase the sun. Recent store openings have been in San Diego, San Antonio, and Naples, Fla. They might not need raincoats in Vegas or San Diego, but Burberry makes excellent margins on accessories and handbags, like this $1,680 Manor bag. Still, the company shouldn't ignore the places that feature a crappy climate and lots of highly liquid consumers. Forget about Kansas and Indiana. How about Connecticut, the Hamptons, the Boston suburbs, Portland, Ore., or Seattle—all of which have yet to be graced with a Burberry store?

The British company and its American leader certainly are right that they should get away from the British chavs by heading to the American 'burbs. I'm just not convinced they're heading to the right ones.

Daniel Gross ( writes Slate's "Moneybox" column. You can e-mail him at

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

as the world turns

Hello. I hope all is well (or at least not horrible) in your respective worlds.

Work has been a pain in my ass ever since they hired L and I'm just not motivated to do much at all around here after dealing with drama all day. And so it goes.

Long story short, L is from a sales (telemarketing) background, and she's done it for so long that she approaches every situation as an opportunity to "upsell."

Problem is, we don't sell anything at the City. We provide an essential citizen/developer service. It's not even close to the same approach.

This understandably has led to a certain amount of tension, as my co-workers are trained in a civil service style of service providing, and I approach things from a nuanced personal-shopper-cum-tax-preparer angle.

I think my angle works better, and I have written a marketing plan to support my position, waiting to be unveiled at the appropriate time.

But the last few days have bordered on unbeleivably bad. At some point when I can talk about all this without getting angry, I have to write some of this insanity down. It's like a soap opera in the weirdest sense of the concept.

If anybody out there has anything they'd like to share, please do. I need something else to think about.

Target Most-Shopped in U.S. Behind Wal-Mart

Chain Store Age

Columbus, Ohio - Target is the second most-shopped retailer in the United States, trailing only Wal-Mart, according to a report by Retail Forward.

In its latest Shopper Update report, Bull's-eye on the Target Shopper, Retail Forward assesses recent consumer research from its monthly ShopperScape on-line survey to develop a profile of the Target shopper.

The survey reveals that one quarter of all U.S. primary household shoppers visit a Target, Target Greatland or SuperTarget store monthly. Additionally, about 66% of Target's past six-month customer base returns to its stores regularly.

However, because Target's geographic coverage is not as pervasive as Wal-Mart’s, it draws much less shopper traffic on a regular basis than does Wal-Mart.

McDonald's chickens out

Peppery sandwich gets shelved; demand for bolder tastes put in doubt

John Schmeltzer
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- In a sign that the country's tastes may not be as adventurous as McDonald's believed, the fast-food giant said Tuesday it is pulling the Hot 'n' Spicy McChicken sandwich from the menu board.

Oak Brook-based McDonald's Corp. introduced the sandwich with great fanfare in January as part of the largest menu expansion in decades. At the time, the hamburger giant's move to add the peppery sandwich was seen as an indication that American palates were growing to regularly include more intense flavors found in Mexican, Thai and other ethnic foods.

But, apparently, we're not there yet.

After six months of soft sales, McDonald's appears to have misread the market for the sandwich. A spokeswoman for the company confirmed Tuesday that the spicy chicken sandwich "has been discontinued."

The spicy chicken sandwich was seen to be part of the restaurant industry push to offer items that excited its customers.

Across the country, restaurant menus are getting more bold flavors--such as a spicy pulled pork sandwich from Tyson; drinks from the Coca-Cola Co. like Pomegranate Punch, a blend of Bacardi rum with pomegranate juice, Sprite and lemonade; and fusions of flavors such as a peach blackberry streusel pie from Sara Lee Corp.

In part, it is due to the wave of Hispanic immigration that hit the nation in the 1990s. But it is also due to a growing number of Baby Boomers demanding stronger flavors to compensate for the loss of some taste buds during the aging process. One measure of the trend is the increase in the production of chili peppers, which has risen from 2.8 million pounds in 2001 to 5.2 million pounds in 2005.

"Spicy chicken resonated well with consumers looking for the spicy bold taste," said Bill Whitman, a spokesman for the company.

In fact, the company in April credited sales of the spicy chicken sandwich with helping to drive U.S. sales higher by 4.1 percent that month.

"It's not that it didn't do well. It just didn't do well enough" to keep it onto the core menu, he said.

McDonald's spent 18 months developing the spicy chicken sandwich and declined to disclose how much was spent in development.

None of McDonald's premium sandwiches, whether burger or chicken, are among the chain's top-selling sandwiches.

Whitman said the top-selling sandwich is the double cheeseburger by a wide margin. The cheeseburger and McChicken sandwich are second- and third-best sellers. All three sandwiches are from the company's dollar menu, where all the products cost $1.

The McChicken is one of nearly two dozen chicken items the company now offers. While McDonald's is known as a hamburger chain, more than 30 percent of the items on its core menu are chicken products.

The spicy sandwich is not the first time that the company has stumbled with an offering. But it is one of the quickest removals for an item that wasn't a hit.

McDonald's stuck with its expensive Arch Deluxe sandwich for two years.

In 1981, McDonald's introduced a boneless pork sandwich called a McRib. Sales were mediocre and it was eventually canceled several years later.

In 1962, the company briefly offered a sandwich with grilled pineapple and cheese for consumers going meatless during Lent. It failed to catch on and the next year was replaced by the Filet-O-Fish, which is now one of the company's standards.

