Wednesday, December 30, 2009

ABC Carpet's new Conran Shop in Shop

New York, NEW YORK

My recent post about Milan’s la Rinascente department store including a Conran Shop may now read as a precursor to the latest news out from the British restaurateur, designer, author, and specialty retailer Terrence Conran.

The New York Times reports that after 10 years of operating on the far east side Manhattan the Conran Shop will close its doors and open a shop-in-shop at ABC Carpet in Union Square. The 8,500 square foot shop will open in April 2010.

Operating at about 50% of its original size the shop will focus on what the company is calling its more “masculine” categories of merchandise including furniture, lighting, kitchen, and under-glass products. The most noticeable categories that will be eliminated are textiles, bath, children's, stationery, and travel items.

For those who cannot do without a specific Conran item ‘til April they do deliver from the UK with complete instructions on the company website- In the most polite British manner would-be shoppers are instructed to call for details regarding freight, import duties, and taxes that may be incurred from packages headed for America.

The London and Paris Conran Shops were and still are very important travel designations for merchants seeking trends and sources while attending the winter and fall trade shows. I consistently found at least one key item in the gardening or kitchen departments. So, when Sir Terrance opened this business in New York I must admit I was a bit disappointed. This was another sign of globalization that affected me personally. As a California based merchant the unique treasures discovered here would now be much more accessible to other buyers who never even visited Europe.

I expect this may become the busiest area inside ABC Carpet and come this spring the downtown crowd will not have to trek all the way up to barren neighborhood of the Queensborough bridge to shop the latest Conran collection.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sign of the times- Department stores entering the discount outlet business.

At the close of each month we all see the comparable store sales numbers. Looking back at the last year it’s clearly the off-price business that consistently outshines any of the regular priced retailers. I suspect December will be no exception. Both The TJX Co.s and Ross Stores are bucking the trend, reporting positive numbers and sometimes reaching double digit increases over last year.

Competition is now surfacing for that value driven customer in the near future from a very unlikely source. WWD reports that Lord & Taylor, the oldest upscale department store in the United States is entering the outlet business. The first will be a 15,000 ft. sq location in Elizabeth, N.J. It may come as no surprise after the retailer has struggled with a series of ownership shuffles, store closures, and it's new identity. This is the same Lord & Taylor that for decades advertised through fashion illustrations when everyone else was using modern photography. At one time couture fashion designers such as Balenciaga, Dior, Chanel, and Givenchy were on display in the Lord & Taylor 5th Avenue flagship. Now just a few of these names remain in the Bridal assortment and the dress department is made up of very modestly priced ready-to-wear pieces from American names like Calvin Klein and Ellen Tracy. As for those new price points ads targeting a younger shopper- seems like they took their cues from Old Navy.

This news comes as Macy’s acknowledged that they are also looking into the possibility of opening outlet locations but have yet to announce any specific sites.

In an interesting move Simon Property Group announced in a December 8th press release that it would buy out 22 new mall locations from Prime Outlets for a price of $2.3 billion. This acquisition will result in a total of 63 off price centers for Simon comprising approximately 25 million square feet.

Burt Tansky, the Chairman & CEO of Neiman Marcus recently acknowledges that the “Last Call” outlet stores were out performing the regular price locations. He said the number of outlets would be expanding beyond the current portfolio of 28 and they are working on finding "more central locations" as well.

Some free advice for these retailers entering into this new territory; Do not open more locations that you can adequately stock and do not supplement the merchandise assortments with lower quality goods that would never be sold in the full prices stores. I was a bit shocked to see this trickery from one luxury outlet when it was quite clear that this retailer would have never sold a rough poly-blend dress shirt but yet here it was piled high posing as an over-stock with a very inflated comp. price. This could really turn off the more affluent educated shoppers who will not return unless the bargains are real and honest.

Much of this shift is really about the consumer re-evaluating what prices should be. With so many prestige brands being offered up at mass retailers it leads us all to question the rational of why name brands are at such inflated prices. Many retailers have been hitting the discount panic button so quickly. First through a sale of 20-40 off, then 50% and higher discounts sometimes just weeks after arriving in shops.

I foresee that all of these changes could result in better shopping experiences in off price location and outlet malls. They may start resembling some of the better shopping mall formats. They could be built in more convenient areas where people actually live and work. They will include welcoming landscaping & convenient parking facilities (valet maybe?). The architecture will be more appealing and might incorporate children’s recreation spots and spacious seating areas, and maybe nice, healthy restaurant choices. If all of that happens, the whole business model and price structure of retail could change dramatically.

As we go into this new decade change is in the wind and it’s certainly not going to be business as usual anymore.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A New Year's Resolution for the Design Community

I met with an investor from one of the so-called “eco- friendly” retailers who was considering hiring me as a consultant. In the meeting he asked me to basically look at Pottery Barn's catalog covers for the past five years and copy the styles with a spin toward his new brand. I ended up offering some friendly advice and did not take on the project, suggesting instead that the company could do much better with original ideas and products.

