Lessons From The Threadless Crew @ PSFK Salon

FireShot capture #007 - 'Threadless catalog of tees classic t-shirts_ Unique, cool and funny tees_ Browsing graphic tees' - www_threadless_com_catalog_style,tees_group,classicA brief recap of the lessons imparted by the awesome crew from Threadless at yesterday's PSFK Salon in Chicago.  It's all so simple, yet so evasive to many businesses.

I was originally planning on commenting on each lesson, but they are so self-explanatory.

Lesson 1:  We do it with friends.

Lesson 2: Bring the fun. Fun = fearless.  And fearless = exploration.

Lesson 3: Honesty buys you goodwill.

Lesson 4: Act like a human, because you are.

[I tend not to wear T-shirts with images/logos/words, but if I did this would so be it].


If you've been around me long enough you'll know I maintain a healthy suspicion for things like the perfect tie knot, overly shined leather goods or consistently flawless grammar.  That's not to say I don't appreciate the effort it takes to achieve all three but frankly I think they can be boring and affected. 

I've struggled to articulate this but recently came across a word that helps.  Baldassare Castiglione, in The Book of the Courtier, discusses Sprezzatura ...

I have found quite a universal rule which in this matter seems to me valid above all other, and in all human affairs whether in word or deed: and that is to avoid affectation in every way possible as though it were some rough and dangerous reef; and (to pronounce a new word perhaps) to practice in all thing a certain sprezzatura [nonchalance], so as to conceal all art and make whatever is done or said appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.

It's not that I don't appreciate effort.  In fact my interpretation of sprezzatura is that it requires quite a bit of effort [more so than normal].  What I don't like is when someone reeks of effort.  

This photo from The Sartorialist visually sums it up:


The immediate example that comes to mind is Jon Kerry vs. Bill Clinton.  Clearly Bubba's got it, and Kerry never did.

Any good examples you can think of?

Friday Links [Literary Edition]

I've always enjoyed reading -  historically magazines and newspapers, with blogs added to the mix over the last few years [the advent of RSS facilitated my consumption greatly].

There's the occasional book, but I'm just not wired to read in 300 page increments at a regular pace.

Anyway, I spent the last five days in Tucson, AZ with my wife and son, the latter looked after by an incredibly generous aunt, uncle and grandma.

Daytime childcare allowed me to spend days at the pool catching up on magazines, blogs and even a book.  Here are a few highlights ...

The Night of the Gun by David Carr [per @MarcSchil's recommendation]

Night of the gun

Carr, a reporter for The New York Times, pens a riveting memoir about his life as a drug addict, drunk; and his remarkable story of recovery [and ongoing struggles].  It is a book of extremes ... uplifting and depressing.  Generous and self-indulgent.  Funny and sad.  Beautiful and heinous.  I've admitted that I don't read a lot of books, so take this with a grain of salt - I strongly recommend this one.

Newsweek's Secrets of The 2008 Campaign
Abc_obama_clinton_mccain_080313_ms I'm only five months late to the game here, but this epic collection of behind-the-scenes accounts from various Newsweek reporters is incredible.  The 7-part report consists of "exclusive behind-the-scenes reporting from the McCain and Obama  camps assembled by a special team of reporters who were granted year-long access on the condition that none of  their findings appear until after Election Day."

As with all good political reporting, it incited a great debate in my family.  I thought the report painted McCain as the sympathetic character; everyone else disagreed.

It just occurred to me that Night of the Gun + Secrets of the 2008 Campaign = Fear and Loathing:  On the Campaign Trail '72, by Hunter S Thompson ... one of my all-time favorites.

I caught up on a lot of magazine reading.  Mostly GQ and Esquire.  Nothing mind-blowing to speak of, but I did find quite a few things I want to buy for the summer.  Among them ...

Mackintosh rain coat from JCrew ($800)

Jcrew coat

Gray Vans ($48)
An assortment of checked ties, like these in GQ


Levi's 501 White Jeans ($59.50)


Desert boots, kind of (but not exactly) like these from JCrew ($135)

Desert boot

P&G's Tide Loads of Hope T-Shirt

You'll recall a couple of weeks ago the folks at P&G conducted a social media experiment, while raising money for charity.  My recap here

My shirt arrived the other day, and David Armano asked people to submit photos in exchange for some link love.  P&G digital brand manager, Dave Knox, promised me the T-shirt would be of good quality - and it is.  Pretty cool design, and not the typical stiff/ill-fitting corporate apparel. 

Using the Photo Lolz Polaroid emulator ...


