Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Zombies Take Over Monroeville Mall


MONROEVILLE, Pa. -- Most Pittsburghers know zombie movie guru George Romero is a Pittsburgher, too, and his "Night of the Living Dead" and subsequent "living-dead" flicks were shot right here in the burgh.

On Sunday, a special walk to honor Romero might make it into the Guinness Book of World Records.

Hundreds of wannabe zombies shuffled through the halls of the Monroeville Mall in an attempt to beat the world record for largest zombie walk.

Parts of Romero's "Dawn of the Dead," the sequel to "Night of the Living Dead," were shot at the mall in 1977.

Just like in the movie, zombies subsist on human brains, but, they're helping those who need more than just grey matter to survive.

"All zombies were encouraged to bring a canned food item with them, and I'm also here to eat some brains," said zombie Ryan Dolton, of Donora.

Before entering, the zombies went through make-up, and dropped off the food items for the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank.

Zombies were encouraged to stay in character by just shuffling about, murmuring the word, "Brains." That meant no technology, cell phones or cameras.

As for the record, "I think we got it doubled at this point," said event organizer Professor MC Square. "Pittsburgh is the zombie capital of the world."

Video still from Dawn of the Dead courtesy of Keith at Malls of America.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Flip-Flops in the Next Cubicle


Q. A colleague comes to work wearing flip-flops, ripped jeans and a tight tank top, and it bothers you. What can you do about it?

A. Speak your mind. Joyce Gioia, president of the Herman Group, a management consulting firm in Greensboro, N.C., says that if a colleague’s clothing choices distract you from your work, it’s important to air your concerns. “You’re at work to do a job,” she said. “If the person’s attire is affecting your productivity, you have to tell him or her how you feel.”

Q. What is appropriate attire for an office environment?

A. That depends on your office and whether you routinely come into contact with customers or clients. If you work in banking, finance or law, you may be expected to wear traditional business attire, like suits, slacks, knee-length skirts and collared blouses or shirts. In other industries, like advertising and Web design, it may be acceptable to wear blue jeans and T-shirts.

Even on a day designated as casual, sweatpants, shorts, tank tops, baseball caps and athletic shoes may not be acceptable. Kacy Douglas, marketing manager at Positive Networks, a technology company in Overland Park, Kan., said that employees should avoid clothing that is particularly tight or revealing, or more appropriate for a night out than a day at work.

Q. Why do some employees dress in ways that others find offensive?

A. Of course, tastes differ. But sometimes, dressing in a fashion that is obviously inappropriate can be a hostile act, said Sandy Dumont, executive director of Impression Strategies Institute, a consulting firm in Norfolk, Va. “It’s an insult, really,” Ms. Dumont said. “Dressing inappropriately says, ‘My comfort is more important than impressing you,’ and people pick up that message loud and clear.”

Comila Shahani-Denning, a professor of organizational psychology at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., said sartorial miscues were shortsighted. Some employees wear certain outfits solely to be noticed, failing to understand that it’s better to stand out for one’s work than for one’s wardrobe, Ms. Shahani-Denning said.

“In any workplace, you want people to focus on what you’re accomplishing, not what you wear,” she said. “Attire is always an accessory; it should never be a distraction from your skills.”

Q. How should you discuss this issue with your colleague?

A. If you have a good relationship, talk face-to-face, privately. Offer suggestions instead of criticisms and be sincere.

Many people will appreciate your honesty, but some colleagues may be offended. Robin Walker, president of My Wardrobe Companion, an image consulting firm in Chicago, said that because individual style was involved, the discussion could quickly escalate into an argument. “Attire is such a personal thing that some people bristle instantly at the suggestion that their dress is inappropriate,” she said.

Q. Is it wise to involve your boss?

A. Sometimes it can be. Mercedes Alfaro, president of First Impression Management, a consulting firm in Atlanta, said that it might be advisable for a male employee who is uncomfortable with the way a female colleague dresses to talk to his boss, to avoid any perception of sexual harassment.

Employees should approach such a conversation carefully. Outline exactly what it is about the colleague’s attire that makes you uncomfortable. You may want to request a class to raise awareness about workplace attire over all.

“Make it clear the person is offending you and perhaps may be offending other people, too,” Ms. Alfaro said. “At the same time, couch your concerns in a way that makes it clear this isn’t personal, that it’s something everyone should be aware of.”

Q. Are employers permitted to manage what workers wear?

A. Debra Weiss Ford, a partner at Devine, Millimet & Branch, a law firm in Manchester, N.H., noted that any company could adopt a policy on office attire, provided that the rules were applied consistently and did not discriminate on the basis of sex, religion or ethnicity. “Ultimately it’s the employer’s discretion to lay out for people what is and is not acceptable to wear,” she said, adding that these policies “can be specific or general as an employer sees fit.”

At the Chamber of Commerce in Beachwood, Ohio, for instance, the employee handbook provides specific lists of appropriate and inappropriate attire. Khaki pants, sweaters and loafers all are acceptable; flip-flops, Spandex and camisoles are not. Tom Sudow, the chamber’s executive director, said employees were also encouraged to wear polo shirts bearing the chamber’s seal.

“We like logo shirts because they’re like a uniform, but they still give people the opportunity to be creative,” said Mr. Sudow, who prefers to wear a suit. “The whole idea is to look professional, like part of a team.”

Q. Can someone be fired for violating a dress code?

A. First-time offenders of a company’s dress policy probably won’t lose their jobs. After two or three warnings, however, failure to dress appropriately could put a job in jeopardy. Karen Loebbaka, recruiting partner at Bay Partners, a venture capital firm in Cupertino, Calif., said the easiest ways to avoid this problem were to learn from your mistakes and to always look sharp.

“It all goes back to the notion of dressing for success,” she said. “Once you’re in the right outfit, the rest is up to you.”

Do You Have a Smaller Size?

CHANGE IN ELEVATION The lower levels of Lord & Taylor have a renewed sense of vibrancy that dissipates in the airy upper levels of the department store. (Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times)


NEW YORK - The time was dusk, the year 1990. I was in a taxi riding past B. Altman on Fifth Avenue, one of the department stores that, in an earlier location, once made up the famous Ladies Mile. The store had recently closed, its windows vacant eye sockets, and the look of mere disuse was about to turn into one of utter abandonment.

My companion in the taxi, a sentimental woman who believes all old things are good things, sighed.

“Ah,” she said. “Baltman’s. What a wonderful place that was. Too bad it’s closed — forever.” (Gloria Swansonesque italics hers.)

Of course, she had no idea what she was talking about. The store was B. Altman, not Baltman’s, and she had simply misread the fading inscription on the front of the building. She had never set foot in the place. But the fact was B. Altman represented a sweet, highly sentimentalized time in New York history.

Whenever I stroll past — and occasionally into — Lord & Taylor, I often think back to my sentimental friend. For 88 years, the company’s flagship has stood at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 38th Street, an 11-story limestone and gray-brick palazzo that occupies nearly an entire block with its 600,000 square feet. It is so huge that, today, walking through some of the less populated floors, I shut my eyes and imagine a livelier scenario: wouldn’t this vast space make a great roller-skating rink?

In its early days, Lord & Taylor was one of the grande dames of the Ladies Mile district, which also included B. Altman and Stern’s. There were dining rooms decorated as Italian loggias or Chinese pagodas, a mahogany-paneled library and a gymnasium.

By the 1950’s, the Lord & Taylor department stores — in New York, Philadelphia and Washington — were considered among the most chic in the country, stocking Dior, Chanel, Givenchy, Balmain and Balenciaga.

Lord & Taylor was whimsical and stylish, in the way Simon Doonan is today at Barneys: In the 1940’s, during an exceptionally warm autumn, a marketing executive devised a scheme to put New Yorkers in a holiday shopping mood by staging a continuous snowstorm in all the store’s vitirines using fans and painted cornflakes.

And now, what to make of Lord & Taylor, with nary an Hermès handbag in sight? In June, the retail chain was sold to a private equity group in Purchase, N.Y. For the last three years, under the aegis of a new chief executive, Lord & Taylor has tried to spiff up its image by adding Lauren by Ralph Lauren and Ellen Tracy, and also by vamping up its juniors floor, which stocks Sanctuary, Rebecca Beeson, The Wrights, Anna Sui and many young, new designers. The new owners have promised that the flagship will remain on Fifth Avenue, but have hinted that they may reduce its size.

In three recent visits, on both weekdays and weekends, I have concluded that is not a bad idea. There’s just too much space. The first floor is not wasted; it is a fantastic jamboree of handbags and makeup, silk ties and Burberryish scarves, gloves and jewelry: real and faux, diamond-link chains next to Moissanite rings next to Betsey Johnson hoops next to Kenneth Jay Lane faux coral necklaces.

If you’re down in the dumps and don’t want to spend a lot on retail therapy, hit the jewelry sale rack, where you will always find some fantastic bauble that with the right attitude at the right party will look like the real thing.

The second floor is fabulous: in the middle of a weekday, the shoe section was swarmed with women carousing at what was advertised as the season’s only boot sale. (Come on. Really?) I tried on a pair of Sean John bronze faux-python open-toe pumps ($89) and marveled at why anyone would spend $800 at Christian Louboutin for something similar. The clothes are well chosen and chic: Trina Turk, Iisli, Max & Cleo. Prices can range from $587 or more for an Anna Sui dress, or $926 for a cut-out leather jacket by The Wrights, to $98 for a Max & Cleo pin-tuck sheath dress, and less.

But the higher your ascent, the more lightheaded you feel. This is not Everest you are climbing, but a department store, and the air and the merchandise become thinner and less interesting as you rise to the top. Lauren by Ralph Lauren is, frankly, snoozeville. Ellen Tracy, Kay Unger, Jones New York, Lafayette 148: we’ve seen it all before. Yes, there was a beautiful Ellen Tracy chocolate shearling coat ($1,998) on the third floor, and a black wool evening gown with mirrored panels around the neck by Donna Karan for $3,200, but there was also a cheap-looking imitation of a Tory Burch dress for $128 on the same floor.

The farther you rise, through coats and lingerie, through the cashmere department (nice quality and priced well) and Petites, the more you feel starved for oxygen and attitude. I had to stop at Larry Forgione’s Signature Cafe on the sixth floor for a Caesar salad ($13.95) before I could continue.

Past the winter coats, escalating up the narrow escalator even farther, I finally made it to the men’s floor on 10. The 11th floor is a private theater, reserved for special events, the kind of glittering Champagne parties one imagines might have been held a long time ago. This is the place I would revive and put to use again.

Still waiting on the ‘Great Pumpkin’

The Record (Hackensack N.J.)

You'd think that selling "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" to CBS back in 1966 would have been as easy as selling ... well, pumpkins on Halloween. Or Charlie Brown at any time.

Not so, animator Bill Melendez recalls.

"We didn't know whether the network would buy it," Melendez says. "I'd always have to do a sales pitch. And I can really do a pitch. They used to say: ‘Come on, Bill, do a dance for The Man.'"

And this was after "A Charlie Brown Christmas" had been a huge, Peabody- and Emmy-winning hit in 1965, and after the "Peanuts" comic strip mania was well under way.

Friday will mark the 40th anniversary of the TV special, which has now become for some as much of a Halloween tradition as candy corn and soaped windows.

It will be shown at 8 p.m. Friday on ABC (WOLO-25, cable channel 5), in tandem with "You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown," a later "Peanuts" special with a "Great Pumpkin" subplot.

"We translated the Christmas idea to the pumpkin patch," says Melendez, who had little idea he was creating a small but much-loved new piece of Americana with his yarn of the eternally optimistic Linus, who forgoes trick or treating to spend his night in the pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arise and bring toys to all the good little children of the world.

Never mind that the other kids laugh at him. Never mind that Linus — otherwise the egghead of the Peanuts bunch — would seem to have rather obviously confused Christmas and Halloween.

Commentators — the kind of people who write books like "The Gospel According to Peanuts" — have seen in Linus a symbol of faith, which endures even in the face of doubts and sneers.

Or, alternately, a symbol of religious delusion — persisting in spite of the efforts of sensible people to talk the sucker out of it.

"We threw everything (into) it," Melendez says.

And viewers responded. To this day, every gardener who discovers an oversize gourd in October feels it a civic duty to phone the local newspaper to report that the Great Pumpkin has arrived in his back yard.

"Believe it or not, that's Charlie Brown, above, happily perched inside our version of the Great Pumpkin (a 125-pound North-ville-grown giant)," reads one newspaper caption below a photograph of a toddler peeping out of a giant jack-o'-lantern, reprinted in the book "Charlie Brown & Charlie Schulz."

More recently, and more cynically, an episode of the quirky animated cable TV series "Robot Chicken" featured a Great Pumpkin summoned by black magic, who kills off all of the "Peanuts" kids except Charlie Brown, before being destroyed by the Kite-Eating Tree.

This year, in honor of the 40th anniversary, there has been a cornucopia of Great Pumpkin-related merchandise, including an "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" domino set from Sababa Toys, a 500-piece "Great Pumpkin" jigsaw puzzle from USAopoly and a 40th anniversary coffee table book about the making of "Great Pumpkin" from HarperCollins.

"I didn't know at the time that this was going to be anything vital," says Melendez, 90.

Originally from Sonora, Mexico, south of Arizona, Melendez had already been in the animation business for years — working for such giants as Disney, Warner Bros. and UPA — when Charlie Brown and fortune came knocking.

By the early 1960s, he had set up his own fledgling animation studio, where among other things he made several Ford TV spots using animated "Peanuts" characters.

In 1965, Coca-Cola approached the late "Peanuts" cartoonist Charles M. Schulz and independent movie producer Lee Mendelson about doing a "Peanuts" Christmas TV special. Mendelson and Schulz got Melendez onboard, and they proceeded to create a 30-minute show that turned all the rules upside-down.

Instead of professional adult actors, they recorded kid voices. Instead of brassy humor, they kept the warm, whimsical tone of the original comic strip. Instead of standard "cartoony" music, they used jazz.

"I was at that time doing a lot of work out of San Francisco," Melendez recalls. "That's where I met Vince Guaraldi. He was a very popular musician in the Bay area. You could go into a bar where he would be playing piano. I said, ‘We gotta use him.'"

"Linus and Lucy" and the other tunes Guaraldi wrote for the "Peanuts" specials have since become classic. But when Melendez and his colleagues first screened "A Charlie Brown Christmas" for CBS executives, they weren't having any of it.

"Too slow ... the kids don't sound pro ... the music is all wrong ... the story kind of wanders" are some of the comments Mendelson recalled hearing from the CBS brass.

"They questioned it for a simple reason: They wanted something that would be guaranteed to succeed," Melendez says.

They needn't have worried. "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was such a hit that the network went ahead with plans for other "Charlie Brown" specials. Of the six earliest ones, only "Christmas" and "Great Pumpkin" are regularly revived — probably because unlike, say, "He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown," they revolve around holidays.

"If it was tied up to Happy Dog Day, that would be something," Melendez says. "But that show and the others don't have a strong link-up to anything. We don't have any means or chance to expose them."

By now, Melendez has done 50 Charlie Brown specials, and four Charlie Brown feature-length movies. And he's ready to do more.

Even if he has to dance, once again, for The Man.

"Even now, we always go job to job," he says. "I have things, stories, and I'd sure like to do some more. But it depends. First, I have to get a network to agree with the idea."

Words getting shorter? Whatevs

Though thriving in the age of text messaging and IM, abbreviated lingo is nothing new.

By Rachel Liebrock

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Sitch. Whatevs. Biz Ca Fri. Go with?


If you get the meaning behind the above words and phrases, then you've obvi got the 411 on today's abbrev ling.

Because speaking in full sentences and words is, like, so 20th century. In this golden age of text messages, instant messaging and e-mails, our need for shorthand that economizes words, syllables and typing time has spilled over into everyday conversation.

The phenomenon isn't just about technology -- it actually dates back hundreds of years. Spoken language is constantly changing, and some experts contend the result isn't just speedier dialogue. It also could increase the potential for literacy.

'Sup with that?

In a July article, The New York Times pinned the "anti-language" trend on 'tweens and teens who've created a deconstruction of dialogue that "rises out of the ashes of the current Internet craze."

But that's only part of the story, says Grant Barrett, author of "The Official Dictionary of Unofficial English."

The habit of verbally "clipping" or "blending" words to create new ones is centuries old, he says.

"It's [happened] at every point in the history of language," said Barrett, talking on the phone from his Manhattan office. "[Now], it's just more easily recordable and more easily researchable."

Modern versions of such slang date back several decades, he adds. For example, we first substituted "za" for "pizza" in the '50s and the term "whatevs" started replacing "whatever" in the mid-'90s.

The phenomenon behind shortening our sentences ("go with?" for "do you want to go with me?" et al.) is relatively new and a direct result of how we communicate with each other in e-mails, chat rooms and text messages, he adds.

As with the telegraph, Barrett says, the increased use of new technologies has prompted a noted, accelerated shift in our communication.

True, says UrbanDictionary.com founder Aaron Peckham, who says he's noticed a major increase in user submissions to his online slang dictionary.

The site's received more than 3 million submissions since its 1999 inception -- with more than two-thirds of those posted in the past year alone, Peckham says.

"We're morphing our language every day, [but] it's really started to change in the last 20 years," said Peckham, a 25-year-old Sacramento native.

Many of those entries are abbreviated versions of existing words and phrases, he adds, ticking off examples such as "boys" or "BF" instead of "boyfriend" and "ridic" for "ridiculous."

The result, Peckham says, is a new tech-fueled vocabulary for the digital generation.

"New technologies are making it easier to communicate across [international borders] -- it's a way we share pop culture," he said. "It really makes the English-speaking world a lot smaller."

Suzanne Kemmer agrees. The associate professor of linguistics at Houston's Rice University has archived thousands of slang terms in her online "Neologisms Database."

While all languages experience "constant mutations," English is one of the easiest to play around with, says Kemmer, on the phone from Helsinki, Finland, where she was attending an academic conference.

The modern trend is strongly rooted in Japan and Europe, where users have long relied on cellphones for more than verbal conversations, she adds.

Now, expect more abbreviations as more Americans adopt text messaging -- we sent more than 64 billion messages in the first half of 2006 alone, according to the CTIA, the Wireless Association, a company that tracks international usage.

"The structure of our language and word-formation devices naturally lends itself to this blending and clipping," Kemmer said.

This, coupled with an ever-increasing ability to communicate anywhere, anytime, means that, culturally, we've adopted a need for speed.

"Once [we] added this new media of text messages and IMs and e-mails, we put a premium on time," Kemmer said.

"It's the principle of economy; we want to get our message across fast, and typing or saying the full word or phrase just takes too much work."

So is there a downside to all this verbal slash and burn?

What's next -- hand gestures and primal noises?

Yes and no, Barrett says.

While text- and e-mail-influenced language could have a negative impact on how students read and write, Barrett predicts the ultimate result will be increased literacy.

"I'll take a kid who speaks to me in IM lingo over a kid who doesn't [communicate] at all," he said.

After all, the future of communication, he says, is theirs. "Kids have ownership of language -- it's theirs and they know it," Barrett said. "We will always see them discovering the delights of words, toying with language and using it in ways that feel like they're excluding adults and creating something of their own."

Eventually, he says, the rest of us will catch on and catch up as a matter of social survival.

"History has a tendency to simplify -- and we do this by making things shorter," he said. "It's OK as long as the message intended is the message received."

Cobain tops list of richest dead celebs

Associated Press

NEW YORK - Twelve years after his death, Kurt Cobain is making millions upon millions. He's even richer than the King.

Cobain, who raked in an estimated $50 million between October 2005 and October of this year, has edged Elvis Presley from the No. 1 spot on Forbes.com's list of "Top-Earning Dead Celebrities."

Presley, who sat atop the list each year since its debut in 2001, ranks second with earnings of $42 million. Presley died in 1977.

He's followed by Charles M. Schulz, John Lennon, Albert Einstein, Andy Warhol, Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel), Ray Charles, Marilyn Monroe, Johnny Cash, J.R.R. Tolkien, George Harrison and Bob Marley.

Cobain, lead singer of grunge-rock band Nirvana, committed suicide in 1994. In March, his widow, rocker Courtney Love, sold 25 percent of Nirvana's song catalog to Primary Wave Music Publishing.

Thanks to the deal, Cobain's music will be heard on CBS' "CSI: Miami," Forbes said, and could also be used in commercials for eco-friendly products.

Forbes said the celebrities on the list collectively earned $247 million in the past year. The list was posted on the Web site Tuesday.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Slabs Are Joining Scoops in Ice Cream Retailing


With Baskin-Robbins and Dairy Queen, not to mention thousands of independent scoop shops, there are plenty of places to satisfy a craving for ice cream. But three companies say there is still room for something different — their premium ice creams, served with a flourish.

The three are competing to be to ice cream what Starbucks is to coffee — a ubiquitous chain offering a high-priced, high-quality version of a relatively mundane product.

The companies, Marble Slab Creamery, Cold Stone Creamery and MaggieMoo’s International, sell various flavors of premium ice cream, which is defined by the industry as having more than 12 percent butterfat. Moreover, they allow customers to choose from an assortment of “mix-ins” like crumbled cookies, candies, fruits and nuts. Employees then blend the ingredients into the ice cream on a cold granite or marble slab before packing it into a cup or freshly baked waffle cone. The cost escalates with the number of mix-ins and can easily top $5 for a medium serving.

“These guys are all hoping to be the next Starbucks,” said Donna Barry, a dairy consultant who analyzes the ice cream industry for the market research company Packaged Facts in New York.

Part of the experience is waiting in line and watching employees prepare concoctions. “It’s entertainment,” Ms. Barry said. “I myself get intrigued by what other people order,” like peanut butter ice cream with bananas, marshmallows and brownie chunks.

But in an already crowded market, it remains unclear whether there is a sustainable niche for high-end ice cream, much less one that can support a store on every corner.

Following the Starbucks model, the three chains are densely situating their stores, particularly Cold Stone. Founded in 1988, with its headquarters in Scottsdale, Ariz., Cold Stone has 1,400 franchises in the United States, Japan and South Korea — most opened in the last five years. A former Procter & Gamble sales manager, Douglas A. Ducey, was named chief executive in 2000 to lead the expansion.

“I saw an opportunity to reinvent a stagnant category like what happened with coffee,” he said.

Marble Slab, based in Houston, and MaggieMoo’s of Columbia, Md., have also pursued rapid growth strategies in the last five years. Marble Slab, which opened its first store in 1983, now has 371 franchises in the United States, Canada and the United Arab Emirates, with another 220 under development. Started in 1989, MaggieMoo’s currently has 190 franchises in the United States with an additional 150 under development.

“These guys are definitely trying to saturate the market,” said Darren Tristano, managing director of Technomic, a food service research and consulting firm in Chicago. “It’s all a game of beating the other guy to the best locations.”

Americans spend about $21 billion a year on ice cream, according to the International Dairy Foods Association. That amounts to 1.6 billion gallons of ice cream, or 21.5 quarts a person a year. Almost two-thirds of that ice cream is eaten away from home.

“It’s not a small category,” said Harry Balzar, president of the NPD Group, a market research company in Port Washington, N.Y., but one that has remained flat for more than a decade and is “not likely to grow.”

To succeed, Cold Stone, Marble Slab and MaggieMoo’s need to take customers from the market leaders Dairy Queen and Baskin-Robbins and the more than 15,000 other independent and chain ice cream shops scattered across the country. This includes Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs, which are steadily adding locations, though their focus is more on grocery store sales.

“The Cold Stones and the like have to take business from competitors or increase the frequency of customer visits,” Mr. Balzar said.

Demand was arguably high as several people waited in line on a recent weekday afternoon at a Marble Slab Creamery in Houston. “I was on my way home from jury duty and figured I’d use the $6 they paid me to buy an ice cream,” said Lee Beauchamp, a petroleum marketer, who was enjoying a double dip of dark chocolate coconut and birthday-cake-flavor ice cream.

But Howard Waxman, editor of The Ice Cream Reporter, an industry newsletter, questioned how much of an appetite there is for expensive customized ice cream. “People often have very personal or psychological associations with ice cream,” Mr. Waxman said. “They’ll try something new but they tend to go back to the kind of ice cream they grew up eating.”

That is the way it was for Tony Green, a management consultant in Chicago, who tried Cold Stone and Marble Slab once or twice because he said his two children “are all about mixing as much candy into their ice cream as possible.” Even so, the family favorite is still an independent, old-fashioned ice cream parlor called Margie’s Candies that they have gone to for years. “It’s a throw-back nostalgia kind of place,” Mr. Green said.

Such loyalties and perhaps market saturation might explain why sales at Cold Stone stores open for more than a year were down for the first time last year, by 6.6 percent, and are down 7 percent so far this year. Including revenue from newly opened stores, the company expects sales to reach $465 million this year, up 46 percent from last year. Mindful of the decline in sales at existing stores, Mr. Ducey said Cold Stone would slow its expansion. “We first wanted to secure premier locations and build awareness and now we are going to focus on the amount of product sold,” he said.

Marble Slab, which has pursued a more measured growth strategy, estimates this year’s sales will be $90 million, up from $75 million last year, with sales at stores open for more than a year increasing 3 percent.

“Our primary focus has always been on trying to offer the highest-quality product — we only open new stores when it makes sense,” said Ronald Hankamer, Marble Slab’s president and chief executive.

MaggieMoo’s projects $50 million in sales this year, up from $43 million last year. The company would not release sales at stores open for more than a year. It has dropped to 416 from 169 in 2004 on Entrepreneur Magazine’s ranking of the top 500 franchise opportunities. Cold Stone and Marble Slab have climbed in the 2006 rankings, to 24 and 297, respectively. MaggieMoo’s closed six underperforming stores in Bangkok this year and canceled plans for further overseas expansion.

Still, the three chains are hardly hurting for franchisees. Cold Stone, for example, received 25,000 applications last year.

“A lot of people want to get into the business because it sounds like fun,” said Mr. Waxman of The Ice Cream Reporter. And it is relatively inexpensive to buy in, with $200,000 to $450,000 in upfront costs and fees plus 6 percent royalties on sales. By contrast, purchasing a McDonald’s franchise requires a $506,000 to $1.6 million initial investment plus a minimum of 12.5 percent royalties on sales.

The majority of franchisees at Cold Stone, Marble Slab and MaggieMoo’s own more than one location and as many as 11. “It’s how you create economies of scale so you can increase your margins,” said Rudy Puig, who owns three Cold Stone stores in Miami, and plans to buy another next year.

But he said the real reason he was in the ice cream business is “my kids used to cry if we didn’t stop for ice cream.” Now that is not a problem.

The Bon-Ton to Buy Four Parisian Stores

Chain Store Age

York, Pa. - The Bon-Ton Stores Inc. said Wednesday it agreed to pay $22 million in cash for four Parisian department stores and the rights to build a fifth one from privately held department store retailer Belk Inc.

The four stores are located in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, and generated sales of more than $90 million in fiscal 2005. The fifth store will be located in Michigan and is scheduled to open in October 2007. The deal is expected to close on Oct. 30 pending customary closing conditions.

Once the transaction is completed, The Bon-Ton will operate 282 stores in 23 states, with estimated annual sales of $3.4 billion.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Mall finds classic music keeps teens away

TAMPERE, Finland, Oct. 23 (UPI) -- At least two towns in Finland have discovered that classical music may not soothe young troublemakers -- but does drive them away.

The Koskikeskus Shopping Center in Tampere broadcasts classic radio from loudspeakers at its back entrance. The entrance, which provides shelter from bad weather, had tended to attract groups of teenagers who hung out to talk and smoke.

During recent construction, the mall was able to test the effect of the music. Sure enough, when the loudspeakers were silent teens gathered again, Helsinki Sonomat reported.

Another town, Lojha, took up the idea this summer, using early church music in a park that had become a teen gathering place. Now, music fills the air from mid-afternoon to 10 p.m.

Local business owners say that vandalism and other problems have dropped since the music began.

The Tampere mall adopted the classical music idea a decade ago, modeling it on successful experiments in the United States and Britain.

Newest chef's surprise is the $40 entree

NEW YORK, Oct. 21 (UPI) -- The $40 entree becoming more common at U.S. restaurants and is being applied not just to surf-and-turf extravaganzas.

The New York Times noted Saturday that even fish and pasta dishes are topping the $40 barrier in places like Denver and Fort Lauderdale, not just in upscale eateries in Manhattan or Las Vegas.

Diners told The Times that seeing a $40 price on the menu makes them think the dish must be out-of-this-world tasty, or it is simply overpriced.

Nevertheless, restaurant owners say the higher prices reflect the cost of prime ingredients and the developing trend of customers spending more time on their meals, meaning they can turn their tables fewer times in an evening.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

IGIGI Goes Brick-and-Mortar

San Francisco, California — IGIGI, www.igigi.com, a leading designer, manufacturer and online retailer of fashion-forward and beautiful women’s clothing in sizes 14-32, is pleased to announce the opening of the first IGIGI brick-and-mortar store in downtown San Francisco, Ca.

Located at 1545 Mission Street between 11th and Van Ness, IGIGI boutique will be open for business Wednesday through Saturday, 11 AM-7:00 PM. Headquartered in San Francisco, the company’s decision to have a physical store in their hometown was based on the feedback from local customers who repeatedly communicated their wishes for a physical store.

The new IGIGI store plans to fulfill the growing need in the area for retailers that provide clothing to fulfill the fashion needs and desires of the under-represented, modern, voluptuous customer.

IGIGI collections are inspired by the latest European and America trends. The designs are created with a goal to accentuate and celebrate the beauty and sensuality of the curvaceous female figure rather than cover it up with piles of fabric. IGIGI believes that words like ample, opulent, curvaceous, and voluptuous should be mainstays in the fashion dictionary.

A New Trend for Men’s Wear


ACCORDING to the current fashion playbook, Thom Browne has made several crucial errors in his five years as a men’s wear designer. He has been out of step with the real world, focusing on a fastidiously tight and buttoned-up look when most designers aim to accommodate a dressed-down workplace. He has been out of step with fashion, working in fusty, old-man fabrics like gray flannel, while others are dressing men in denim, velvet and nylon.

He has yet to have a proper runway show. He is not a fixture on the party circuit. He does not give clothes to celebrities. And his basic suits, which average about $3,500, are so expensive that, even on sale and with a friendly insider discount, the young trendies who talk up and flaunt new designer labels are completely unable to play along.

Worst of all, he wears his pants profanely short, revealing not only ankle — he does not wear socks — but a good three inches of shin. This not only elicits jeers from wiseacres on every street — “Hey, Pee-wee!” is one of the most printable — but also sneers from fashion snobs who prefer their $350 skinny jeans to crumple just so over their Dior winkle-pickers.

The result of all those blunders is that Thom Browne, 41, is today the most envied and influential American men’s wear designer. Five years ago, the short-jacket-and-pants silhouette he created looked sweet but goofy, a look no real man would wear. Now he has won the Council of Fashion Designers of America award as men’s wear designer of the year; the venerable Brooks Brothers has signed him up to do special collections; and his signature look is being copied, however blurrily, by more than a dozen men’s wear lines, from traditionalists like DKNY and Zegna to edge-of-fashion houses like Nom de Guerre.

“He hasn’t conformed to normal business strategy,” said Tommy Fazio, the men’s fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman, where Thom Browne is a top-selling line. “At the beginning, I think people were skeptical. But he’s always true to his aesthetic, and now everyone is following suit.”

You can debate whether he has actually made it fashionable for men to show off their ankles, since almost none of his customers wear their Thom Browne pants as short as he does. But he has made the “break” — that faint crumple of trouser leg dusting the top of the shoe, a strict standard of men’s business dress for decades — look sloppy and obsolete. It is a difference of perhaps a half-inch, but what a half-inch.

“There’s something about dressing like Pee-wee Herman that I didn’t fully understand at first,” said Daniel Peres, the editor of Details. “And in all honesty, I am not certain I fully understand it today. But whether you personally appreciate the silhouette or not, he’s taken something men do every morning for years — put on a suit — and made it different. It’s really a tremendous feat.”

Moreover, his enthusiasm for minute details of tailoring (not trained as a tailor himself, he steadfastly insists on having the suits in his line handmade by expert Italian tailors in Queens) has made the idea of putting on a suit seem not an unwelcome duty but a luxurious option, a concept almost alien to a generation of men in their 30’s and 40’s. And for better or for worse, his prices have helped legitimize the suit as a status item with young men for whom Brioni and Kiton seem old hat (and even for the not so young: Ronald O. Perelman has four of them. Other clients include George Stephanopoulos and David Bowie.)

Mr. Browne’s business is still small — his line is sold in 22 stores worldwide and only six in the United States — but last month, Brooks Brothers signed him to an open-ended two-year contract to design men’s and women’s collections for the store, with projected first-year sales in the range of $10 million to $20 million. It was a match initiated by the Vogue editor, Anna Wintour, who called Claudio Del Vecchio, the company chairman, to suggest that Browne might help revitalize the Brooks brand.

“Thom Browne is going to give us a different dimension,” Mr. Del Vecchio said. “He’s more on the edge of fashion, but it will still fit in the store.”

Earlier this year, Mr. Browne sought and received permission from the Chambre Syndicale in Paris to show at the men’s collections there, a first for an American men’s designer. Yesterday Harry Winston announced that it had hired him to design a line of men’s jewelry. And this week, Mr. Browne is opening a 2,000-square-foot store at 100 Hudson Street in TriBeCa, its ivory terrazzo floor and gray marble walls bringing to mind, as his clothes do, an elegant early-60’s bank somewhere between Milan and Pittsburgh.

In his counterintuitive plan of attack are lessons about what it takes to cut through the fierce and famously stodgy world of men’s wear. If other designers try to create looks in step with fashion, with just enough personality to stand out, Mr. Browne began by making clothes that he wanted to wear, and was soon wearing them all day, every day, slipping out of character only for his morning run in Central Park.

In 2001, urged on by his then boyfriend, Charles Fagan, an executive at Polo Ralph Lauren, and his longtime friend David Biscaye, an architect with Biscaye Frères (he designed Mr. Browne’s store and wears his clothes), he quit his job as the creative fashion director of Club Monaco and started simply. With some backing from his siblings, he rented a little showroom and store in the meatpacking district.

Just as important, he started eating breakfast — black coffee and white toast — every morning around the corner at Pastis, neatly dressed in a Thom Browne suit-slash-sandwich board.

“I was very conscious about that, because I did want people to recognize what I stood for,” Mr. Browne said last week at Il Cantinori, the Greenwich Village restaurant where he dines on grilled salmon, green peas and Champagne roughly three nights a week. “At the same time, I really do wear these clothes because this is what I like.”

It was at Pastis that he and his shrunken fit caught the attention of stylish men like Euan Rellie, a natty-dressing British-born banker, and Frank L. Fleming, a costume designer, who enlisted Mr. Browne to design clothes for Ewan McGregor’s character in the film “Stay” (2005). “He was this little inside secret, there every day, never talking to anyone, just drinking his coffee and looking impeccable,” Mr. Rellie recalled.

His style also caught the eye of Robert Burke and Ron Frasch, then of Bergdorf Goodman, who bought his line for the store. There, the line was so clearly different that you wondered if it would not be better on the more conservative second floor rather than the third, where his sober-sided gray flannels and navy cashmere clashed with the colorful designer scene.

But the clothes caught on with an underserved customer: the businessman who wants to look both conservative and cool. Brian Swardstrom, a prominent agent who had known Mr. Browne in the mid-90’s when he was living in Hollywood and struggling to be an actor. Running into him years later, Mr. Swardstrom bought a suit, and after a brief panic at how short it was, became a devoted customer.

“They’re actually really classic,” he said. “They remind me of the 60’s, when Lew Wasserman was running MCA, when it was still an agency. He had a policy that everyone had to wear dark suits, white shirts and dark ties, and that’s kind of the Thom Browne aesthetic.”

Not everyone embraces the look, of course. “Maybe if you’re 5-foot-6 and 140 pounds, you can pull it off,” said the men’s wear designer Alan Flusser. He also derided Brooks Brothers for choosing Mr. Browne to design for the company. “One of the things for them is a certain naturalness about how you wear clothes, and his style is anything but natural. It’s contrived.”

Where Mr. Flusser sees artifice and pretense, Mr. Browne sees spirit and individuality. “I think that clothing being natural is all in the way a guy wears it,” he said, adding that he is not after an army of men in clam-diggers, but men who are “classic, with a little personality.”

Indeed, one of the curious secrets of Mr. Browne’s clothes is that they do look good, even natural, on a wider range of men than one would guess. It helps to be relatively fit, but that can be said for almost every fashion line. And if he is frustrated by the perception that his clothes are designed for a select group of rich, superlean esthetes, he is aware that it has helped him more than hurt.

As David A. Aaker, the vice chairman of Prophet, a brand management company, pointed out, “One aspect of brand success is creating something that’s different and memorable.”

And as David Byrne once observed, “People will remember you better if you always wear the same outfit.”

“I never heard that, but I love it,” Mr. Browne said when told of Mr. Byrne’s remark. “People think wearing a uniform makes you less interesting, but I think the opposite.”

Even in his uniform, Mr. Browne has imagination to spare. His presentation for fall 2006 was a kind of boy’s school alpine fantasy on ice, with models on skates displaying his signature plays on proportion, like shorts and floor-length overcoats, and old-world touches like sock garters.

His spring 2007 presentation was a haunting 30-minute film by the artist Anthony Goicolea, called “The Septembrists.” It was set in some bizarre, rural tailoring-fetish commune, like a blend of an Amish community and a military academy. In a series of vignettes, a dormitory full of young men arise, pick their own cotton to make and sew clothes, go octopus fishing at night to extract the inky dye, and perform ritual baptisms — all the while scrupulously dressed to the nines in tailored gauze and broadcloth.

Beautifully filmed at a farm in Massachusetts, the film makes an excellent metaphor for how fanatical, verging on fetishistic, Mr. Browne’s vision is. And how blinkered. “I don’t like to know what’s going on,” he said, explaining why he does not like to go shopping. “It’s too easy to be influenced. It’s better to be totally off base and have it be something you love.”

It is also easier not to see himself as a player. “It’s not hard, really, if you do your thing,” he said. “Then it’s not the game of fashion.”

And, it appears, it’s easier to win.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

NoVa and RoVa: Welcome to a State Of Disagreement

Style staff, The Washington Post

Recent polls confirm the common assumption that Northern Virginians tend to be much more liberal than those in the rest of the state. In fact, NoVa seems to be a world apart from RoVa (the rest of Virginia). In NoVa, for example, when people speak of a "trailer," they mean a movie ad, and in RoVa "sprawl" is what you do on the couch after Sunday dinner.

Herewith, a few more ways NoVa differs from RoVa:

  • In RoVa, they hope the South will rise again. In NoVa, they hope the souffle will.
  • In NoVa, a lab is the family dog. In RoVa, a lab is the family meth business.
  • In NoVa, people spend their dough at Starbucks, shooting the breeze. In RoVa, people spend time in the breeze, shooting does and bucks.
  • In NoVa, a "fur piece" is something a woman wears on a special occasion. In RoVa, a "fur piece" is unit of distance.
  • In RoVa, people pick blackberries. In NoVa, people click BlackBerrys.
  • In NoVa, they listen to NPR. In RoVa, they listen to the NRA.
  • NoVa has Crate & Barrel. RoVa has Cracker Barrel.
  • NoVa: Chain Bridge. RoVa: Chain saw.
  • In RoVa, they like freshly killed venison. In NoVa, they like Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Sole searching: The global quest for limited edition sneaks, duds

By Kathryn Wexler
McClatchy Newspapers

MIAMI - Jason Odio is a 21-year-old party promoter for the Opium Group whose workday doesn't end until sunrise.

Isaiah Orlen is 27 and recently got law and business degrees from the University of Miami.

Their interests intersect - in their closets. Both love limited edition sneakers and clothing; things others don't have and might not be able to get.

"Just the rush of grabbing that box, of knowing I got that sneaker is exciting," said Orlen, a Coconut Grove, Fla., resident and collector for a decade. "There's an addiction."

Graffiti artists, graphic designers and even mainstream companies such as Nike and Adidas have figured out that releasing designs in shockingly small numbers can whip up an international buying frenzy, tons of talk - and plenty of collateral cool.

Sold exclusively through select boutiques that compete for accounts, the garb is promoted through Internet sites, blogs or word of mouth, endowing the phenomenon with an edgy, secret-society feel.

Nike's official Web site, for instance, makes no reference to its line of sneakers hardest to come by, called "Tier Zero." Danny Waserstein, whose family-run Shoe Gallery in Miami sells limited edition items, estimates there are about nine stores worldwide that get Tier Zero.

"These big companies don't advertise," said Waserstein, 31. "It's `publicized' through the street - underground."

Plenty of luxe brands like Herms and Louis Vuitton make a limited number of super-high-end handbags. Nabbing one is a matter of money or stardom.

Landing limited edition hoodies, T-shirts or sneakers requires knowledge, patience and hustle. The items are targeted mostly to young men, ages 15 to 35, and prices aren't much higher than mass-market merchandise - usually between $100 and $200 for sneakers. A hot secondary market now exists on eBay.com, where the garb can command three times its original price.

Some peg the movement to the late 1980s, when New York City scenesters started rejecting regular clothing as muffling self-expression. The indie strain persists. Graphics tend to be irreverent, ironic or cynical.

Odio owns a shirt by 10 Deep that has the character from the old Purple Punch ads but says, "Purple Punch with codeine." Another shirt 10 Deep released this summer has a skull with dollar signs in its eyes and the caption, "The Summer of No Love."

Collecting has become a phenomenon without borders. Web sites cite shops in Tokyo and Barcelona as often as those in New York City. It is not the purview of a single culture, geographic area or ethnicity.

"We get Latin kids, we get African-American kids, we get Japanese kids," Waserstein said.

Nor is there any one type of music associated with the phenomenon, like uber-baggy jeans and Tommy Hilfiger clothing were with rap music.

What the enthusiasts share, really, is their enthusiasm. That, and the conviction that they're renegades of a sort.

Said Dao-Yi Chow, co-owner and buyer for Addict, an upscale shop in Miami Beach, Fla., that is very picky about its limited edition stock, "People are really particular of their individuality and not wearing what everybody else has."

Even when you know where to go, you can't always nail what you want.

When Nike issued a release date of Jan. 28, 2006, for its Air Jordan Defining Moments Package (a set of two pairs of sneakers for $300), Shoe Gallery received exactly 24 sets. Each customer was allowed only one.

"We had guys sleep out (over) two days," Waserstein said.

Collectors say they know the limits on production are entirely artificial. It's not as though the items are handmade or fabricated with hard-to-get material. In some cases, clothing is more a question of limited distribution than limited manufacturing.

Still, it's that very restriction that brings status. Some have an awesome reverence for the goods: "I've been scared to wear a couple of things," said Odio. "For instance, I got Reebok Miami Vice (limited) edition shoes, and I'm afraid of them being scuffed."

These days, the most influential shops collaborate with clothing and even sneaker companies for exclusive designs and releases. Chow, for instance, who in the late 1990s helped open Footwork, a notable but now defunct boutique in Manhattan's East Village, has commissioned fashion caps by the Buffalo-based designer New Era. Only four dozen will be made, and they will sell only at Arrive, for $65.

Orlen sees a common sensibility among limited edition collectors: "They're a little fed up with corporate America."

But how anti-corporate is patronizing a billion-dollar corporation like Nike?

"It almost doesn't mean anything now when you say limited edition," Chow said, "because big companies are doing something for cachet of the brands."

Orlen notes the irony. Still, he just loves securing hot releases, like his Nike Air with ostrich stripes or those in crazy patent leather - and the attention they bring from others who recognize them.

"Did Nike choose to produce them in limited pairs? Yes. Is that good? Yes. Because I don't want people walking around with a style that I'm wearing."

More Young Shoppers Head to Department Stores


LOS ANGELES - October 17 - The National Retail Federation's (NRF) 2006 holiday season survey has found that more college-aged shoppers will be hitting department stores this year to do their shopping.

The Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey found that 79% of shoppers ages 18 to 24 planned to shop at department stores during the holidays, up from nearly 73% last year.

While nearly three-quarters of American consumers plan to shop at discount stores this holiday, nearly 62% are headed to department stores, the study found, with 48% shopping at specialty stores and 47% looking to the Web for their gifts.

The average consumer plans to spend $791.10 on presents this holiday, up from $738.11 in 2005, according to the study, an increase boosted by lower gas prices and rising consumer confidence.

everybody gets their ass kicked

Two very different, but very misunderstood cultures, both featured in today's Washington Post:

Don't Call Him Redneck
James Webb Hates the Expression, But Is Very Proud of the Culture

Sons of the Hip-Hop Generation
Black masculinity is skewed and amplified before being broadcast by media. It's potent enough to cloud anyone's vision, even those who should know better.

If you miss the Post, check them out at the News Annex here and here.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Putting a finger on symmetry

The Baltimore Sun

What does your body say about you?

A lot, it turns out.

For example, extend your hand and compare the length of your ring and index fingers. For most women they're about the same length, and for most men, the ring finger is a bit longer.

The longer your ring finger is compared with your index finger, the more likely you are to be aggressive, athletic and prone to depression, researchers say.

Now measure the smallest finger on each hand. If they match up, you may be close to symmetrical, which is good news if you're looking for a mate. If you're not symmetrical, you, may have trouble getting a date.

OK, this isn't an exact science. But some researchers believe that body symmetry and the relative lengths of our ring and index fingers are influenced by our exposure to testosterone in the womb.

That exposure, they say, also influences a variety of personal traits. So for the past decade scientists have been measuring and comparing hands, feet, ears, limbs, joints and other body parts to see whether they provide clues to personality and behavior.

"They're an amazing kind of subtle, yet salient, cue in our development," said Randy J. Nelson, a psychology professor at Ohio State University.

Over the years, the field has generated more than 170 scientific papers identifying links, in one form or another, to athletic ability, aggressive behavior and proclivities for early heart attacks, depression and even sexual preference.

"Those with symmetrical attributes are more likely to be athletic, have lower metabolic rates, be more competitive and have higher IQs," said Gordon Gallup, a psychology professor and researcher at the State University of New York, Albany.

Some critics dismiss the field as something close to junk science. "I've always distrusted all of this, from the beginning," said Richard Palmer, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Alberta. "I don't think it's a reliable indicator of anything."

Research findings

Research into finger length was initiated in the late 1990s by John T. Manning, a British researcher who was intrigued by the finding that finger length ratios are one of the few differences between the sexes that develop in the womb and are unaffected by puberty. Finger length ratios remain constant throughout our lives.

"Lots of things show our sex differences, but most of them become larger or more obvious with the onset of puberty," said Manning, a researcher at the University of Central Lancashire in England. "This is one thing that doesn't."

There is no way to know the exact percentage of men or women with equally sized ring and index fingers, Manning said.

But in a 1999 report on a survey of 102 men and women, he found men with longer ring fingers scored highest in tests used to detect symptoms of depression. There was no such pattern for women.

In another survey of male heart attack victims, he found those with longer ring fingers had their heart attacks later in life.

"There are pluses and minuses to these things," he said.

But among the most consistent results are studies that link finger length to athletic abilities, Manning said. A recent report by researchers at King's College in London, which linked running ability to longer ring finger ratios in women, was one of seven studies in recent years to make such a connection, he said.

In that study, researchers found that of 607 female twins ages 25 to 79, those with ring fingers longer than their index fingers were more likely to participate in sports and compete at higher levels - particularly in sports such as soccer that involve running. Previous studies have shown the same pattern in male athletes.

At Ohio State, researchers found a link between finger length and aggression by monitoring how hard 100 male and female college students slammed down the phone when they received rude comments during what they thought was a telephone charity solicitation.

The students were more likely to slam down the phone if they had either long ring fingers or some asymmetry in their finger lengths, palm sizes, wrist diameters, elbow widths, ankle circumferences, or ear and foot sizes, the researchers said.

"It's amazing how angry people got. In interviews it came out pretty clearly," said Nelson, a co-author of the 2004 study.

Sexual indicators

Researchers in San Francisco measured the fingers of more than 700 men and women, then asked them about their sexual preferences. They found that lesbians were more likely to have ring fingers that were longer than their index fingers. There was no similar pattern among gay men, said Marc Breedlove, the Michigan State University psychologist who conducted the survey.

"I have to say, I think it is strange," said Breedlove, who published the study in the journal Nature in 2000, while he was a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley.

Breedlove, who studies the influences of sex hormones on rats, mice and hamsters, cautioned people against drawing conclusions from their own hand measurements, or those of friends. The studies are based on averages and have little meaning for any individual, he said.

"You can't tell anything definitively by the length of one person's finger," Breedlove said. "If your index finger is longer than your ring finger, don't panic."

Manning acknowledged that some results are more reliable than others. "There's no question, there's still a lot of work to be done in the field," he said.

Researchers say that body symmetry has implications throughout the animal kingdom. Birds, rodents and other animals show a preference for symmetrical mates.

"If you can band the legs of birds with different colored bands, they will always choose the ones banded symmetrically," said Robert Trivers, a researcher at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., who has been studying symmetry and behavioral traits in 288 Jamaican children since 1996.

Success and symmetry

Humans appear to function the same way with faces that are symmetrical. The same is true in men's preference for women, Trivers said.

For body symmetry, researchers use calipers that measure limbs and joints in millimeters.

"We generally look at a number of characteristics: The length of the ears, the size of the hand, the circumference of the elbows, knees and wrists, the digit lengths," Trivers said.

But individuals can tell whether they're generally symmetrical by comparing the lengths of the little finger of each hand, Gallup said.

Most people have imperfections that throw them off their symmetry a bit - and that can actually make them more attractive in an offbeat way, experts say.

Superstar Brad Pitt comes close to being perfectly symmetrical, experts say. But actor Owen Wilson is an example of a man with an asymmetrical face that seems to work well.

"Very few people are perfectly symmetrical. It's usually the people who are really attractive," Nelson said.

Macy's Partners With Rwandan Widows

The Associated Press

NEW YORK -- When Macy's decided to sell baskets made by Rwandan widows, the store was swayed in part by the prospect of contributing to a developing economy and in part by the women's tale of suffering during their country's 1994 genocide.

But Macy's was clear: This may have been charitable, but it was not charity. Baskets, woven from sisal and sweet grass, are inspected to verify they meet quality requirements and then paid for in cash on the spot. Macy's imported 650 baskets last year in a successful test run, and bought 31,000 more to sell this fall in stores in New York, Atlanta and Chicago and online.

"This is a business partnership," said Ronnie Taffet, vice president for public relations at the store, a unit of Federated Department Stores Inc.

Such partnerships are becoming more common. Matthias Stausberg, manager of media relations at the U.N. Global Compact, says the compact has tried to "make the business case," showing companies how these investments can be profitable and a good alternative to philanthropy.

Lloyd Timberlake, director of communications for the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, cited some partnerships with successful results, like Starbucks Corp. and fair-trade coffee growers or DaimlerChrysler AG's investment in Brazilian coconut fiber to use as fill for car headrests.

"It's not going to get very big," he predicted of the Macy's partnership because, unlike the agricultural projects he cited, it wasn't responding to a need, but instead carving out a small niche market.

But Willa Shalit, who started a company to import the baskets for Macy's, has seen the partnership succeed already.

"When you see the child of a weaver, they have shoes, clean clothes, school uniforms, more than one set of clothing," she said.

The money a weaver receives for a typical basket is enough to feed herself for a month. That sum is on average $24, or about one-third of the retail price. Shalit estimates a weaver's income at $4 a day (it takes roughly a week to make a basket), as compared to the average income of $0.56 a day for the country.

Macy's partnership with the Rwandan women grew from perhaps an even more unusual one. The women used the traditional art of basket-making to reach out across ethnic lines after the 100-day genocide, during which at least 500,000 people were killed.

"In practical terms, basket-making is an opportunity for unity, for reconciliation," said Consolee Mukanyiligira, coordinator for the association of genocide widows, known by its French acronym, Avega.

"Nothing like sitting around doing nothing increases trauma," said Mukanyiligira, so Avega encouraged women to weave as a way of healing.

Pascasie Mukabuligo, a master weaver, saw the potential for these baskets as commercial merchandise and organized their sale at local markets. Noeleen Heyzer, director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women, then worked to establish an American market for the goods.

Karen Sherman, COO of Women for Women International, calls the project "holistic" because beyond fair pay, the weavers receive benefits like health care.

Macy's has promised to buy the baskets for as long as its customers do. And the standards an international retailer sets for its partners are high.

Shalit's team says quality is not a problem _ she contends the women make the most refined baskets in the world. The traditional baskets are pagoda-shaped, with tightly fitting lids for roofs. Many are earth-toned, beige with jagged black designs snaking around them. But other egg-shaped baskets, with only tiny lids, have bright blue and pink designs.

Shalit and her colleagues are working to train more weavers and diversify their product.

Macy's has asked their team of designers to work with the women to create a spring line that will be fresh to customers but still consistent with Rwandan tradition.

These complexities can conspire to sink projects, said Isobel Coleman, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "You have these one-offs. A thousand baskets here, some Mexican clothes there," she said.

Even if this partnership does not last, however, Coleman and other experts said the weavers will benefit from having honed their skills to meet the quality and scale demands of an international market.

Those skills can then be put to use to find new outlets, even perhaps local or regional ones, which Sherman said should be central to any development partnership.

"Ultimately, a local market is more sustainable," she said, and the key to a different kind of "never again" pledge, that of not letting these women slip back into their former poverty.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

she's big in Japan

Ever since I discontinued Song of the Day, I haven't featured a lot of music at steve's blog. I still have a healthy appetite for it, but the rigors of coming up with new songs each day got to be to time-consuming. I also got really bored with music in general, quite a feat for me because I'm always in the mood for a new tune.

The problem isn't the artists, the record companies, the Internet or anything that the typical record reviewer points to to simply dismiss the loads of the crap that are passing for pop, rock, jazz, country, gospel, et cetera, in a forgettable 750-word article.

The problem is in us, the consumers. We don't support who we love enough (just about every artist has a webpage with new releases, so it's nearly impossible to miss the new releases if you check there regularly), and we accept the status quo too easily instead of making our voices heard. We turn off the radio, but we don't tell the station whay we're downloading our favorites onto our iPods instead.

I haven't written my letter to WQMG yet (We love Luther and Earth Wind & Fire, but damn, can you play something else occasionally please?) but I am going out after a long period of boredom with new releases, and buying CDs from artists I love again.

One of those people I've liked for a while is Marilyn Scott (above). She's a smooth jazz vocalist who's been recording for years, but has completely flown under the radar of pop music. Pretty much the only place you'll hear her is on jazz radio or in Japan, where she is quite popular.

I had a chance to pick up a greatest hits collection from her called Handpicked. And handpicked it is. Sixteen tracks in all, carefully selected from Marilyn's favorite songs from throughout her career. She conferred with music retailers across the country to collaborate with the community that supports her music to determine which key songs from various releases be made available on one CD. The result is nothing short of impressive.

But don't just take my word for it:

From the beginning Scott has collaborated with some of the most inventive and accomplished musicians in contemporary jazz.

She and Russell Ferrante began working together when they were both still playing small clubs and he has been an ongoing contributor both as a writer and sideman. George Duke produced, played, and wrote on her two Warner Brothers releases. The star-heavy lineup has stayed consistent through 10 years and three labels: Duke, Ferrante, Jimmy Haslip, Paul Jackson Jr., Vinnie Coliuta, Everette Harp, Paulino De Costa, Michael Landau, Freddie Washington, Bob Mintzer, Brandon Fields, and Will Kennedy.

The arrangements are simply superb. They enhance Scott’s vocals without overwhelming them or fading into the background. Every song has ear grabbing instrumental nuances; from solos to small passages where every note accentuates the theme and mood of the song. There is a place where adult oriented pop music intersects with contemporary jazz at the highest common denominator and it is in every song on this CD. (reference)

Anyway, it's a great CD and you should pick it up if you like good music.

Also reccomended is the new Boney James release Shine and Gary Taylor's new CD, Retro Blackness. I also bought Dwele's first CD, Subject, but it hasn't exactly grown on me yet.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Research Connects Fertility, Fashion

A study says that women tend to dress up more when they are ovulating, contrary to assumption.

By Thomas H. Maugh II
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Women who are ovulating tend to pay more attention to their appearance, perhaps in a subliminal effort to attract a mate, according to researchers at UCLA and the University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire.

"They tend to put on skirts instead of pants, show more skin and generally dress more fashionably," said study coauthor Martie Haselton, an associate professor of communication studies and psychology at UCLA.

The study, published online Tuesday in the journal Hormones and Behavior, contradicts the conventional wisdom that human females are among the very few primates who show no outward signs of fertility.

"The thing that is so remarkable about this effect is that it is so easily observed," said Haselton's coauthor, Wisconsin psychologist April Bleske-Rechek.

The researchers studied 30 female college students over the course of a month — without telling them the true nature of the study. Each was photographed when she was fertile, as determined by a urine test, and when she was not.

The 30 sets of photos, with the faces blacked out, were then shown to 42 male and female judges. The judges deemed the fertile photo most attractive 60% of the time, well above chance.

In one extreme example, the student wore loose-fitting jeans and clunky boots in her lowfertility photo and a skirt and cardigan during ovulation.

Another student, more typically, wore the same black yoga pants and a tank top in both photos. But while the tank top was plain white in the nonfertile photo, the one she wore during ovulation was colored, with a slightly lower-cut neckline trimmed in lace. She also wore a fancier necklace during her fertile period.

"It was my impression that the women were just dressing a little bit more fashionably, but not sexier," Haselton said.

In earlier studies, Haselton and her colleagues had shown that young women were more likely to flirt with males other than their mates while they were ovulating and to stray from their routines in ways suggesting that they were mate-shopping.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Beautiful Business


WHEN business gets more interesting than art, smart artists go into business.

That, anyway, was how Andy Warhol saw things. And if the talking heads in Ken Burns’s new documentary on him are to be believed, Warhol was not just the single most important creative talent of the late 20th century but among its cannier social analysts.

Of course, Warhol was neither alone nor even first among his contemporaries to play coy games with commerce. Early in 1961, at about the time Warhol was piecing together the first moves in his grand career strategy, a reporter asked Yves Klein, a founder of the Neo-Realist movement, what he would do if offered a job as head of General Motors.

“Would you give up art?”

“Why not?” Klein replied. “It’s a good job.”

Klein’s quote is printed on a wall at the entrance to a retrospective of his work at the Pompidou Center. And it would seem to have a lot of relevance for those who spend their time critiquing the fine and applied arts.

Lately the boundaries between creative forms and commercial forces have all but vanished. And this fact, much more persuasive than any of the notional drivel being spouted about the so-called future of fashion, is the indicator to watch.

For all the creativity, craft, technical wizardry, theatrical acumen and outright wackiness on display across runways in New York, London, Milan and then Paris in the last four weeks, the most interesting trend to observe was not the seemingly universal one for tented minidresses or torturous wedge shoes but the frank embrace among people in the business of ... well, business.

It was a season of bags and shoes, as Suzy Menkes pointed out in The International Herald Tribune. In some instances, as at the Christian Lacroix show here, this point was put across so baldly that each model sashayed down a vivid green runway, stopped for the cameras and then, apparently as instructed, awkwardly held out her purse.

“I used to say to Bernard Arnault, ‘It’s not as if I get up every morning, look in the mirror while I’m shaving and ask, ‘What can I sketch today that will lose Bernard the most money?’ ” Mr. Lacroix said, referring to the president of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, a company from which the designer has parted ways. Now with the backing of a venture capital fund, Mr. Lacroix seemed determined not to repeat past mistakes.

“After all,” he said, “we are here to sell clothes.”

That is only partly true. We are here — and this includes what at this point is a fairly complicit fashion press — to sell images and to assist in promoting the “narratives” at the core of most brands. Although these stories typically originate in the biography of some real person (the shrewd and gifted and hardheaded peasant Coco Chanel, say, or the Polish refugee who founded Celine), their elaboration on a grand scale is the work of people more likely to turn up in the business section than in the pages of style.

It would be simplistic at this point to think of men like Mr. Arnault or François Pinault, the founder of PPR, which owns the Gucci Group, merely as billion-dollar bean counters when the luxury companies they run have reshaped tastes and cultures across broad swaths of the planet.

When you consider that the net effect of all the frothy although deeply earnest stuff that goes on during runway season is to sell a perfume atomizer or key case to someone in Kuala Lumpur, the creativity of John Paul Gaultier or John Galliano or Alexander McQueen or Rei Kawakubo begins to seem anachronistic and even quaint.

“The challenge for designers right now is to be super creative and super innovative and yet to realize that this is a business,” Glenda Bailey, the editor of Harper’s Bazaar, said last week before the Chanel show. The dominant trend of the season, she added, is that “designers have to create items that are truly desirable.” And, if that is so, then Chanel was distinctly on message.

The show was held in the recently renovated Grand Palais, a glass and cast-iron marvel used in its early years for automobile and aeronautic trade fairs. In keeping with this season’s inescapable theme of commerce, the runway had been turned into what looked like a Chanel atelier cum shop, complete with uniformed assistants and garment racks on wheels.

It often happens during the French fashion season that unexpected but serendipitous correspondences turn up between what designers and museum curators seem to be thinking. What this usually means is that a Marlene Dietrich show at a fashion museum will turn up soon enough as a Marlene Dietrich runway moment.

In a separate part of the Grand Palais, adjacent to the hall in which the Chanel show was mounted, there is a blockbuster exhibition right now devoted to Walt Disney and the art historical references that influenced him (if influence is the right word), as well as the profound cultural effects Disney Studios produced.

Lines of visitors stretch for blocks to see the original cels from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” or child-size marionettes of Pinocchio or snippets from “Fantasia” screened alongside the “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.” The enthusiasm of the Parisian public can be explained, as least partly, by an extravagant thesis laid out by the show’s curators: Walt Disney was the greatest storyteller of the 20th century.

Walt Disney rarely told new stories, of course; his genius was for recasting and marketing myth. And it was his foresight in recognizing the business potential of exploiting familiar tales and transforming them into universally legible commodities that constituted the real magic of Disney. It is no accident that within the fashion business, labels like Dior and Louis Vuitton are what is known as magic brands.

And, no matter what anyone says, that is what fashion is about these days. Those who were baffled when the fashion press greeted Nicolas Ghesquiere’s collection for Balenciaga — which to some eyes resembled costumes for the “Star Wars” robot C3PO — with hosannas seriously underestimated the industry’s growing need for circus posters and cartoons. Critics strained to describe Mr. Ghesquiere’s efforts as futuristic, but their observations were probably beside the point.

“At the end of the day, would I wear Balenciaga? Probably not,” said an editor from Vogue, who would speak only on condition that her name not be used. “But you have to make a choice between whether you only show pretty dresses that women will want to wear or whether you show work by a designer who can change the way people see.”

Strong brands need billboards, in other words. And after a season during which so many designers seemed to come up with some version of party clothes for warriors in one of the outsider artist Henry Darger’s imaginary armies of little girls, it was Mr. Ghesquiere who created the most startling and memorable images, the ones that will be most often reproduced, most copied and that will, ultimately, sell the most bags.

That is precisely the trick Marc Jacobs has pulled off in the nearly 10 years since Mr. Arnault hired him at Louis Vuitton. The proof can be found at the label’s flagship store on the Champs-Élysées. On most any day you can find a big crowd lining up behind velvet ropes there, waiting to get inside with an enthusiasm rarely seen outside Space Mountain and a reverence that puts one in mind of church.

Not all of them, of course, can afford a costly Alma or a Papillon or a Lockit bag or one of the witty high-low takes on a French shopping tote Mr. Jacobs showed on his runway last Sunday. But at this point one would have to go a long way to find anyone immune to the special, socially elevating effects of hauling an LV monogram around.

“What it’s all about in this business, finally, is memory of brand,” said Serge Brunschwig, recently charged with reviving the flagging fortunes at Celine for LVMH. What it is all about, this and every fashion season, is selling consumers on the dream that in a handbag can be found the secret to having a life more glamorous, dimensioned and storybook than one’s own.

drowsy stupor with a mild rant

OK, I'm still here.

Sincere apologies to all of you in Steveland that have been waiting for something substantive from here for an extended period of time. I could get all Mariah Carey on you guys and claim I'm suffering from "fatigue," but it's nothing close to that serious. I've just been really, really busy away from the house, and really, really sleepy at the house. My inbox is a mess right now, and if I haven't responded to email or blog posts, then it's because I simply haven't had any time.

So what have I been doing? Well, me being a shy, irritable person trying to do customer service work for mostly well-meaning but chronically thankless customers takes a toll. I love my customers, but trying to hold your head up and be nice and helpful constantly with ever-escalating job responsibilities is not my idea of a great day at work. In a lot of ways, it's getting easier, because I no longer have to look up everything, but the challenges grow to compensate. It's the typical Gen X-Y rant: I'm seriously underappreciated and shit like that.

I get off better than Andrea Sachs, the heroine in The Devil Wears Prada, though. Against my better judgment, I decided to read the book, after loving the movie. It was cheap at Target, where I checked out the latest stationery creations from Carrie and company. (I love the Kermit luggage tag!)

Back to the book. It's entertaining, to be sure, but not exceptionally well-written (keeping in mind that I probably wouldn't do much better). My critique of this book generally falls along the lines of the typical reviewer: shallow, factually muddy, and soap-opera-like. Still, it makes for an easy read during lunchtime at work. I used to read the paper, but the lady (remember L?) who used to bring me the paper now works a different lunch shift (yes, shift; it's a long and frustrating story) so I don't get to see it 'til I get home.

You wanna talk about frustrating? If frustrating had a representative situation attached, it would have to be Saturday afternoon at Sam's Club. I amplified my annoyance by deciding to go after seven hours of tax school, but it's still as frustrating as its corporate parent Wal-Mart with the added annoyance of pallet carts that are nearly impossible to move when full, piloted by people who don't know how to operate them. If they didn't have such a great price on yogurt, it wouldn't be worth it.

I don't want to make it seem like everything sucks, because it doesn't. I have my health and overall, everyone is well. Hell, I'm even getting along with Dad better these days. No explanation for that at all.In any event, I'm going to close this particular chapter of the cyber-diary and let you guys talk. Holler at your boy!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Lord & Taylor to leave Water Tower Place

Lord & Taylor, Water Tower Place, Chicago, Illinois. (photo by Justin Hall, 2003)

Water Tower Place store to close in spring as owner of indoor mall takes back space; fate of retailer's suburban Chicago outlets is unclear

By Sandra Jones
Chicago Tribune staff reporter

CHICAGO - Lord & Taylor plans to shutter its Water Tower Place store next spring, a move that diminishes the New York retailer's presence in the Chicago area and frees up one of the most prominent locations on the Magnificent Mile.

The decision to leave Michigan Avenue comes one day after investment group NRDC Equity Partners LLC acquired the 48-store chain from Federated Department Stores Inc. for $1.1 billion.

News of the closing follows the conversion of Marshall Field's, also at Water Tower Place, to Macy's last month and changes the face of one of the busiest shopping corners in the city. The two department stores opened as the anchors of Water Tower Place in 1975 and helped the indoor mall--a pioneer in bringing suburban-style shopping to the city--become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Chicago, with an estimated 20 million visitors a year.

Water Tower Place's owner, General Growth Properties Inc., has been eager to redevelop the Lord & Taylor space since acquiring the mall from Maryland's Rouse Co. in 2004.

NRDC, for its part, is concentrating on reviving the storied Lord & Taylor brand, particularly in the Northeast, where the retailer has been a fixture in New York for more than a century. The Purchase, N.Y.-based group, which also owns a stake in Linens 'n Things Inc., plans to put $150 million in capital improvements into Lord & Taylor stores and just hired former Saks Fifth Avenue CEO Christina Johnson to help them.

Lord & Taylor has suffered from neglect under a string of owners, most recently May Department Stores Co. It closed 32 of its weaker stores starting in 2003 and endured several turnaround attempts, losing its luster along the way.

Lord & Taylor is getting out of the Mag Mile property because the lease is up and General Growth wants to take back the space, said Johnson.

"This is not a decision of our making," said Johnson. "We would have liked to have remained."

Still, it is unclear if NRDC will keep the remaining four Lord & Taylor stores in the Chicago area. The Chicago-area stores combined generate roughly $120 million in sales, according to a person familiar with the stores. That's less than 10 percent of the chain's $1.4 billion in annual sales last year.

The remaining stores are at Northbrook Court in Northbrook, Woodfield mall in Schaumburg, Oakbrook Center in Oak Brook and Old Orchard in Skokie.

The Northbrook Court store is the most likely to be closed, according to a person familiar with the plans. General Growth is close to a deal to take the space back from NRDC and will most likely redevelop it.

General Growth officials declined to comment on the Northbrook store's future and declined to disclose plans for the Water Tower space.

"We're looking at a bunch of options," said Mitch Feldman, Water Tower's general manager. It will take three to six months to finalize plans, he said.

NRDC's Johnson also declined to comment specifically on the Northbrook store, but said, "We have no plans to close any stores."

Lord & Taylor's sales at the Mag Mile outpost have been declining for years, ringing up an estimated $25 million to $30 million a year, down from as much as $50 million in the store's heyday, according to people familiar with the store.

General Growth has been looking for ways to boost Water Tower's sales from a relatively mediocre $500 per square foot to as much as $900 within three to five years.

Department stores have traditionally paid minimal rent in exchange for their drawing power. Breaking up the seven-level, 140,000-square-foot Lord & Taylor space into smaller units aimed at specialty stores and restaurants would allow General Growth to generate high rents, said Allen Joffe, retail real estate broker at Baum Realty Group Inc. in Chicago. "Spaces like that don't come on the market very often," he said.

American Girl Place, located just down the street, looked at the site this year as a way to expand its doll store and playland for girls. Von Maur, the Davenport, Iowa-based department store, has also been eager to expand in Chicago and has had its eye on Lord & Taylor real estate.

American Girl officials couldn't be reached for comment.

New York based retail consultant Burt Flickinger predicts that despite Lord & Taylor's loyal customers in the Northeast, it has a chance to improve its business in Chicago, particularly as Macy's wrestles to attract shoppers disenchanted with its takeover of Marshall Field's.

"There is definitely a place for Lord & Taylor," said Flickinger. "When they've got their merchandising magic working for them, it's a very productive store. With consumers being very disappointed that Marshall Field's is gone, there's a great opportunity."

Monday, October 09, 2006


You gotta love the display folks at Borders in Winston-Salem :-)

Neiman unveils Christmas book

Dallas Business Journal

Neiman Marcus unveiled its 80th annual Christmas Book Tuesday boasting everything from a $20 tin of holiday cookies to a $3.8 million membership in The Club at Castiglion Del Bosco, an exclusive wine estate in Italy.

The Dallas-based luxury retailer's catalog, first published in 1926, is seen by many as a harbinger of the Christmas shopping season. The "ultimate wish book" has built a reputation for exotic, fanciful and expensive gift options, but many of the items are priced below $100, according to Neiman Marcus.

This year's catalog includes 152 pages of more than 500 items, such as a diamond encrusted Montblanc Bohéme Skeleton fountain pin for $160,900 and a Nancy Gonzalez chinchilla shoulder bag for $4,800.

Each year, Neiman Marcus culls the fantasy gift items from thousands of suggestions that are submitted nationally and internationally. Gifts included in the 2006 catalog include an All-Star sports celebrity dream package, a charity auction requiring a minimum bid of $250,000. There also is a $1.76 million, six-person charter into space -- about 63 miles above sea level. The gift includes a four-night stay on Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands. Other gifts include a $139,000 limited edition BMW M6 convertible and a backyard water park starting at $100,000.

The Neiman Marcus "His and Hers" gift, one of the catalog's more famed traditions, is a $40,000 his and hers Twike commuter vehicle.

The catalog will be distributed to nearly 2 million homes throughout the United States and worldwide.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Bergen Mall on myspace

LiveMalls fan Jordan Berson sent me a link to his myspace tribute to New Jersey's iconic Bergen Mall. There are lots of great pictures and commentary about the Paramus mall, one of the first large suburban shopping centers in America.

I think if you like this site and LiveMalls, you will love his page.


How to be a full-figured budget fashionista

IGIGI has started a new contest called “How to be a full-figured budget fashionista.”

It's a joint effort with Kathryn Finney of thebudgetfashionista.com where 8 lucky winners will get IGIGI gift certificates for a total of $825 and copies of Kathryn’s book called “how to be a budget fashionista”

You can find out details at myspace.com/thefashionistique and www.igigi.com

Vulture vs. Rob Walker

(Submitted to steve's blog by Al Cabino)

Check out The Vulture's interview with Rob Walker, the New York Times Magazine's consumer ace. Your head will walk away awash with new frameworks and sparkling ideas.


Men, Too, Will Shop 'Til They Drop

One in 20 Americans suffers from 'compulsive buying,' large study finds

By E.J. Mundell
HealthDay Reporter

One in 20 American adults said they find themselves unable to stop shopping for items they may not even want or need.

And men are just as likely as women to suffer from "compulsive buying," according to the largest survey of its kind ever conducted.

"That's the biggest surprise -- that men engage in this behavior almost as commonly as women," said Dr. Lorrin Koran, emeritus professor of psychiatry at Stanford University.

He said the finding runs counter to the conventional view of compulsive buying as a "woman's disease." That impression grew out of the fact that women have typically made up the vast majority of volunteers for studies looking at the disorder.

However, Koran said men who obsessively shop are probably more reluctant than women to come forward and admit they have a problem. "Generally, in psychiatry, men seek care less often than women," he pointed out. "It's not 'manly' to seek help."

The study, published in the October issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, also found that compulsive shopping usually begins in a person's teens or early 20s, and is associated with lower -- not higher -- incomes.

According to Koran, compulsive shopping is more than the occasional splurge, later regretted.

Instead, the urge to shop becomes constant and overwhelming. For most, the act of browsing and buying gradually takes the place of time spent at work, with family or in other pursuits. To qualify as a disorder, "the behavior has to be associated with marked distress and interfere with functioning," Koran said.

The typical compulsive shopper usually feels a sense of euphoria while engaged in shopping, but that "high" later gives way to remorse and distress. "It's afterward, when you realize that you spent money that you didn't have or you argue with your husband about why you have all these clothes in your closet that you never wear," Koran said. "That's when you regret it."

The root causes of shopping addiction remain unclear. But British researcher Helga Dittmar, a senior lecturer of psychology at the University of Sussex, said two factors -- highly materialistic values and poor self-image -- appear to be risk factors. In this scenario, buying things is viewed as a path to self-improvement.

"They'll buy those consumer goods that symbolize a part of their ideal self," Dittmar explained.

But just how prevalent is compulsive buying? Previous estimates, based on small samples, had ranged from about 2 percent to 16 percent of the population.

In this new study, Koran's team conducted a nationwide phone survey of more than 2,500 adults. After gathering data on demographics and income, the researchers used a standard screening instrument called the Compulsive Buying Scale to determine whether a person fit the criteria for the disorder.

They discovered that 5.8 percent of those interviewed did, in fact, meet the threshold for compulsive buying. Rates differed little between women (6 percent) and men (5.5 percent). Compulsive buyers tended to be younger than people unaffected by the disorder and more likely to make less than $50,000 a year, the study found.

The finding that compulsive buying affects men just as much as women didn't come as a big surprise to Dittmar. She said that British studies had shown little evidence of a gender gap, especially among younger people. And she noted that clinical studies into the disorder have typically recruited participants via women's magazines and similar outlets, boosting the participation of females.

Koran said men who compulsively shop tend to purchase different items than women. "Men tend to buy tech items, cameras, CDs, books, tools and gadgets," he said. "Women tend to buy clothes, jewelry, makeup, items for the homes, craft goods."

There's also "some suggestion in the research literature that men are more likely to be pathological collectors and become addicted to auctions," Dittmar said.

Whatever their gender, compulsive buyers are usually not made any happier by their ceaseless spending, the experts said. In fact, many find themselves deeply in debt and filled with remorse and shame as they hide their addiction from family and friends. Some studies have even linked the condition to a heightened risk for suicide, Koran said.

That's why he and Dittmar are advocating formal inclusion of compulsive buying in the next Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders -- the standard guidebook for psychological and psychiatric treatment worldwide.

Based on the new study numbers, "compulsive buying is at least as prevalent as many other clinical disorders," Dittmar noted. "I think, in the end, that I would favor its inclusion in the DSM, given that it would acknowledge and help raise public consciousness about the severity of compulsive buying."

She added that, up until now, "there has been a tendency to belittle 'shopping addicts.' It's time that the serious consequences of compulsive buying -- psychological, social, financial -- are highlighted."

Koran agreed, noting that effective treatments, which include antidepressant drugs and psychotherapy, do exist. But he said those affected must first come forward.

"It's always important to encourage people who have these types of disorders to seek treatment," he said. "There are things we can do to help."