23 May 2011

Floating Over Metropolis on Gossamer Wings

Eurocopter and Mercedes-Benz Give Birth to the Luxury Helicopter in Geneva

Once upon a time, German engineers of the Bauhaus and modernist design movement imagined a world of silvery zeppelin floating magically aloft, ferrying smartly dressed luxury passengers to and fro successful business meetings in the city or family trips to the Alps.  Enter the EC145, modern lovechild of Mercedes-Benz and Eurocopter, bringing the gossamer airship dreams of their forebears one-step closer to Teutonic reality.

Wrapped in iconic Mercedes-Benz silver, with tinted windows to keep the pesky paparazzi at bay, the EC145 is luxury cabin down below and flight muscle up top with a twin-engine turbine power plant providing passengers with cruising speed of 150mph (and top-speed believed to be around 170mph).  It's also believed to be able to travel 300 nautical miles without refueling. 

But, this aircraft is first and foremost all about the luxury, what any right-minded billionaire executive or superstar athlete or pampered rockstar needs to get them from their G550 parked in a hangar in Nice Côte d'Azur Airport over to their awaiting mega yacht anchored miles away in Cannes.   Upscale styling of the EC145 comes courtesy of Mercedes-Benz’s Advanced Design Studio out of Como, Italy, options and customization aplenty.   Sumptuous seating of the finest material for up to 8 passengers is available, with wood flooring and stately trim throughout the cabin bathed in ambient lighting of various colors and brightness.

The EC145, first premiered in Geneva,  also offers 15” HD touch screen monitor, a fridge to chill the Dom for après ski, and configurable seating arrangement allowing for more or less storage in the rear of the aircraft depending upon surfboards, bikes, golf clubs and the like.  If more storage is needed, seating in the spacious cabin can be adjusted down to seat four passengers.   

16 May 2011

Paul Smith: British Designer Admired by This American

Most Successful British Designer Wouldn't Get Recognized in America 
Sir Paul Smith, Westbourne House
When I was a young pup in college, I dated a rather comely, totally in-the-know (a little too in the know in some respects if you catch my drift) young woman.  She and I were fast becoming "of the" and finding our way "in the" world; you know, deciding what things we were going to reject from our betters, and appreciating what we thought was important, and even learning what we liked doing with our free-time.  

Part of this transmogrification included the personal fashion styles we aspired to, which ultimately meant we were growing apart faster than a NASA shuttle being launched from Cape Canaveral leaves behind its temporary mooring.  She the fiery and fleeing temptress, I the temporary stabling force.  For awhile there, right near the end of our six or seven years together, she grew into a club kid looking for the next party wearing her outfits with leg warmers and gold belts and brightly colored skirts and pants, and I remained the boring (mooring) boyfriend, digging my trad style, even rocking several bow ties at various weddings and proper events. 

I can remember one night where she was so embarrassed by my sartorial display at her company dinner, that she actually asked me to (the horror) take off my bow tie because I looked like a waiter.  Classic line.  I actually laughed, but knew that we were done.  Within six months, we were broken up.  I then, the dutiful dumpee, dropped out of undergrad for almost a year, and then dropped about three grand adding some new additions to my wardrobe which would include Willie Smith (Willie Wear), Perry Ellis, Calvin Klein, "creepers" and Doc Martins, Armani, and even some Tommy Hilfiger.  I grew my hair long, and then found myself back in school, living with three girlfriends from high school, and trying to figure things out anew and by myself, the way it should be.

But, this lovely ex-girlfriend did add two things of lasting genius and import to my life down in Malibu one fine afternoon.  It was my 20th birthday, and she gave me a brand new book by Michael Chabon (who, some of you may recall, would become my favorite author ever, and whom I just happened to run into, almost literally, at SFO airport this past Thursday afternoon as I was running to gate 90) his master's thesis-cum-future novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.  This petite beauty also gave me a skillfully tailored, blue-striped Paul Smith collared shirt. Never had I owned any shirt like it before.  I felt like an adult wearing it.  An adult with fine taste.

We sat there enjoying a nice lunch in the shade, and I was a bit amped because I had just met Ben Stein for the second time (he was teaching at Pepperdine), whose writing and voice I'd always admired, and I was with my gal, and we were happy and had nothing but the future in front of us.  Well, at least a few more months.  By the bye, I still have to share with you, Dear Reader, how Mr. Stein encouraged me to go to law school.  But, that's for another post.  