P&G's Social Media Experiment [Tide Loads of Hope]

[UPDATE:  Read David Armano's inside account; AdAge's report]

A funny thing happened last night.  P&G - as part of a private digital night in Cincinnati - turned to some of the most well-known names in social media to accomplish a few things [all but #1 are speculation only]:

  1. Raise money for their charity, Tide Loads of Hope [clean clothes to families in need of support after natural disasters]

  2. Demonstrate the power of social media to senior executives
  3. Self-promotion
  4. Ingratiate themselves with the social media who's-who [a proactive insurance policy]

What did they do?
For a few hours, several teams - led by different cewebrities hunkered down at P&G headquarters - bombarded Digg, blogs, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, Facebook and more with links to Tide's web site where you could buy vintage looking Tide t-shirts.  Twitter was particularly insane, with #pgdigital appearing non-stop.

How did they do?

  1. According to one participant, $50K in four hours, with P&G matching $50K.  I don't care how deep P&G's coffers are, they should be commended for the match.  Bravo!

  2. I'm sure this experiment went a long way towards changing some old school minds within the organization.
  3. Tide's name was all over the Internet last night, and I'm sure it will be written about a lot today.  The thing to watch for today is backlash, which you saw starting last night and I'm sure Tide knew was inevitable. 
  4. All the usual social media suspects were virtually tripping over themselves to help promote this.  But come on, who doesn't want to be in P&G's good graces [and help raise money]?


Did you participate [disclosure: I purchased a shirt]?  Either way, what do you think of the excercise?

Did you think the external agency participants at P&G last night went far enough to disclose their relationship with the company?  I saw a video from Ian Schafer of Deep Focus (@ischafer) who was very clear to state his agency did not work for P&G.  But I didn't see that same transparency from others.  Maybe I missed it in the frenzy?

Do you think, as Brian Morrissey, Digital Editor at Adweek seems to based on his tweets below, that we were all played?

Picture 1

Level Vodka Tunnel

I am digging this.  Level Vodka has teamed with fashion designer Hussein Chalayan to create the “Level Tunnel.”  Level started a blog - - to track the progress of the building of the tunnel and its travels around the world. 

To quote the press release:

The Level Tunnel by Hussein Chalayan vol. 08 is a world of its own, which can be experienced by viewing it from the outside and exploring it blindfolded from the inside. It’s a 15 m meter- long, almost 5-meter-high installation made of fiberglass, glass and leather – to mention just a few of its materials. The installation will tour the world, starting in Mexico City in May 2008.

“… The idea is to engage in a captivating sensual experience of scent, sound and touch. I want to match all senses – excluding vision – to emphasize the exceptional taste of Level Vodka,” explains Hussein Chalayan.

Visitors will enter and walk through the installation blindfolded. Inside, they will be sensually and innovatively enveloped with the unique taste of Level Vodka through scent, sound and touch. They will hear music played on a flute made with a Level Vodka bottle. The glass bottle creates a protective shell that results in muted, hypnotic acoustics. Also inside: a breeze carries the scent of lemon and cedar and conjures up the flavor of Level Vodka. Railings coated in the softest leather run through the installation to create an exclusive tactile experience. Before entering the installation, visitors will be fitted with a heart monitor, which displays their heartbeat on the outside of the tunnel.

The blog features a few videos – I really like this making of the tunnel video here.


I'm very interested in the idea of wearing a uniform, which doesn't literally mean I like to wear a pilot's outfit to work, but rather that I find value in having consistent style hallmarks that [1] make me stand out in a crowd [2] save me time and money.  I've previously written about this topic.

Most people think this is a bit obsessive [in reality, it's quite sane, and frees up my mind to focus on other things - especially in the morning].  Well thanks to these folks recently profiled in New York Magazine, I look downright sane.  Read this article about five New Yorker's who wear only one color a day ...



What's Your Whopper?

BurgerkingAs I spent the better part of yesterday traipsing around Chicago looking for a new pair of jeans, something occurred to me.  My favorite denim brand?  Levi's.  My favorite fast-food brand?  Burger King.  My favorite products from those brands ... 501s and the Whopper respectively. 

Here's the rub ... I haven't owned a pair of 501s in, well, maybe ever.  And I can't tell you the last time I ate a Whopper.  So what gives? 

I'm not 100% sure.  But I think it's that both brands have done an incredible job iconizing their hero products, and that's what draws me into the brand.  And when I get there I realize that 501s don't fit me all that well and I prefer the chicken sandwich.  But I don't care, because what I'm really after is an association with the brand, not necessarily any one product.

So my question is, what's your Whopper?  What's the service or product that customers come to you for, even if they end up buying something else?

P.S. I ended up with a pair of 514s [slim fit, straight leg]

P.P.S.  In case you've been living under a rock, check out Whopper Freakout to see what true brand obsession is.  I love this campaign - one of my favorites in a long time.

Nicholas Antongiavanni: Curtains for the Necktie?

Thanks to my friend, Troy, for sending this along today.  My regular readers will not be surprised to hear that I find this all a bit sad.  I guess I am old fashioned ... I want my President to wear a tie.  Every day.

Curtains for the Necktie? - WSJ.com: "[N]either shall there come upon thee a garment of two kinds of stuff mingled together." --Leviticus 19:19

Thus was born, somewhere in the Sinai desert over 3,000 years ago, the sumptuary law. Ironically, politics and clothing have mingled ever since.

Generally speaking, American politicians are the dullest dressers on the planet. But, three or four times a century, our presidential contests have a direct effect on the sartorial life of the nation. The last such occasion was when the rakish Ronald Reagan replaced the cloddish Jimmy Carter and helped usher in a new era of formality.

Another revolution is now upon us -- though of a decidedly different character. Barack Obama -- unquestionably the hippest candidate for the presidency since John F. Kennedy -- may do to the tie what Kennedy helped do to the hat. It's a myth that JFK killed the hat simply by not wearing one to his inauguration -- actually, that was the one instance when he did wear one. But by ostentatiously eschewing a hat everywhere else, at a time when the hat's place in the male wardrobe needed all the high-level support it could get, a very public "nay" vote from that suave, young, handsome patrician helped tip the balance against it.

Today, the tie is in similarly dire straits. Sales are way down. Its status as the sartorial signifier par excellence of business, seriousness and ceremony is in jeopardy. California abandoned it at about the same time, and for many of the same reasons, that the Golden State jettisoned Reaganism. The effete East held out longer, but when Wall Street and the law firms went "business casual" during the last boom, the necktie went on life-support.

There it lingers, kept breathing largely by the unwavering, if unthinking, allegiance of high-ranking politicians. But that too may soon pass away.

It's one thing for a politician, in the thick of a campaign, to rally the faithful in all his shirtsleeved, open-necked, down-home glory. "I'm one of you" the look is supposed to say -- accurately or not. But there are, or used to be, occasions when the people don't want their leaders to look like one of them -- at least not what they look like when they are out washing the car.

Mr. Obama breaks tradition on both counts. He skips the tie at major indoor events, not just outdoor rallies and Rock the Vote concerts sponsored by MTV. He goes tieless not merely in his shirtsleeves, or even with a blazer. He carries the open-necked look into a realm it was never meant to go: with the two-piece, dark business suit.

This heresy earns the young senator praise from today's keepers of the style tablets. The Washington Post's Robin Givhan -- the acid-penned Madame Blackwell of the Beltway -- could hardly contain herself. "[Obama's] tieless suit," she gushed, "[is] a cross between the style of a 1950s home-from-the-office dad and a 1990s GQ man about town. It is warmly, safely, nostalgically . . . cool."

Others have noticed something else. Take the impeccably liberal Jeff Greenfield. "Ask yourself," he challenged his CNN audience, "is there any other major public figure who dresses the way he does? Why, yes. It is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who, unlike most of his predecessors, seems to have skipped through enough copies of GQ to find the jacket-and-no-tie look agreeable."

We can thank Mr. Greenfield for being reckless enough to say what many were thinking. But he mistakes Mr. Ahmadinejad's source. Mr. Obama may have gotten the idea from GQ, but the Iranian President got it from the Ayatollah Khomeini.

One of the lesser-known outcomes of the 1979 Iranian revolution was the stigmatization of the tie as a tool of Western Imperialism. The Ayatollah even denounced some of his perceived enemies as "tie-wearing cronies of the West." Today in much of the Islamist world, the tie is seen as not merely pro-Western but anti-Islamic, even though no prohibition of the garment can be found in Islamic law. There is a stricture against men wearing silk, but Muslim dandies can get around that by wearing cashmere or linen ties -- and many do.

It's hard to think of anything less hip -- or less intended to be hip -- than Islamist dogma on personal grooming. Yet despite traveling radically different routes along the way, Messrs. Obama and Ahmadinejad somehow manage to wind up in the same sartorial spot. Sort of like the way Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich share virtually identical foreign policies.

We should hope that the tie survives. It is too noble a garment to let go for light and transient, or dark and sinister, causes. The good news is that Mr. Obama's foray into tielessness does not stem from deeply held ideology. When it really counts, he does the right thing. No doubt, should he make it to the end, his neck will be covered on inauguration day. Just like JFK's head.

Nicholas Antongiavanni is the pen name of Michael Anton. He is author of The Suit: A Machiavellian Approach to Men's Style (Collins, 2006).

What's Your Uniform?

On at least two  occasions [here, here] I've written about the necktie as a very simple, yet effective differentiator.  Now David Granger, Editor in Chief at Esquire Magazine, is singing a similar tune.  Granger writes [full post here]:

This fall, after 18 months of going without a tie, it started toseem appropriate to wear nothing but white shirts and dark ties under a dark jacket adorned with the thin stripe of a white pocket square in the breast pocket. Every day.

The first thing about this choice was how much it simplifies one's life. White shirt, dark tie every day. No thought required.

The second thing is that everyone notices. Everyone. The word women use is sharp. Or dapper. Or fantastic. They often touch your shoulder or lay their hand on your forearm. Men tell you you look "great," and they say it with something like puzzlement or suspicion. As though you're pulling something on them.

Granger refers to the notion of wearing a daily uniform.  For the last few years I've preached this idea ... that consistency and continuity in your wardrobe are (1) reassuring to those around you (2) a simple way to make a statement - albeit somewhat superficial - about who you are and (3) is much easier [and cheaper]!

So, what's your uniform?

From Transaction to Experience


Cintra Wilson of the New York Times gives us a piece today [full article here] about a fashion boutique in NYC called Edit. In Wilson's words ...

"Edit gives back something you didn’t know you missed, but once rediscovered, you wonder how you ever lived without: A retail environment that vibrates with the coherent harmonies of its own, um, intelligent design (for lack of a better term). It’s as much art installation as boutique, in that it provides a little vacation in someone else’s well-lighted consciousness. A golden thread connects every choice in Edit, from the paint on the walls to the cashmere opera gloves, joining everything together with the balanced tension, delicacy and natural genius of a spider web."

To me the is all about shopping as an experience, rather than just a transaction.  Sounds a bit like Colette.  I am a sucker for an engaging and different retail experience.  This is the kind of store I would [1] like to shop in for my wife [2] like to shop in for myself if they had menswear.

Paul Smith + Burton

I am a massive Paul Smith fan.  Massive.  I'm also a big Burton fan, although I am a purist [that's right, I prefer skiing over snowboarding]. 

In my former life at Nokia Nseries I worked on global brand partnerships.  So I was especially interested in what I saw on Cool Hunting - a brand partnership between Paul Smith and Burton.  Besides being a bit pricey for my tastes, the designs are probably not all that practical for snowboarding.  However, it's a provocative partnership that surprises, delights and challenges the orthodoxy of what snowboarding gear should be.  Bravo!

Collection here.


Necktie is Back [According to the NYT]

I was pleased to read this article in the New York Times about the resurgence of the tie in the 18-34 set.

I wear a tie nearly every day.  I've never had a job where I've had to wear one.  In fact, I've never had a job where anyone else wore one on a regular basis.  People don't seem to know what to make of it, but I do get a lot of comments and questions.

We, the tie wearers, have our reasons. One reason I had never considered is "collar wilt" — that is, according the article:  its [collar's] gradual collapse (or migration underneath the jacket collar) as the day wears on. Any man who derides the necktie as solely a decorative accessory would do well to remember that it serves an important function in holding a look together.

This is the image that came up when I googled "collar wilt"


Puma Does it Proper

[Via the Guys at  Electro^Plankton]

My friends know I am a sucker for a nice piece of luggage.  The Puma Urban Mobility Bag looks like it might be worth the splurge.  According to Electro^Plankton ...

"Only 600 of these bags will be made. The shell is made from premium leather and features a wood plank on the bottom with the Puma logo die-cut. The bag also comes with 2 smaller bags to hold your toiletries. No pricing yet but they go on sale worldwide at Puma and high end department stores in July. "

More photos here.

Puma_urbanmobilitybag_01 Puma_urbanmobilitybag_03

Where Have You Gone, Bow Tie?

I went to an incredible black tie affair last night.  Downtown Chicago.  Saturday night.  One of the swankiest venues in town.  A very classy bride and groom.  A bride and mother-in-law in the wedding planning business.  Needless to say, the party was done to the nines.  Maybe the best I've ever seen.  So I was shocked to find that of 200 guests [~100 men] only 9 or 10 of us wore a proper bow tie.

Guys ... do yourselves a favor.  Next time the occasion calls for black tie ... get a proper haircut, an understated pair of cuff-links, shine your shoes, watch the video below.  Trust me ... the bow tie will make you stand out from the crowd.  Some times things are 'traditional' for a reason -- because they drip with class. 

Anyone have other examples of dying traditions in need of resurrection?