Now as economic woes continue the collateral damaged may include such sameness that seems to pervade the home industry. So, as we approach a new decade what will home furnishings look like in 2010 as both consumer and corporate budgets get slashed?

To answer this question I have two approaches.

Let’s start with Dieter Rams the industrial engineer most closely associated with Braun. Many of his designs have a home in the permanent collections of museums around the world. Thankfully Rams offers us his ten principles of good design.

Note to designers;
Please print this list and post this where you can read it every day.

• Good design is innovative
• Good design makes a product useful
• Good design is aesthetic
• Good design helps us to understand a product
• Good design is unobtrusive
• Good design is honest
• Good design is long-lasting
• Good design is consequent to the last detail
• Good design is concerned with the environment
• Good design is as little design as possible

What really makes Braun and other Rams designs stand out for me the most is number 7; the long-lasting qualities. I have a number of Braun products that are twenty years old that work and still look great.

The second place we go for inspiration is Japan- by way of the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan.

The Japan External Trade Organization or JETRO set up a section of the ICFF trade show in New York this year. The International Contemporary Furniture Fair features furniture and accessories and also displays a number of student design projects that have not yet made it to production. JETRO curated an exciting and innovative presentation of items and offered a catalog that explained how they were chosen.

According to the literature all these items on display had high Kansei value, or emotional and physical appeal to the user.

Kansei is manifested in three ways:
1. Hyōjō - The expression of an object or its appearance. This includes material, color, texture; all the qualities visible to the eye.
2. Dōsa- The creator’s gesture or intent or how the body physical response to the object; for example how it feels to the touch.
3. Kokoro- The emotion an object evokes. This psychological dimension is the most abstract but most prized by Japanese designers.

All photographs copyright Vitsœ.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Rebirth of the Department Store- Italian Style


A visit to Milan is certain to include a walk around the Piazza del Duomo. One of the key anchors in this enormous walking and shopping area is La Rinascente, the upscale department store founded in 1865. (This is the place where Giorgio Armani got his start- dressing the windows- but that’s another story.)

Shopping there in the past was similar to visiting a Macy’s suburban C-store – the absence of better name brands and lacking the luster or modernity of say what you find at Harvey Nichols or Neiman Marcus. I even recall the lighting and visuals used to be quite compromised and outdated.

This past July La Rinacente unveiled what is being called a "design supermarket”. I visited in September, walked the lower level shops and saw an exciting combination of home and design objects that rivaled The Conran Shop. A modern bustling café circles the escalator's open architecture; a wall ‘sculpture’ in itself. Many of the goods are featured in a modern art museum-shop fashion. These include sophisticated dustpans and vases as well as notebooks and mugs by fashion designer Paul Smith. There is even a Conran shop-in-shop down there as well, the first I have seen. It makes sense since Sir Terrance does not have any of his own retail shops in Italy. Kartell and Wallpaper* magazine also set up shop there which definitely adds to the cool factor.

There was no sign of a recession here on a busy Saturday afternoon. The store was full of people and gave off a party atmosphere- interesting music that changed in each area. Large scale theatrics in cosmetics; it was teeming with dozens of fragrance models and cosmetic artists in action. Many of the major international designer and top luxury brand names were visible right from the sight-lines of the up escalator.

In 2005 the company recruited the CEO who was credited with turning the ailing Selfridges department store around. Vittorio Radice who was also the Managing Director for Habitat UK is responsible for this resurrection. When I worked with Vittorio on furniture product development at Conran’s Habitat he was constantly pushing the merchandisers to go after a similar visual approach- a ‘fresh from the market’ look in the shops. He wanted to see towering stacks of new dinnerware filling large baskets that may have just been cracked open from a crate, as well as goods on dining tables that looked like they were just stocked up.

How appropriate that La Rinascente is derived from rinascita - means "rebirth" in Italian. Perhaps this is the inspiration the management team used to make such a bold new business introduction and major remodel in such a troubled economy.

We will have to watch the sales and earnings of La Rinascente in the future but the launch of such fresh and new idea seems to have paid off from the glimpse I saw in the high foot traffic and number of shopping bags heading out the door.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The most beautiful garden book

- New York, NY

A quick call out today for Dominique Browning's list of the top ten new garden books of the year for the New York Times - Book Review (12/06/09).

In praise of Anna Pavord's book, BULB, Browning said, "This is the most beautiful garden book of the season", offering us as readers happiness and hope. She also notes a warning, "...[it] is enough to induce lust in the most abstracted Zen gardener."

In her other picks it is worth noting that she mentions but does not recommend any of the how-to titles which will no doubt be piled up on a feature table in your local book seller. Four of Browning's books fall under the category of Japanese Gardening suggesting that we should probably make our vacation plans now.

Full link to the section of the NY TIMES below as well as my earlier post about BULB from November 2, 2009.

GARDEN- Bulb Season

With all the buzz about growing your own rooftop produce there are still more flower gardeners out there for one simple reason; sunlight. Even those with out an outdoor space can turn a small windowsill into a miniature flower garden, but most vegetables do require about six hours of sun or more.