So, Paul Smith and his style and influence and expensive clothing.  I wore that shirt of his out.  I mean I even had the cuffs replaced because I didn't want to part with that shirt.  I bought others, but that one was special.  Within the last couple of years Paul Smith (GQ’s multi-winning designer-of-the-year) has opened shops in Los Angeles and San Francisco, hoping to finally crack that American market.  Each of these buildings reflects an architectural through-line back to Paul Smith himself: colorful, drawing influences from sport, history, art, pop-culture or modern architecture.  Paul Smith the brand continues to open stand-alone shops throughout the world, including this past month with a new 3-story flagship in Seoul, South Korea, featuring Paul Smith’s personal art collection on its walls.

British designer Paul Smith is not a household name in America; not yet I don't think.  I mean you probably know him.  I know him.  But, whereas the average Joe or Jill American can recognize Armani or Tommy or Calvin ... Paul?  Not so much.  And that bothers me.  

Where the French have always had a reputation for women’s fashion, it is the Brits, well, London’s Savile Row specifically, that has the well-earned reputation for turning out men in bespoke suits, fitting the country’s elite and sophisticated and, yes,  the wealthy in clothes that definitely make the man.

But, truth be told, these companies churning out high-end men’s fashion haven’t been “British” in the strictest sense for decades; they can be, and are often, owned by multinational corporations headquartered in France, Italy or Japan.   The designers, and their sense of style, most assuredly rock a British idiom that push past typical Savile Row boundaries, leaving the shores of England as fast as any Virgin airlines jet can whisk them away. 

The globalization of British men’s and women’s fashion is certainly alive and well from Asia through to America, with the likes of British (and award-winning) designers like Christopher Bailey (Burberry), John Galliano (Dior), and recently departed Alexander McQueen influencing the way men and woman are dressing.

Bringing us back to the iconic British designer Paul Smith, who is arguably the most successful designer in British history.   Knighted by the Queen in 2000, Paul Smith’s fashion strengths have always played to a man’s sensibility: well-made clothing with just a touch of unique style as seen in his signature multicolored stripes.   Sir Paul’s fashion house, still independently owned, supposedly has revenues now past $600 million from 48 different countries, including 12 different men’s and women’s lines, licensing and limited edition deals with Evian water, cameras, Cross pens, Barneys New York, luggage, furniture, skis,  and the list and revenues go on (and on).

In his book Paul Smith: you can find inspiration in everything (2003), author Sir Paul says that we should seek to be childlike, not childish; and that the key to staying inspired is to see and to think about the world horizontally, where we can find inspiration from all of the things around us (not other designers).  As Paul Smith expansion continues around the globe, his personal inspiration is sure to follow.  Now, if I just had that blue stripped shirt back.

13 May 2011

Range Rover Evoque ... Marks New Epoque?

Range Rover Evoque
After 40 years of service to Queen and country with the Range Rover label, Land Rover under its new ownership (Tata Motors) is introducing an SUV scion to a new generation of loyalists and skeptics alike.  Out with the urbane and “British green” trad and in with a rockin’ red-hued urban transpo that Land Rover hopes is the new must-have crossover ride.

Introduced last year at Kensington Palace with high-octane music bumping through loudspeakers and paparazzi flashes, the Land Rover LRX concept car was realized and presented to the world’s media --with a little help from fashion designer (and footballer's wife and former Spice Girl) Victoria Beckham -- as the new Range Rover Evoque, retaining its conceptualized design all the way through to production.

The model name says it all: Evoque, the ‘que’ continental spelling evokes the European driver’s wont for smaller car platforms, better mileage and the ability to drive and park on any major European city street, viz., London, Milan or Paris.  The park assist parallel parking system on the Evoque is sans pareil, slotting the driver into the smallest of spaces with equidistant perfection.  The name also hearkens back to the grand heritage of the nameplate, Range Rover -- a badge not given or worn lightly.

The Evoque comes in both 3-door coupe or 5-door versions.  Both cars have an aggressive design, with lines that give the Evoque the appearance of moving even while sitting still.  The headlamps up front wrap to an almost teardrop shape (it's as if Ms. Beckham helped the Evoque with its eyeliner), and the imagery continues with window-lines that sweep narrow to the rear.   This model seems to defy tradition and the snob, while seeking to attract the upwardly mobile American or the British yob.

To help keep this 4-cylinder moving, Land Rover designers have added a turbocharger and have lightened the load considerably using aluminum for the body, making the crossover 35% lighter than the upperclassman Range Rover Sport.   But, don’t let the small footprint fool you; there is more clearance on the Evoque than on the Land Rover LR2 as well.   The Evoque attempts and succeeds in establishing an urban city design, while maintaining its off-road street cred.

