Friday, August 28, 2009

The Maddest Man: 
Thom Browne leads Brooks Brothers to the forefront, and to Toronto

Brooks Brothers  is the type of brand that’s passed down from father to son. It’s easy to imagine an Upper East Side dad bringing in a newly hired son—recently returned from the Ivy League—to be custom fit for a suit before his first day in the financial big leagues. Amongst old money Manhattanites, it’s something of a ritual.

And with the opening of a   sprawling 22,000 sq. ft. flagship shop in Toronto’s financial district, our city’s fathers and sons can now be outfitted in Brooks Brothers, too. Fresh off a flight from Manhattan, the brand’s communications manager,   Arthur Wayne, gave me a tour of the new store.

After a firm handshake and hello there was one thing I needed to see before sitting down with the company’s CEO to talk business. Take me to the  Thom Browne, I told Wayne. With a knowing smile Wayne led me towards   Black Fleece by Brooks Brothers, the collection Browne designs for the brand.

A hit with fashion critics, Black Fleece made buzz for Brooks Brothers again, after a rocky decade under the management of  Marks and Spencer. Hiring the designer, whose known for his cutting edge take on traditional menswear and his high tailored trousers, is one of the steps chairman and CEO   Claudio Del Vecchio has taken to revitalize the iconic American brand since purchasing the label in 2001.

“As we were making the effort to bring back the brand to the place we felt it belonged, we were looking to speed up that process and appeal to a customer who might have given up on Brooks Brothers,” Vecchio later explained to me, seated next to a branded pillow one of the couches tucked into the back of the store. It was at that point that editrix Anna Wintour introduced Vecchio to Browne, who Vecchio eventually signed. “We got to know [Thom Brown], put the two things together, and thought he could help us,” Vecchio said.

Proud of her match making abilities, Wintour hasn’t been shy about drumming up positive PR for the label. “Anna Wintour named dropped you on Letterman the other night, you know,” I said to Wayne as he walked ahead of me through the store. Wayne cranked his neck back towards me, his eyes lighting up. “I know,” he gleamed. “That was a big day for me.”

As popular dress continues to take its nostalgic turn backwards in time, Wayne can expect many more big days for Brooks Brothers. Having dressed plenty of presidents passed—everyone from Kennedy and Eisenhower to Bill and Barack—the brand now has a chance to picture itself inside of contemporary pop culture.

Wayne recounted a recent episode of  Entourage, on which Turtle and Jamie-Lynn Sigler shop for Turtle’s back-to-school wardrobe at the Brooks Brothers on Rodeo Drive. When Jamie tells turtle he looks great in a madras shirt, Turtle scoffs, as Wayne imitated, “I look like Chuck Bass.” But it was Bass too that began to expose the brand to younger viewers, wearing plenty of the label on  Gossip Girl, which Brooks Brothers helped create costumes for.

Most of all though, it’s Mad Men that’s brought Brooks Brothers to the forefront of pop culture. The meticulously created period-piece looks on the show have earned stylist  Janie Bryant nominations at both the Costume Designers Guild Awards and the Emmys. And as Wayne explained, the designing of Don Draper began with Brooks Brothers.

Before she started styling the first season, Bryant spent a week in New York at the Brooks Brothers archives, pulling out suits from the sixties. Once she was satisfied with her carefully curated selection of suits and ties, Brooks Brothers helped her re-source the original fabrics to keep the styles authentic, and had each suit re-made for Mad Men’s male characters. Since then, the brand has assisted Bryant in the styling of each season.

“The style of that show has done tremendous things for the Menswear industry,” Wayne said. Though the brand has hesitated to leverage the connection to the heavily hyped show with any official initiatives, as  Banana Republic did with its recent Mad Men photo contest, Wayne says the connection has given Brooks Brothers a chance to talk about its heritage (a cornerstone of its latest communication) with the press.

“It’s a matter of how much you want to scream about it. Our approach will be different than the great thing Banana did,” Wayne said. “With Brooks Brothers, Brooks Brothers comes first. Those opportunities enhance the brand and bring it into new light, but it’s not something we depend on.”

So will we see any future marketing programs featuring the duds of Don Draper? I asked.

With a secretive smile he looked at me and said, “The season’s not over yet.”

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How to escape to a place where life can be seen from a safe distance:

All summer long, the hills called our name. And so, before the weeks had their chance to blend into autumn, the four of us packed up a car and made a swift, clean morning exit from the city.

The roads rolled north and the window view turned green as we climbed into a place with few other cars, no electricity, no cell phone reception. Behind us were our cluttered inboxes, unchecked voicemails, and the notes explaining our where-abouts that we forgot to leave.

What lay ahead was four days of water bound mystery, several campfires, and more silence and darkness than we had had in months. Below is a short documentation of that adventure.

First, we ate a feast for us, the new kings of the forest.
Then we brushed our teeth,
to get rid of that after-smoke smell.
Dirty feet didn't matter where we were.
And every tree presented a new possibility.
There seemed to be magic in the vegetation.
This, we discovered, is where the wild things are.
Alex examined nature up close.
Real close.
I joined Team Zissou.
We had a sunset rubdown.
And I trained for an eventual escape into the wild.
Summer's up. Float on.
la jeune fille au manteau rouge est sur le point de faire son retour.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Neo-Nazis? Naw.