BULB, a new book written by Anna Pavord has just been released from Octopus Publishing Group. It's been ten years since she wrote her related title, The Tulip- a history and illustrated archive of the flower from its botanical origins to Tulipmania, and to the big business it has now become.

In BULB, this time Pavord shares 540 of her favorite bulbs with a more practical approach. This alphabetical collection provides photographs, inspiration, and helpful advice.

Another book written ten years ago is still very fresh in its presentation of all forced blooms indoors; Forcing, etc written by Katherine Whiteside for Smith & Hawken. She explored all sorts of cultivated and wild flora that can be transformed with the right conditions; from branches, bulbs, even forcing acorns into tiny bonsai gardens. A Google preview of her book can be viewed at the Workman publishing website.

Paste address into browser:

Friday, December 4, 2009

Coming Up Roses – Clubhouse furniture for KENZO

- Los Angeles & Miami

Kenzo Takada’s fashion career which has spanned thirty years started appropriately in Paris. His first designs were created only from the fabrics he could afford to buy at the flea market. As a result, Kenzo had to mix many bold fabrics together to make one garment. In 1970 he opened up his first shop near the Palais Royale inside Galerie Vivienne.

His ready-to-wear is both practical in function and often outrageous in detail. Formal suit coats with large patch pockets on the back or oversized buttons, for example. Like the other top Japanese designers his clothes are loose and unstructured. However one consistent quality is that the garments are very durable and can last a life time with proper care.

In the mid nineties Kenzo joined the luxury group LVMH which would support a global expansion plan. A few years later he would step down as CEO and pass the work off to his assistants. In 2005 he would return to design "Gokan Kobo" a collection of tableware and home objects; Baccarat made the crystal pieces, Niderwiller and Manufacture Nationale de Sevres manufactured the porcelain table-top.

Now Kenzo has just entered the US market with support of the Italian company Clubhouse who also is behind the FENDI home collection. Together they have produced a wide range of furniture for sale in Miami and Los Angeles. L.A.'s Melrose location opened its doors in October and displays a wide assortment of case goods, dining room furniture, and accessories.

All the pieces are special order. The ‘Grace’ chair featured here starts at about $1,000 with a number of fabric and finish options. Contact information and photos of the FENDI collection at the Clubhouse Italia site below. Kenzo photos coming soon.

Gokan Kobo photo courtesy of AFP © 2005

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Robb Report follows up on Ralph Lauren Vault post

-New York, NY

The Home & Garden Business News post from November 18th announced Ralph Lauren's new venture into one of a kind collectible antiques for sale throuh a new division's website called The Vault.

Today's Robb Report newsletter arrived and was promoting the site just in time for holiday shopping.

Although if the sky's really the limit for that someone special, the new Hermès mega yacht by Wally is tough competition. A floating paradise for €100 million.

When I was in Monaco this summer the yacht show was just getting set up in the port at Monte Carlo but the highly anticipated unveiling had not occurred yet. The link below includes a video clip of the vessel in motion in the 'Making of' section. Daydreaming encouraged.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Update on the White House Christmas Tree

- Washington, DC

To follow up from an earlier post...

Today First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled the Blue Room Christmas tree that will be accessible to the public visiting the White House.

The theme of the holiday decorating is "Reflect, Rejoice and Renew".

In an unusual turn they decided to re-use about 800 ornaments left over from previous administrations. These were re-designed by about 60 local community groups throughout the country. The groups decorated them to pay tribute to a favorite local landmark and then sent them back for display at the White House.

Bravo to the First Lady for not only recycling but for the community inclusion to the festivities this year.

Check out this year's impressive gingerbread house complete with the organic vegetable garden detail.

Photo credits; SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

GARDEN- California Flower Growers Reach Out to Locavores

-California’s Central Valley

Thanks to writers like Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver we are in the middle of a global shift of choosing local produce instead of imported goods or those produced by large factory farms which are trucked across the country.

There is another group of farmers that want to participate in the local movement and protect their part of a shrinking business. It's the 250 cut flower growers in California that employ about 20,000 people. This may be an uphill battle unless the growers can compete with the international marketplace. Twenty years ago California supplied more than 60% of the nation’s cut flowers. Today that amount has been reduced to 25% as commercial airplanes zip back and forth from S. America to huge distribution centers in Miami daily undercutting the domestic growers. On-line shopping has also shifted business away from from the local florist or wire service to the lowest priced pre-packed imports- the ones that often arrive in a cardboard shipping box.

The California Cut Flower Commission is a state government agency created by the legislature to promote California-grown cut flowers and foliages. The commission kicked off a buy-local campaign last month starting in Vons and Safeway stores. The flowers will be displayed with “hint cards” noting various tips like; the Golden state’s flowers are America’s freshest. Whole Foods Markets have been tagging many of their produce and flowers with the locally grown signs as well.

Although I support this initiative and hope for the best, it may not be enough to effect the primary decision making of this impulse buy. First comes the perceived value and retail price so this may be effective as a secondary “feel good” emotion that comes after the purchase. One also imagines the reduced shipping and handling costs will help keep control prices.

Lastly I predict the awareness campaign will be more important for the self-purchase unless the pricing of CA grown flowers is less or equal to that of the imports. As for the flowers I buy for my own home; I want those to last as long as possible and here in Los Angeles they would most likely be those that are locally grown but the value must be there too. However as a gift I might be more frugal so if the less expensive flowers (of what ever origin) did not last as long – I would never really know.

Monday, November 30, 2009

WOOLRICH Double Play; Home Collection & High Fashion

Woolrich, PA

The nation’s oldest continuously operating apparel and woolen fabric manufacturer is reinventing itself in more ways than one.

Woolrich the maker of Civil War blankets and the famous logger jackets & woolen shirts has expanded their home collection to include furniture in the upcoming Atlanta market. The new groupings of bedroom, dining, and occasional pieces launched in Las Vegas earlier this year. The goods are being made under license by Shadow Mountain, a company based in North Carolina.

On the fashion side of the business I was in Italy recently and noticed variations of the Woolrich signature bold checks in the shop windows of some very trendy blocks in both Milan and Florence.

Later would I read that Daiki Suzuki designed a fully functional outdoor fashion collection for men in collaboration with Woolrich Woolen Mills. The focus includes themes of hunting and fishing. Of course they may be more popular on Madison Avenue but could transition flawlessly to a fishing or hunting trip.

What a brilliant combination of quality fabrics, performance, heritage, and high style. What's meaningful about these garments is that they have all the performance qualities of work wear, they look great, and will last a life time.

I wish I could be more enthusiastic about the home collections. For the right rural or suburban market they could be successful when offered to customers who are furnishing a spacious country house. The scale is large, the finishes very dark, and the surfaces are rough hewn & textured.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Re-thinking the Flower Vase


What happens when you ask 15 contemporary artists to redefine the flower vase ? The results are currently on display in Berlin at HELMRINDERKNECHT, a contemporary design gallery.

All of the objects are either unique copies or part of a small limited and signed edition. The exhibition VASE vs. VASE opened this week and is on display through January 9, 2010.

Two interesting examples are shown here. ‘Couer’ by Julia Maendler – a synthetic resin heart that functions much like the traditional tulip vessels. It works very well with ranunculus but one could also see Icelandic poppies creating a wild floral sculpture as well.

Tina Roeder contributed this amusing and ironic sculpture called ‘Bucket Vase”. Looking closely one can see that it is made of fine porcelain and sterling silver (from a series of 5). What comes to mind here reminds me of the humor of Chef Tom Aiken, based in London- the youngest chef ever to receive two Michelin stars. Tom is known for taking extraordinary ingredients and preparing them in a dish that at first sight looks basic and ordinary- that is until you taste it and savor the surprising flavors of say caramelized endive or lemon confit.

Anyway like the old idiom, one should not judge the book by its binding.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

HOME- Mixing the Old with the New

Department stores and specialty shops have long understood the appeal of offering one of a kind objects that can nicely round out a merchandising display. These rare finds are often picked up from the enormous flea market in Paris at the Porte de Clignancourt or Le Marché aux Puces St-Ouen. Camden Town in London is also another popular destination for Buyers to visit as a break from the intensity of the trade shows.

This year it’s interesting to see a bit of on-line competition for EBay with retailers selling vintage and antique collectibles through their ecommerce sites.

With the launch of the Ralph Lauren Gift Vault, the designer has carefully chosen one-of-a-kind pieces according to three themes: Americana, Hollywood Glamour and Estate. There are some beautiful pieces of silver, turquoise, and jewelry for sale at luxury price points. Ralph will only sell items that are 100 years or older and does require that you register as a member in order to see the prices. Certificates of authenticity are available since we know the army behind at Ralph Lauren thinks of everything.

Sur la Table acquired a large collection of silver serving pieces and flatware from that grand old hotel in Paris; Hotel du Louvre. Many of the items sold-out quickly on their website. Today just a handful of items remain selling at the $200 - $300 range.

Buying and reselling antiques is not for everyone. Maybe this is why we see Pottery Barn offering up a strange mismatched “like vintage” flatware set. That is every five-piece place setting is exactly the same.

There is a risk that the buying one of kind items will sit and clog inventory dollars. For the web there are the same administrative details as if you purchased 1,000 pieces. There are the considerations of photography (perhaps on location) and copywriting for that one single item with a unique location in the warehouse.

For smaller businesses I would not recommend venturing into the foreign vintage market without the assistance of a trusted Buying Agent to handle the transaction, shipping, and export details. That is unless the goods are hand carried in your luggage and claimed with U.S. customs upon arrival (that is except the few treasured pieces you plan to keep for yourself).

Thursday, November 12, 2009

GARDEN- Chistmas Trees; Options and Opportunities


A beautiful Douglas-fir from Shepherdstown, West Virginia will be decorating the Blue Room in the White House this year. It will be officially presented to First Lady Michelle Obama by growers Eric and Gloria Sundback. The Sundbacks earned this honor by winning the National Christmas Tree Association's (NCTA) Grand Championship.