The Range Rover Evoque most likely will compete directly in this market segment with the BMW X3, Volvo XC60, the Audi Q5 and the Lincoln MkX.  But, with a base price rumored to be about $45,000, the car will clearly price some buyers out, while becoming the entry vehicle for other drivers desiring an “affordable” Range Rover.  This crossover ute really may be the vehicle to help aspirational owners finally “crossover” into the luxury brand, marking a new époque for the Range Rover Evoque ... that is until sister company Jaguar releases their version of the crossover rumored to be happening sometime around 2013.

what i'm loving today ...

James Murdoch  (Wired.com)
I have had a (business)man's crush on James Murdoch from afar for about ten years now, i.e., I have seen him move from New York to England, from News Corp to B-Sky-B, changing roles but proving himself all-the-while with nary a misstep (well, unless you count Myspace.com, which News Corp can't quite get off their books fast enough).   James Murdoch is, in my humble estimation, quite the consummate business pro: articulate when giving a speech; impeccably dressed when presenting and representing his company, peers and family; knowledgeable about his audience and what they want/need to hear.  Finally, he possesses a deep understanding of his industry, able to connect the dots on the big picture whilst wading knee-deep in business metrics and public policies (to thwart) and various ephemera that only a media mogul would appreciate.

Say what you will about News Corp (parent company to Fox News) -- some of you, Dear Reader, have expressed your dissatisfaction in different forums that I've been privy to -- but I personally am a huge fan of News Corp and Fox News and the Wall St. Journal.  They are agents of change for almost every vertical they touch ... and by that, I mean for the better.  More competition.  More consumer choices.  And ... this is key, sometimes better pricing.  While they might have a conservative, big, bad businessman's worldview, the Murdoch family, is anything but conservative.  They may back conservative policies spouted by the typical pro-business Republicans or Tories, but they themselves are a fairly liberal lot personally.  And, that's a pretty interesting cognitive dissonance.  (I'm not complainin', I'm just esplainin'.)  I, however, remain very easy to decipher: conservative politically and personally and with my electricity.

So, here's a story about News Corp trying to buy F1 Racing over at JustLuxe.com that I recently wrote for them.  Check it out if you'd like.  No worries if not.

But, then there's this article I'd love to share/recommend with you from Daily Telegraph about a 60-yr-old woman (Harriet Walter) finally finding true love and jumping into her new marriage wholeheartedly.

I loved the movie It's Complicated because of the wonderful romance and love story (ultimately unrequited) about a couple of older divorcées contemplating a rekindling of their former marriage.  Or, from the same producer (Nancy Meyers ... love her set designs), the classic Something's Gotta Give about a 70-yr-old lothario finally dating a woman near his age range (the lovely Ms. Diane Keaton).

Even before I finally tripped (er, was dragged) over the 40-yr-old timeline a couple of years back, I have always appreciated  and embraced the narrative that evinces a protagonist accepting their age and finding satisfaction (deep satisfaction) in what life or God is teaching them at that moment.  I'm thinking of Ms. Marple (fictional old gals are good too!).  Rush Limbaugh (he couldn't wait to turn 50).  The Queen Mum.  Ronald Reagan.  Sophia Loren.  These personalities all embraced their chronological measurements and brought/bring their hard-earned wisdom to their lives and the lives of those around them.  I for one have benefited from so many of my elders, and I suspect you have as well.

Like my mom always said, bloom where you're planted.  Make lemonade out of lemons.  And, if you find yourself in Depends adult diapers at 78 yrs-old, well then plant whatever in them bloomers ... with gusto gulldernit!  And, make sure to do your water aerobics whilst shaking those flabby arms, baby!  If you flabby, flaunt it!  (Btw, I used to swim at the YMCA near LAX (this should be a song title) ... trust me, you don't know trepidation until you have to swim your 60 laps immediately after a class of 30 or so seniors who have been shaking and jumping to the oldies in your swim lane only 60 seconds prior.)

That's what I'm loving today.

08 May 2011

Marion Cotillard Lady Dior ... and my big fat mouth

Marion Cotillard is one of those actresses that I enjoy in every project she's in.  That's not really saying much considering how talented she is, and how many accolades have been heaped upon her and her CV.  But, still.

In this little clip of her in Dior's campaign for Lady Dior, one gets a glimpse into the brilliant vision that John Galliano had for Dior, and why Bernard Arnault at LVMH paid him handsomely.  Too bad there's a little anti-semite to be found in these talented bastards like Mel Gibson and John Galliano who allow their baser/nastier sides take control of their tongue and spew vile nonsense.  We all have the problem with the tongue.  The apostle James gave the analogy of the diminutive rudder steering and controlling the large ship.  So, too, with our speech.  With it we bless our mothers (Happy Mother's day, y'all!!!) and our God and our brood.  And, with it, we also curse our fellow man.  All of us are guilty of this in some way.