While the spicy chicken sandwich is still available in the Chicago area and a few other markets, Whitman said it would be discontinued as supplies are exhausted.

It will be replaced on the menu boards of the more than 13,000 U.S. McDonald's this month by the snack-size chicken wrap, which the company hopes will be the newest thing that can drive sales higher.

But the spicy chicken sandwich may not be gone for good. Whitman said it may return occasionally in a fashion similar to the McRib, which is brought back in select markets about once a year.

Bob Goldin, vice president of Technomics Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm, said canceling the spicy sandwich was the right decision.

"They have to be careful about over-cluttering the menu board," he said. "If they want to add some spice to something they can add a spicy sauce."

Federated Sells Filene’s Historic Boston Store

Downtown location, built in 1890, latest victim of retailer’s divestiture plan

Federated Department Stores Inc. (Cincinnati) has finalized an agreement to sell its downtown Boston Filene's store to Vornado Realty Trust (New York) for approximately $100 million.

The 656,000-square-foot Filene's store opened in downtown Boston in 1890. It’s one of the duplicate locations Federated previously announced for divestiture as a result of its acquisition of The May Department Stores Co. (St. Louis) last year. There is a Macy’s store in Downtown Crossing, a newer shopping and commercial area in the heart of the city.

With this agreement, Federated now has announced buyers for 57 of its 80 duplicate locations.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Pink Void

The psychedelic legacy of Syd Barrett.

By Jody Rosen

Syd Barrett, who died several days ago (no one is sure exactly when) at age 60, was, to say the least, a mess. The wire services are remembering the co-founder and first lead singer of Pink Floyd as a "troubled genius"—obit-speak for lunatic—and indeed his life was a lurid tragedy that seemed scripted for a VH-1 Behind the Music special: Gifted psychedelic-rock pioneer streaks like a comet across the Swinging London music scene, sears his mind on drugs, descends into madness, and disappears. He became something more horrifying than a rock martyr like Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix; he became a kind of living dead man. The most famous episode in the Barrett legend was his 1975 reunion with Pink Floyd, when he turned up unannounced at Abbey Road Studios just as the band was recording their Barrett elegy, "Shine On, You Crazy Diamond." He was a gruesome apparition—bloated, with a shaved head and shaved eyebrows—and none of his ex-bandmates recognized him.

And yet this epic mess of a man made art that was anything but. Listening to Barrett's songs—to the first Pink Floyd singles, to the band's 1967 debut The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and to Barrett's early '70s solo records—one is struck by the formal rigor, the wit, the satisfying symmetries of his music and words. Barrett was a terrific craftsman, and neither the dissonance and clatter of his soundscapes nor the cheery freakiness of his lyrics could hide the songs' essential classicism. Had Barrett been born 30 years earlier, and done several thousand fewer hits of LSD, he could have made a fine living on Tin Pan Alley. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is probably the great '60s psychedelic rock album, and it reminds us that psychedelic rock wasn't an atonal maelstrom, but pop gone a little fuzzy and acid-fried around the edges: catchy songs tricked out with weird noises. Barrett's lyrics similarly mixed old-fashioned rigor with drug-fueled surreality, nonsense with wry, funny, haunting sense. "Arnold Layne," Pink Floyd's first single, sounds like doggerel, but listen closer and you hear the tale of a transvestite who steals his wardrobe from clotheslines: "Arnold Layne/ Had a strange hobby/ Collecting clothes/ Moonshine, washing line/ They suit him fine."

Barrett delivers those lines in a nasal southern English whine, which was something of an innovation for the time. Most British bands, including the Stones and early Beatles, sang in ersatz-American accents, but Barrett proclaimed his Englishness and not just by refusing to Yankee-up his singing voice. His songs are steeped in a pastoral fairy-tale Englishness—enchanted forests and gnomes in tunics and mice romping through barley fields—which is what you get, I guess, when you mix hard drugs with Victorian children's literature. (Barrett took the phrase "piper at the gates of dawn" from Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows.) It's a deeply quaint and provincial worldview, perfect for Barrett's twisty little pop songs but miles from the space-rock grandeur that Pink Floyd would achieve on post-Barrett classics like Dark Side of the Moon. Rock snobs like to say that Pink Floyd lost it when Barrett freaked out and left the band, but the truth is Floyd would probably have gone down in history as a curio had Barrett stuck around—and what's more, there wouldn't be any such thing as Radiohead.

For decades, Barrett was rock's great romantic-tragic recluse, and now that there will definitely be no second act to his sad story, the Byronic myth surrounding him is bound to inflate. (I'm sure we'll be hearing lots of his 1970 ballad "Dark Globe," a terrifying farewell from a man slipping into madness: "Please, please, please lift a hand/ With Eskimo chain/ I tattered my brain/ Won't you miss me?/ Wouldn't you miss me at all?") But it would be nice if Barrett was recalled not just as an acid casualty or as a legendary "rock madman" but as an English eccentric in the surreal-comic tradition that extends from Lewis Carroll to Monty Python and, via Barrett, onto the weirdo-pop specialist Robyn Hitchcock. Barrett spent his final years in his mother's house in Cambridge, England, living comfortably off the royalties that his former bandmates made sure he collected. Reportedly, his pastimes were painting and gardening, and he was often seen by neighbors on his bicycle. It sounds like a pretty nice life, actually, and it's pleasant to think of Barrett ending his days as a vaguely Victorian figure—an odd old Englishman who'd made quite a splash in his youth, tottering through town on two wheels.

Jody Rosen is Slate's music critic. He lives in New York City. He can be reached at