The Obama’s tree was handpicked by the White House Chief Usher – the same fellow who is the first to keep bees on the grounds. The tree, which was planted by the Sundbacks in 1996, will be cut in late November. The presentation to the White House is scheduled to take place on Nov. 27, 2009. The tree will be set up in the Blue Room later that day, where the White House Floral Department staff and volunteers will decorate it.

The options for ordinary Americans:

Christmas trees are big business. Sales are well over $1 billion (FY 2007). 21% of United States households purchased a real tree, 48% had an artificial tree and 32% had no tree at all. (1) This adds up to about 30-35 million trees sold each year.

Is a cut tree the best choice?

Fifty years ago, Christmas trees were often cut down in forests and not replaced with seedlings. But today nearly all, 98 percent, are grown on farms according to the California Christmas Tree Association (CCTA). For every Christmas tree harvested, two or three more are planted. So that's more than 70 million new seedlings planted each year.

There are numerous debates over the environmental impact of cut trees. The leading argument to buy a cut tree is that seedlings are planted in the spring like food crops and harvested within six to ten years. The benefits that tree farmers claim include; the positive contributions to wildlife habitat, soil stabilization, oxygen production and carbon dioxide absorption. Some environmentalists take issue with the fuel burned to truck many of these trees across the country and the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. We pay more for organically grown vegetables but would be pay more for an organic tree? The disposal of cut trees can create a bottle neck in municipal dumps and composting facilities, although some communities use them to protect flooded or erosion damaged areas.

Living Christmas Trees

For those who would prefer not to purchase a cut tree, there have not been many alternatives. There are synthetics or some interesting wire sculptural trees to hold ornaments. Choosing a potted tree for many is a very considered purchase or impossible for most urban dwellers. The obvious issues of, "How large will it get? Do I have the space for what will turn out to be a lifetime commitment?" If left in the nursery pot for a long time, the tree may not survive.

There is a solution and a new business model on the west coast- Rent a potted tree.

Two businesses are offering healthy living Christmas trees that are delivered and then picked up after the holiday.

Adopt a Christmas Tree is nursery based in San Diego, California. I spoke to their Director Christine McDannell who is also known as the Head Elf. She explained that their business has increased considerably the past few years and that about 30% of people end up keeping their trees after the holiday. Retails start at $139 for a 4 ft. tree planted in a 5 gallon pot. Once picked up the trees are repotted and nurtured for the following year.

The Original Living Christmas Tree Company is based in Portland Oregon. Their trees sell for $80 including local delivery for all sizes- 5 ft. up to 7- 9ft. If you decide to keep your tree an additional $20 deposit is retained. After pick up the trees are planted by volunteers in watershed areas all over the Northwest.

1.Data from the University of Illinois Agriculture Dept. 2002



This new Redondo Beach, CA based business offers similar trees and services.

Delivery in the Los Angeles area.

Small trees priced from $50.00 up to $185.00 for 7 to 8 ft.

Friday, November 6, 2009

NPR follow up story re; Thursday post

-Washington, DC

Al Gore was interviewed today on NPR's All Things Considered about his new book:
Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis.

He made special note of the deforestation in tropical climates.

The audio clip is about 7 minutes.

Please paste link into browser for audio access and an excerpt from the book:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Fashion companies make eco-smart move with shopping bag sources


As a Furniture Buyer I worked closely with The Rainforest Alliance in selecting manufacturers as well as in auditing and verifying sources of materials used in production of outdoor furniture. This group helps timber companies, manufacturers, and retailers make the right choices in eco-smart materials, packaging, and paper from sustainable forest resources. By having committed 3rd parties perform inspections businesses can earn the status of being ‘certified’. Similar to certified organic farming this is a long term commitment and requires a thorough review on-site over a period of time.

So I read with pleasure today in the retail trade publication Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) that GUCCI backs the Rainforest Alliance. * *
( This was a WWD misprint- Please see correction below in comments )

This policy is a positive continuation of the Gucci Group’s interest in curbing climate change and has pledged to reduce the amount of paper it uses, eliminate fiber from high conservation value forests, and only purchase recycled products or those certified by the Forest Stewardship Council by December 2010.

Other fashion brands making similar moves include: Tiffany & Co., H&M Group, Hugo Boss, and Ferragamo.

Much of this is due to a shift away from throwaway paper shopping bags supplied from one supplier Asia Pulp and Paper (APP). APP has a reputation of clear-cutting wide expanses of trees in sensitive areas thus contributing the destruction of Indonesia’s rainforests.

It should be noted that many catalogs like Williams Sonoma have been using only certified sustainable sources for the millions of catalogs they send every month. Since 2006 it reported that 95% of the paper content was recycled and now it’s up to 100%. However Williams Sonoma’s policy on shopping bags notes that they only use 10% recycled content. *

Of course I do not expect to see shoppers headed to the mall with reusable shopping bags in hand as they do now when grocery shopping. However for retailers, knowing about the resources to help with purchasing decisions will certainly provide numerous benefits all around in the long run.

* Source: Williams-Sonoma, Inc. Environmental Catalog Paper Procurement Policy 2008

Monday, November 2, 2009

GARDEN- Bulb Season

With all the buzz about growing your own rooftop produce there are still more flower gardeners out there for one simple reason; sunlight. Even those with out an outdoor space can turn a small windowsill into a miniature flower garden, but most vegetables do require about six hours of sun or more.

BULB, a new book written by Anna Pavord has just been released from Octopus Publishing Group. It's been ten years since she wrote her related title, The Tulip- a history and illustrated archive of the flower from its botanical origins to Tulipmania, and to the big business it has now become.

In BULB, this time Pavord shares 540 of her favorite bulbs with a more practical approach. This alphabetical collection provides photographs, inspiration, and helpful advice.

Another book written ten years ago is still very fresh in its presentation of all forced blooms indoors; Forcing, etc written by Katherine Whiteside for Smith & Hawken. She explored all sorts of cultivated and wild flora that can be transformed with the right conditions; from branches, bulbs, even forcing acorns into tiny bonsai gardens. A Google preview of her book can be viewed at the Workman publishing website.

Paste address into browser:

Friday, October 30, 2009



In many of this week’s newspaper headlines it was announced that we are about to exit the recession as we wrap up the 3rd consecutive quarter of economic growth. This made me think of the famous Christmas song; Happy Xmas from the Vietnam era from Yoko Ono and John Lennon. I had the great honor of working with Yoko Ono in preparation for her exhibition Yes; Yoko Ono. Along with her Archivist and Curator we collaborated on a number of products for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art museum store. The attitude of this statement is right on target regarding a new perspective and could be an inspiration for us to get back to doing business.

“WAR IS OVER! …if you want it”

So here’s my version for the moment we are in:
THE RECESSION IS OVER! …if you want it.

The past year has been undoubtedly quite difficult for most retailers and their suppliers. Nowhere was this more evident for me than at the San Francisco Int’l Gift Fair this past August. For years this was one of the most important international trade show after New York. However SFIGF was less than half the size it was a year ago, and to make up for it the addition of the Gourmet Housewares show only partially filled the adjacent halls. The traffic in both was slow. One booth, Nespresso attracted the most activity with free coffee samples.

To me all this holding back has been a No-Win situation for everyone. Much of retail is offering the customer the same old merchandise with severe promotional pricing. The market is nervous and limits their new product launches. So, with vendors dropping out of a major gift show in droves- what else can be expected but a very small attendance of Buyers. Sounds like a Catch 22.

So, if this indeed is the beginning of a turn around we should challenge suppliers to offer new products with some conviction and retailers will need to make commitments to give these new introductions a chance at success.

With just three months ‘til the winter gift shows we can only hope that the mood and the merchandise can only get better. Hopefully retailers will front load their 2010 travel budgets to get the most out the winter shows as possible.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Krislyn Designs; Retail Spotlight


Third Street in Los Angeles; between the Beverly Center and The Grove has long been a shopping destination with many independent specialty and vintage shops. The street is a bit more urban and less glamorous than the nearby high-fashion blocks of Melrose and Robertson. Many of the shops I visited last week looked like they were still waiting for their holiday merchandise to arrive. There has also been a sudden shift in the neighborhood with more eateries than shops and perhaps too many bakeries.

Who is eating all this pastry? Not the group that wants to maintain their shape inside their skinny jeans. Whether LA needs it or not New York’s Magnolia Bakery is opening soon where the butter cream frosting factor will certainly be off the charts. At least the personal trainers here can be assured to have some job security in 2010.

There is one place that is literally an oasis offering something unique and interesting. It is called Krislyn Designs. At first glance the entrance looks like a modern bright white art gallery. Here however the sculptures are composed of natural materials as well as fresh and dried botanicals. The space is divided into small galleries in the front each showcasing a theme or medium. Through a central narrow corridor you enter the studio where the design team creates these works.

Krislyn Meyer-Komarov opened her first floral boutique in Pasadena after working in the film industry. In addition to arranged flowers and bouquets, the elements of her botanical sculptures include; preserved moss, branches, feathers, crystals, porcelain,and stones. There is an element of fantasy here combined with a modern Japanese influence of minimalism. The mood communicates a true reverence for natural and found objects that when combined become something even more fantastic. L’Objet Trouvé, or the Found Object Art movement comes to mind.

Much of the work here is custom made. However, you can also walk in (or shop on-line) and chose from several pre-made items: a small porcelain dogwood blossom on a branch, $30 or one of my favorites; a wall piece made of hand-dipped linen roses mounted in a wooden bowl, $1325. Krislyn also offers a number of bonsai tree sculptures in any size, shown above is a 12 inch ‘Japanese Dream’ made with preserved moss inside a mirrored container, $260.

Krislyn’s clientele includes the film and music industries as well as retails shops such as Giorgio Armani and the hospitality industry including The W Hotels. Her work is highly sought after by event planners and brides to be.

Krislyn Designs
8216 W 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Telephone: 323-692-7862

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Made in the USA - Part II


NPR just covered a similar story to the post I made yesterday. Link to listen to the five minute story is below.

More than 5 million Americans work for companies that aren't American. New York Times senior business correspondent Micheline Maynard, author of The selling of the American Economy: How Foreign Companies Are Remaking the American Dream, says the foreign share of the American economy is almost double the share of the U.S. auto industry.

Monday, October 26, 2009

FURNITURE: Made in the USA

- F.O.B. Danville, Virginia

Swedish engineering made in the USA

The manufacturing division of IKEA called Swedwood has been operating a furniture factory in Danville, Virginia since 2008. Current employment is at about 200 positions with a plan to employ as many as 740 people as the facility expands.

Danville is just 50 miles north of High Point, NC. This is newsworthy now as another market wraps-up and it’s ironic that what was once the center of US furniture manufacturing has now shifted to a marketing and showroom complex with most of the products manufactured in Asia. At its peak this region produced as much as 50% of all bedroom furniture for the domestic market. There is still some furniture being produced here; Marsh Furniture Company and HDM Furniture employ about 1,000 workers combined but by far the largest employers now are banks and health insurance companies.

IKEA operates 300+ stores world wide with 37 in the United States and has annual sales of EUR € 23.0 billion or roughly USD $34.0 billion. Their business model offers us moderately priced, quality furniture some of which is now made in America. This should be both an inspiration and a wake-up call for US owned businesses to follow suit in reducing the unemployment problem across the country.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

In Memory of Anita Roddick

Los Angeles, CA

Yesteday would have been Dame Anita Roddick’s 67th birthday. Anita passed away two years ago this September.

Long before the Green Movement was popular or even understood, Anita Roddick was an pioneer and activist in every way. As an entrepeneur working with her husband Gordon she started what began as a small business selling naturally based skin and hair care products. As the founder of The Body Shop in 1976 she chose not to test her product on animals and encouraged reusing and recycling in peoples’ every day lives.

From what began as one small shop in the UK would evolve into and empire of close to 2,000 locations world wide. These shops would be her ‘billboards’ for addressing human rights, social injustices, and enviromental issues of the moment.

A quick search will revel that every major news outlet wrote fitting tributes at the time of Anita’s death but today I’ll share a simple personal story;

The Anita I knew was always busy, always on the go. Her travel schedule was crazy and her speeches and presentations were in high demand. She was very generous in her philanthropic gifts and left her entire estate to charities. She lived each day to its fullest but would slow down when it came to story telling or spending hours on end talking with friends. She had the most remarkable gift of listening- really activily listening. People meeting her for the first time might find themselves disclosing innermost secrets and feelings they never shared with anyone else.

Anita took me and a friend to our first anti-war protest. It was exciting being part of a large and roudy group that marched down State Street in Santa Barabara each weekend to express what Democracy really looks like !

On a lighter note Anita was quick to laugh and always welcomed a good joke. She had a great appreciation of fine art, folk art, and outsider art. The last category is illustrated in her support of The American Visionary Art Museum.

So, if you don’t know Anita’s remarkable story I encourage you to read her books, especially Body and Soul; Profits with Principles. Her activist work continues on today and frequent posts can be read at To get involved in the campaigns imporant to the Roddick’s foundation explore the ‘I Am An Activist’ website
(links below).

Anita’s message is around all of us today as it has become the norm to reevaluate our daily choices and how they effect other people and the planet.

In memory of Anita’s birthday- Do something ! Get outraged and get involved with something that matters to you.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Retail Pop-up Shops

-USA, Nationwide

In Praise of the Pop-up Shop

Back in 2004 Comme des Garçons opened the first of their ‘Guerrilla’ stores in Berlin. The Guerrilla stores' aim is to be open for only one year and to spend a minimal amount on the build out costs. As related to the original use of the war-term these shops would possess “aggressive mobility”.

The result was a great success and many locations followed around the globe. I visited Comme des Garçons in Kyoto and just by entering this unusual space it felt like I was witnessing a paradigm shift of the new retail landscape. The interior was a bit like a fun-house maze for small scaled people. The floor was constructed of simple plywood that bounced and made a lot of noise as you walked about and browsed merchandise not found anywhere else. It was one of the most exciting shopping experiences and I did leave with one of the signature shirts; an artifact of fashion history so to speak.

This concept has been very popular as we approach 4th quarter and many store fronts that have been vacant and are now being filled on short-term leases in great numbers. Instead of a five or ten year commitment, now retailers are able to set up shop for as little as a month or less. With such a reduced risk comes an ability to experiment and bring some fun back into shopping.

According to the LA Times ( Oct.17 ) Toys R Us has jumped onto the concept and will have dozens of ‘Holiday Express’ Pop-up shops open this year. The luxury denim retailer 7 For All Mankind launched a new test concept called “Wash House” on Boston’s Newbury Street earlier this year with plans to explore a more permanent location later.

In the sleepy Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles there are a number of small Pop-ups that fill a once vacant bookstore. These help restore an active down-town feeling to the main street. We all can learn something from shopping these temporary locations. Maybe retail design as a whole can be liberated from generic same-ness and help restore what was once a great American past-time.