Anyhoo ... back to Marion and those eyes.  I'm not sure what color they are, but they are French, and they are housed in such a lovely punim, and they just kill me.

One thing I enjoy is watching an actor speak their native tongue (again with the tongue, Jg.!).  Ken Watanabe and Marion Cotillard were both in Inception, and hearing them do their interviews for the film in English was nice.  But, to see/hear them speak their native languages of French and Japanese, it seems, to me, that one catches a glimpse into their real personalities.  That their humorous or prankster or sweet sides have more freedom to show themselves to us the viewer.  Do any of you notice that or feel that?  I think I've seen this with Antonio Banderas and Audrey Tautou (and those very kind eyes), and dozens of other actors over the years.

And, speaking of eyes.  I was at "Bean, the Coffee" the other night after dinner with family (we ate next to Frankie Avalon and his lovely bride ... I went to high school with three of his kids), and I stopped to pick up a magazine (for some inspiration) and grab a latte.

It was late, and I was probably the last customer of the night.  The young woman behind the counter was sort of new, but she'd helped me a couple of times before, and she was getting ready to close up shop.  I noticed right away that she had worked her eyes into a dark, smoldering set of peepers.   Now, to be honest, I'm the type of male that "notices" things like that.   You know, when someone at work or a store I frequent, or a neighbor, or someone I date, changes their appearance in some way.  So, my next comment was not meant as some untoward or flirty pickup line.  I just said, hey, "I like the smokey eyes.  They're working."  I threw in a Madonna "Vogue" hand movement across my face to add a little jocularity to the comment.

She sort of chuckled and turned about 3 shades of red.  So, now she was rocking smokey eyes and a lovely natural rouge.  She was so flustered by the compliment, that she prepped my drink (light drip, half-and-half and a  scoop of vanilla powder) and then  forgot to charge me.  When I tried to pay her, she just said, "on the house" and went about her closing duties.  I'm still not sure if she was happy for the compliment or pissed that I said something.  I need to learn that sometimes, just noticing is enough.  I don't need to always open my pie-hole, and sometimes a woman is happy just to have a new stylish hairdo, or some weight-loss, or smokey eyes without some stranger commenting.  Like I said, the tongue can get us all into trouble, whether Mel or Galliano or some FatScribe ordering a little cup o' joe.

06 May 2011

Which Way Tom Ford?

A simple question.  Which way does Mr. Ford really want to go with his career?  I mean, dude is sitting on a couple of hundred million (American), and he did just sell an Andy Warhol for $33 million, and he did just do a fine job helming a nice little indie film.  Tommy from Texas has lots of choices, n'est pas?

Tom Ford walked away from fashion’s pinnacle of success at Gucci and YSL because of what he felt was a stifling environment (gilded, but a cage nonetheless) back in 2004.  After a legendary blow-up and walk-out at Gucci where he was Creative Director for both Gucci and YSL, he’d had enough one afternoon and walked away from a situation that he felt was becoming creatively stifling for him.  (Plus, he was getting nasty little letters from Yves about the YSL direction.)  Whilst there, Tom Ford had taken the house of Gucci from a market cap of $4 billion to over $10 billion, he the man with the touch Midas would envy.

Which brings us forward to the present.   Ford seems more relevant than ever, his name still spoken with reverence and deference after his big comeback in 2010 with his women’s line, and everywhere one turns, there are rumors aplenty regarding the return of this titan of fashion with his own line for men and women, including “secret shows” for his 2011 summer line.  He was even pinned as one of Time Magazine’s 100 with a blurb written by one Rita Hanks.

Tom Ford is busy building his brand and empire.  He has opened flagship stores in New York and Los Angeles.  He has signed licensing deals for eyewear and a beauty brand to build with Esteé Lauder.   Plus, add another hit to Tom Ford’s string of successful launches, this one of the celluloid variety with the independent film, A Single Man, based upon the Isherwood novel of the same.  Directed by Ford with a deft touch, filled with lovely, lithe actors delivering solid lines, draped in fashionable clothing of Ford’s designing, Tom Ford has proven he can crack any industry, except for maybe acting.  But, let’s not count him out just yet on that front.

Tina Brown recently shared with Ford (in a terrific little interview for DailyBeast.com) that Ralph Lauren threatened for years to direct a film, but could never quite pull the trigger on the right project.  To which Tom Ford encouraged Sir Ralph, Lord of the Polo, “Do it, Ralph.  We’re none of us getting any younger.”  Or, something to that effect.  But, what about Tom?  What does he want?