By now you’re probably sick of hearing about that new Nazi flick. You’ve heard it grossed over $ 65 million at international box offices, discussed whether or not the win could save the Weinstein Group, and gossiped about the film’s secret Crash-style Oscar campaign.

The violent, picturesque WWII story--ripped from the wet dream of the of a Jew-frowed teen picked on by a gentile--has been the talk of the town for weeks now. Tarantino and co-star Eli Roth even made a visit to our so-called Hollywood North on August 12 to promote the film (and sign some Reservoir Dogs merchandise, of course).

The incessant promotion, which included everything from sponsoring UFC 100 to sending a darling, mini-dressed Diane Krueger on a global press tour, seemed to work: on opening night I was comfortably tucked into a seat in an over-crowded theatre.

But of all the buzz, one bit was my favourite. For its “Basterdized” special issue, which was dedicated to the film, EYE weekly enlisted a couple of my friends to take on a very un-PC, but undeniably aesthetically pleasing concept, Nazi Fashion.

Styled and described by Miss. Sarah Nicole Prickett, the shoot features the man behind last week’s Absolut party, your boyfriend Justin Broadbent. To Broadbent’s left is “it-girlish” Leigh Farrell, looking like a character from a 1940s murder-mystery. And last but not least is everybody’s favourite Winnipegger-turned-Toronto-based-journalist, Carli Stephens-Rothman.

If you’re into military men, battle babes, and a practical colour scheme, pick up the issue. If you’ve tired of the Basterds, I hear there are some free screenings of a new, terrible film called Avatar.

*Seconds before pressing publish I was grabbing a link to that Hyphenoptional blog and noticed Carli had just posted, well, the same post you see here. If you're the kind of person who reads endnotes first, skip mine and read hers. Otherwise, I hope you enjoyed this blog-on-blogger, or "circle jerk" as SNP calls it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

PhotoCabine cheered up what is (evidently) a dreary morning in the office seat.

*Thanks to Brit for the tip
Life after lifecasting

Biffi’s back.   Jessica Biffi, the reality TV runner up on Project Runway Canada’s second season, has landed a post-Slice gig. Like fellow PRC alumni Lucian Matis, who  partnered with McDonalds to promote its line of “stylish salads” earlier this year, Biffi is subsidizing her TV fame by becoming a brand ambassador.

Biffi has been commissioned to create a capsule collection of back-to-school looks for kids using second-hand clothes treated with Tide Stain Release as part of a  new marketing initiative for the Procter & Gamble brand.

When I caught up with Biffi following  FAT this spring, she had told me was in talks with some big brand names, but couldn’t yet divulge the details. “Since the show, everyone from celebrities to major national companies have approached me for my work,” she said.

Biffi, a Rye-High grad who was working in retail before landing Runway, said the show put her work in front of industry eyes, and though she lost out on the title, she said the show still jump-started her career.

“Project Runway Canada, put me on the map, and in plain view of the industry. Its opened a lot of doors, not just because of the contacts made while on the show, and the people I got to meet, but also the exposure it gave to my skills, which can't be bought.”

Working with companies like P&G will also introduce Biffi to Canada’s corporate community, which could help the designer secure financing for her namesake label, which she was working on when she wrote me in June. Biffi said she has some deals in the works, but wants to focus on her own label, and said a show at LG Fashion Week is in the plans.

“I have a few deals still in the works, which should be out soon, but most importantly, I've started my own label and I'm doing what I've always wanted to be doing. Its always been the goal, but the show has made it a reality for me, much sooner than I would have been able to do on my own.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Revolutionary television from before, well, the revolution

Mad Men mania has taken over the media. Here in Toronto the face of Mr. Don Draper is plastered on the cover of the alt-weekly rag     EYE. Vanity Fair also has an essay on the show and a photo spread of the set. The Toronto Star, the L.A. Times, the Huffington Post, New York magazine, the Wall Street Journal, and the Globe & Mail all have respective news stories, episode reviews, blog posts, columns, and feature length articles.

The ink spilling out of everyone’s pens seems to sound the same. As the show burst onto the screens of middle-America Sunday night with record ratings, everyone wanted to see, obviously, what would come next. The writers of the AMC blockbuster have long had a challenge looming in the distance: the second half of the sixties.

As Joshua Ostroff writes in EYE about the set of Mad Men, “What it doesn’t feel like is the 1960s…in 1963 America was still stuck in the 1950s.” And though the show’s popularity rests squarely on its decidedly 1950s un-politically correct, pre-feminism, pro-capitalist outlook on a world that still allows smoking indoors; in the years the show is approaching, the times are a’ changing.

All the talk about the small screen’s cinematic end to this golden age of 1950s-style advertising reminded me the of a retrospective on 1960s advertising I wrote last summer, titled, “The Revolution Will Not Be Advertised.”

What I had learned from 1960s issues of     Marketing was consistent with what turned up on the editorial pages over the weekend as culture reporters prepared for the first of this TV season’s major debuts. “In the 1960s, advertisers remained blissfully ignorant of the societal upheaval around them,” the tagline read.

“The 1960s were all about revolution. Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones spread counterculture throughout a new, unconventional generation: the baby boomers. The anti-establishment movement, however, meant trouble for marketers. They had to reach young freethinkers without alienating older, more conservative consumers.”

The imagery in advertising still carried the utopian postwar imagery of the 1950s, I wrote. And thus, the writers, art directors, set designers and, of course, stylists of Mad Men have the same challenge the marketers of the ‘60s had. They have to move past everything they know, and everything that has made them a success.

The charm of Mad Men undoubtedly lies in nostalgia, and any changes the show makes are going to receive outcry from viewers longing for the simpler times of earlier seasons. But change is coming, and they can either worry or prepare. And if the producers have reason to worry, Mr. Draper should be even more concerned.

As my former editor Rob Gerlsbeck wrote in Marketing two issues later, “In the 1970s, advertising was under the microscope, and legislation threatened to kill it outright.”

Things aren’t looking so swell for Draper, but he’ll no doubt deal just fine—he always does. Still, stay tuned. This could get ugly.

Ugly, and entertaining.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Plaid perfection

You can take the boy out of the country, but you can't get his sister to stop wearing that damn cowboy hat...

Though I left the forests and farmlands of my youth to coop myself up in my shoebox-sized apartment in the centre of Canada's biggest city, the people I've left behind stay in my mind, and on my Facebook feed.  

While doing some casual stalking of people from days past online today, I came across this gem of a photograph, recently posted by my sister's best pal. The two are decked out in matching cowgirl-cute outfits for an annual golf tournament. While I wouldn't normally offer any sartorial support to a look that has become synonymous with the elder Simpson sister, for my own elder sister I'll let just about anything slip.

Plus, she looks adorable (and Dayna does, too). 

That's it, that's all; no news here. Just a quick note of adoration for the big sis I only see on Skype and miss more and more every month. 

*And no, my sister hasn't hopped on the pantless trend. If you peer closely at the top left corner of her leg, you'll see the shredding denim threads of her daisy-dukes. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

When Booty Calls, Life's Good

Jamie Foxx starts his story with a man named Sean John Combs. A playboy, Puff Daddy was known for throwing multi million dollar bashes. As such, Foxx decided top present him with a challenge. He boasted he could throw just as hype of a party, for four hundred bones. And miraculously, he delivered.

Rap royalty showed up. Snoop, Busta, Missy, and Mya were all there. In the corner, a quiet man by the name of Jay-Z went unnoticed, Foxx says. That was also night he was introduced to the Neptunes. But it wasn’t until a man with a swollen jaw walked into the room that his music career took off. Enter Mr. Kanye West.

Foxx demanded an impromptu performance, said it was mandatory in his home. After hearing his voice, Foxx told West, “Young man, you are about to take off.” Foxx has an in-house studio, and part way through the evening, the two decided to do some recording. Foxx started to mix up rap and R&B, but West stopped him.

“Don’t do that. You’re going to kill it,” he said. Foxx went along with him, creating a smooth slow jam, but closed down the party thinking the track was whack.

Everyone else loved it. The collaboration, called Slow Jams, ended up on the College Drop Out, and was briefly the most popular song in America. It was Foxx’s first number one, and his breakout as a musician.

All for four hundred bones. Life's good.

*Jamie Foxx was in town to hang out his new BFF Drake, and to play a show at the Sound Academy as part of his "Blame It" tour. Blame it on the man: LG sponsored the show, and Foxx helped the brand launch its latest marketing initiative: the Life's Good FilmFest. Read my story on that, here.

Smile and say: celebrity for hire
His second best Ray Charles impression

Monday, August 10, 2009

Gossip, scandal, and tears

At exactly eleven twenty-one a carefully picked sneaker steps out of a limo door and onto the pavement outside of the Atelier lounge on King Street. The guest of honour had already been inside the party; this entrance is for the cameramen and the viewers at home.

The birthday boy’s face floats above the of red carpet in front of the club, printed on a branded white backdrop each guest poses in front of before proceeding into the party. Inside Beyonce is blaring, champagne is flowing and the crowd is dancing. Familiar faces are blinded by the bright, white camera lights capturing the action.

We slip into a booth in the back corner to make quiet commentary on outfits picked to fit the evening’s theme, fierce. Across the room there is a woman in a feathered blue headdress ordering a drink. I will never be that fierce.

I snag three of the miniature birthday burgers heaped in platters on the table tops and wash them down with a jack-and-coke. Before being caught on camera I say a quick happy birthday hello, duck out the door, walk past the abandoned red carpet, and head home, feeling fierce.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Levy.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Remember Mad Libs, the books you used to fill with dirty words and giggle over as a kid (or, if you're like me, last week)? There's now an automated, internet-age version of the game. With The Pornolizer you can modify the text of any web page. With a quick click, you'll soon see words like "clit" hidden between whatever is already there.

A few more examples to get you started, below::

Dear Tom Ford: Thanks for this.

Busy week? No more than any other. Back-to-blogging soon, until then enjoy this naked man.