The full Times article can be found here ( paste into browser ),0,6635106.story

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Furniture / High Point Market


The only seminars I have ever attended when shopping the High Point market featured Leatrice Eiseman, Exec. Dir. of the Pantone Color Institute. It's always interesting and she always takes questions. The last time I saw her speak I asked about the future of stainless steel in the kitchen as a standard. She was noncommittal and suggested other metals maybe be introduced. ( Copper, Bronze?). Well I guess Sub-Zero wasn't listening and then the global recession arrived.

If you didn't get into the seminar or travel into the Triad area this October I offer you a link to the Pantone color trends of 2010. Eiseman organized the different palettes into the following groups;

Tinged Neutrals

The last grouping, neutrals, is what I predict will translate into many upholstery colors stocked by your local department store. Including four, yes four different shades of gray it is very safe. Feature photo.

I wish the trends were more daring but these hues do reinforce that both manufacturer and retailer are moving more cautiously than ever.

The complete 19 page "Fashion Report" issued from High Point can be found by pasting this address into your browser:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

HOME / Table Top

-PARIS, France

Some times it can do a merchant good to step back and look to other industries especially when it comes to product development. The fashion industry is often about two years ahead of home furnishings when it comes to color palettes. However, today I am noticing interesting some pattern trends not colors.

So, when I see what is walking down the runways this past week I think; table-top.

Optical, geometric and animal prints took center stage. PRADA takes a cue from men's neckties and turns what was once preppy into something much more sophisticated. GIVENCHY offers this black and white all over pattern that could very well be applied to porcelain as beautifully as it drapes this model's body.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


-Valentine, Nebraska

Lunar New Year and Valentine’s Day

St. Valentine offers us an interesting twist this winter- the arrival of Chinese New Year celebrating the year of the Tiger beginning on February 14th, 2010.

Since red is the predominant color used in Lunar New Year celebrations, the cross-over product opportunities are infinite. One vendor stands out in the most recent markets. Cody Foster + Company coincidentally based in Valentine offered up a very thoughtful and well designed assortment of chinoiserie ornaments in the late summer Gift shows. Of particular interest were the pagodas and lanterns.

As Easters and Halloweens past have illustrated, ‘ornaments’ are no longer a once a year purchase occasion.

So save your markdown dollars for other categories since this collection will have a full-priced life after December 26th. Help unleash the tiger in all your customers this coming Valentine’s Day.


- New York, NY & Giverny, France

Clematis and Water Lilies

With winter approaching along come the holiday and garden catalogs for us to start planning for spring planting.

One inspiration comes not from a plant catalog but from the upcoming Sotheby’s New York auction in November. Claude Monet’s ‘Clématites’ (or Clematis) is about to be offered up from a private Belgian collector. The painting is estimated to sell in the mid $2 million range. It is particularly interesting that it pre-dates his famous water lilies series and has a similar patterned quality leading toward abstraction.

The current plant list from Giverny gardens does not list a white clematis vine now, but you can find a similar specimen; Clematis Artic Queen at your local nursery or from many mail-order houses including White Flower Farm- where one expects it to be available for spring delivery.

If you are thinking about visiting the famed garden in the Seine Valley do know that the start of the water lilies season is July. Until then we have the 2nd floor galleries at MoMA where now through April of 2010 Monet’s late paintings, including the water lilies triptych, are all together for the first time in the museum.


-Palo Alto, CA

Children’s furniture & play sculpture

This summer a new item was launched with a nod to the classic Charles & Ray Eames sculptural toy sold through the Vitra group. Now from Plan Toys is an elephant that can actually ‘walk’. This is not your ordinary push scooter toy - children will learn how to make the Walking Elephant move forward by rocking side to side. The item is constructed of natural plywood with sturdy handles for safety and navigation.

Children can role play that they are riding an elephant and exploring the jungle. The vendor states that this type of play will enhance their balance, motor skills, and coordination.

Designed for ages three and up.

When the kids outgrow their Barbar stories they may be ready to learn about the importance of saving elephants at risk through the groups like Save the Elephants. The group has been instrumental in helping to revitalize African elephant populations, while at the same time, increasing awareness in the many issues which threaten to erode elephant populations and the habitats in which they live.

They have programs in four countries that include a tracking system using GPS and Google technology.

Friday, October 9, 2009


Occupying the center of the courtyard of The Four Seasons George V Hotel is an enormous floral sculpture – scores of purple Vandas carefully hung at eye level are lined up in rows. The impact of color and scale is remarkable. Jeff Leatham floral design and information:


Exhibiting for the first time at the International Gift Fair was METIAL. A new textile company featuring designs by former GAP colleagues
Mita Patnaik & Jeff Oakes. The hand-woven silk and silk blends are made by an all women’s cooperative in Bangalore. Plan about 14-16 weeks for production time. These elegant stripes, checks, and spice colored solids add a new level of luxury to home textiles.

For more information:


A new furniture collection designed by Andrée Putman was just introduced at the Maison et Objet
show from FERMOB. From the grand dame of design who is credited with inventing the first “boutique hotel” for Ian Schrager, comes a collaboration featuring an aluminum furniture grouping that was inspired by one of Putman’s other famous projects- The Concorde for Air France.