Today, rumors about Tom Ford persist:  They say he’s on the short-list to succeed the officially dismissed Galliano at Dior for LVMH (Sarah Burton seems more likely).  Then there’s everyone’s favorite that the Lord of uber-luxe is collaborating with H&M on an everyman limited line for the retailer (put me on the mailing list for that one).  Except for helming another film -- he is looking for a next project for his production company -- it is doubtful Ford would divide his attentions away from his business at-hand, viz., expanding Tom Ford brand around the globe.   And, of course the ridiculous rumor – that he’s running out of cash. 

As a college student in NY, Tom Ford was friendly with Andy Warhol, and last year Ford did sell-off one of Warhol’s self-portraits (purple-hued) for $33 million.  Net worth of $250 million, Tom Ford most likely sold the Warhol last year to help finance his new women’s line and continue the launch of Tom Ford stores, of which there are currently 21 stand-alone and shop-in shops, with plans to expand to 100 shops within several years.

But, like his creative hero Ralph Lauren, Tom Ford seeks to be a fashion house unto himself.  After all, as he has (in)famously said, “I am my own muse.”   As with any good creative, we can be certain that he’ll never run out of inspiration for his eponymous lines of fashion, perfumes, furniture, beauty products, $35 bars of soap, eyewear and fine footwear anytime soon.

To be frank, I like Mr. Ford’s chances.  If I look at other designers or labels that licensed themselves out of fashion significance (whether selling out for the cash, or by mistake), we see many designers whose lines now litter the clothes bin of history at Nordstrom Rack: Abboud, Perry Ellis, and you too, Calvin Klein.  Not likely, Ford, though.

Like Armani and Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein (okay, we’ll keep you in this group, CK), these fashion houses of distinction take decades to develop.  And, like any good example of compound interest growing over time, a dollop of fashion integrity goes a long way toward the making of not just a fashion superstar, but also a house of fashion (and a bona fide billionaire a few times over) if only the principal will resist the impulse to sell-out.  He can still direct a movie every two or three years, though, as long as he designs the clothes … you know, to build the brand. 

01 May 2011

presidential bookends: from a rubble pile to an east room

a friend of mine called me from atlanta to tell me to turn the tv on; that the president was about to make an important and historic announcement.  for about 20 minutes i had an ache in my stomach waiting and worrying about a development in north korea or a nuclear accident (japan is still on my mind and that nuclear plant) or what?

it never crossed my mind that it could be usama bin laden.

i am not a big believer in hate.  nor am i a warmonger.  i appreciate and respect people of every tongue, nationality and race.  i don't harbor a blood-lust against those whom our country decides or has decided is our enemy, and neither does america.  when the japanese and germans put down their weapons after the second world war, we soon had two of our biggest allies in the world.  hell, after the english stopped the nonsense after the war of 1812, and burning down our capitol, we cemented our special relationship with britain that would hardly be questioned over the next two-hundred years.

but i believe in having our brother's back.  i believe when we're threatened by the worst ideology in this world, a wicked worldview that seeks to kill our innocents at home and abroad, to put us under the yoke of a caliphate or sharia or worse, well, we need to take out the sharpened hoe in the garage and quickly put it to the back of the snake's neck and stop it in its tracks.

when our brothers and sisters, our fellow americans were slaughtered on that fateful day, we owed it to them to take a stand.  almost ten years ago, president bush said from a pile of rubble in new york shouting through a bullhorn:
"i can hear you!  i hear you!  the world hears you.  and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!"
the 44th president picked up that gauntlet and tonight he bookended a bold, hubristic prediction when our president obama said:
"we will be relentless in defense of our citizens and our friends and allies. we will be true to the values that make us who we are. and on nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al-qaeda's terror: justice has been done"
yes it has, mr. president.  we are all proud of you and your actions putting an american finger on the final pulse and breath of a terrorist and mass-murderer of americans.  now if only we could expect to earn a strong relationship with the countries in that region.  instead, i expect more mothers to be strapping explosives in earnest to their 12-yr-olds and asking for their god's blessing the killing of infidels.

but, for now, mr. president, you deserve the gratitude of your fellow americans.  thank you for your well-wishes to us, and God bless you, too, sir.  and God bless the men and women of all religions of our armed forces who serve our country proudly and pay the ultimate sacrifice for our protection on a daily basis, including this magnificent operation that put a neat button on this messy and justified engagement.

i apologize if some of you find this post offensive, but for me, when a nation finds itself threatened and no longer in a state of civilization, we are in a state of nature and as such, we need the type of keen leadership that president obama provided today: "at my direction" ... the three strongest words of his presidency.

here, some strong words by his predecessor: